The "bug-eyed alien" still thrives, but these days is as likely to be the good guy—or at any rate, better imagined and thought out than ever before. These books also draw on anthropology, often constructing elaborate alien societies and psychologies, and again imagining how they would interact with humans.
- Year Zero by Rob Reid
Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials.
- Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh (Starter)
Cherryh excels in well-rounded depictions of alien species and societies. Here a human, living among a humanoid species, needs to learn that a generally human appearance doesn't mean that the thinking or social assumptions are also similar. Cherryh also uses tight plotting and intrigue to maintain suspense.
- The Lovers by Phillip Jose Farmer
A strange love story in which the male protagonist falls in love with a female of an insect-like species which practices extreme mimicry -- in this case, she becomes a perfect mimic of a human woman. She falls in love with him, too; in the end, the consequences are tragic. The sexual issues are placed against the background of an oppressive, overpopulated Earth society which teaches that all sex is evil.
- White Queen by Gwyneth Jones
Another exploration of miscommunication, both between individuals and between species. A reporter becomes friendly with an apparently female alien, but both fail to see how radically different their thought & bodies are; when they end up having sex the results are traumatic. The entire visiting alien species is well thought out by the author. This makes an interesting comparison with the previous book.
- Grass by Sheri Tepper (Starter)
A gripping tale of alien and human societies and their interaction, this novel opens with a brilliant setpiece: what seems at first to be a British fox-hunt gathering becomes steadily more ominous, and gradually one realizes that the "mounts" are not horses, the "hounds" are not dogs, and the humans seem terrified of both. Although there's a fascinating puzzle to be solved, it's the planet Grass that steals the book and will stick in your mind long after you finish reading.
- Up the Walls of the World by James Tiptree Jr.
Three species interact in this book: human scientists on Earth, airborne aliens who make telepathic contact with the humans, and a giant, star-devouring entity which threatens the aliens' world. The situation, and individuals of each species, are depicted with Tiptree's usual intensity and skill.
Films to watch:
- Alien (1979)
Spaceship crew are trapped on board with a powerful, predatory alien. This is probably the best of the many films featuring hostile aliens in space. While many novels now depict aliens more sympathetically, films still lean towards monstrous ones.
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Here, however, we have sympathetic (if cryptic) aliens, in this best-known of the flying saucer films.
- The Living Cosmos: our search for life in the universe by Chris Impey.
Astronomer/astrobiologist Impey explains the latest thinking about how life developed, could have developed, and might have happened elsewhere.