Friday, May 7, 2021

Answers: Quiz about SF Aliens

Here are the answers, with a bit of commentary, to the quiz I posted the other day.

Thanks again to Steven Silver and John O'Neill (as well as several members of the trivia league) for helping me improve the question set, including some excellent proposed questions.

1. There are many aliens depicted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This alien race may be hard to depict definitively, as they are shapeshifters, but they do have a typical form. They appeared in Captain Marvel in the MCU, and in the comics as early as an issue of Fantastic Four in 1962. What is the name of this alien raceClick here

Answer: SKRULL 

The most common wrong answer, as I expected, was Kree. This was a latish addition to my question set -- I wanted a question about the MCU with a fairly gettable alien. I expected it to play moderately easy, and 60% is about what I'd have predicted. I will confess I'm not a huge fan of Marvel movies, but I did watch many of them. (Logan is the best recent superhero movie, though. Fight me! :) )

2. What's the common name for this cowardly species featured in many of Larry Niven's Known Space stories? The name is perhaps ironic as this species doesn't seem to have the appendages normally used by the human performers known by that name. Click here


The most common wrong answer was "Jugglers" at almost 12%. A logical guess, for sure. I read Larry Niven's Known Space stories with immense enjoyment back in the '70s. Niven is a Grand Master now, something I think many readers might have predicted as early as 1975. The Puppeteers were a interesting species, and quietly perhaps the most powerful in Known Space. There were lots of aliens in Niven's books, but the Puppeteers were one of the more interesting looking ones. By the way, the illustration of the Puppeteer shown here is by Wayne Barlowe, from his wonderful book Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials, which I bought way back in 1979 when it first came out. Barlowe also provided the illustration of the Overlord used in Q9.

3. The aliens portrayed here are examples of the Tenctonese, or Newcomers, who were introduced in which 1988 movie that spawned a TV series along with several TV movies, and which played on the idea of aliens from another planet who are treated not-dissimilarly to "illegal aliens" once they end up on Earth. Click here


The most common wrong answer was Coneheads. Alien Nation, the movie, came out in 1988, and the TV series followed a year later, lasting only one season. Five TV movies appeared throughout the '90s. The concept was that aliens fleeing slavery on a distant planet crash on Earth, and seek sanctuary as refugees. The franchise drew praise for its fairly serious treatment of the issues of immigration and racism, which were as charged then as they are now. A remake, currently planned as a ten episode series, is rumored for later in 2021.

4. Many aliens in SF strongly resemble non-human Earth species. One example, illustrated here by Michael Whelan, is the species at the center of one of C. J. Cherryh's most popular book series. Though these lion-like creatures are called hani, the books in the series all feature the family (or "pride") name of the hani ship captain who is the protagonist. What name is that? Click here

Answer: CHANUR

The most common wrong answer was Leo. This played the hardest of the set, as I had expected. (Alas, books always seem to come in behind movies and TV!) But I was definitely going to have several book-related questions, and I felt that C. J. Cherryh, another SF Grand Master, deserved the notice. (Also, she was born in my town, St. Louis, though she's best known as an Oklahoman.) Cherryh has published exceptional work since her first novels, Gate of Ivrel and Brothers of Earth, appeared in 1976. Her novels feature any number of truly fascinating aliens, with noticeably different social and political structures than humans and each other. I chose the Hani because the Chanur trilogy is one of her most popular sets of books -- not popular enough, I guess!

5. This lovely alien, played by Jane Badler, looks much different when you peel the skin off -- indeed, her baby might look much like the alien child pictured here. She and her fellows invaded Earth in this 1980s miniseries. Click here

Answer: V 

The most common wrong answer was Invasion of the Body Snatchers. V was quite a sensation when it first showed up, and I well remember the shocking moment when one of the Visitors peeled off their skin to reveal the lizardlike creature beneath. I have to admit I lost interest not too far into the series, though. There were eventually a number of TV movies, a number of novels, and a reboot in 2008. A feature movie was rumored to be in the works a couple of years ago, but nothing seems to have come of that.

6. Humanoid aliens are common, but depictions of aliens who look much different are rarer, and of those who think completely differently rarer still. One of the best attempts at the latter is depicted in this scene, as humans try to decode a language that indicates the aliens have a non-linear experience of time. The images are from which 2017 film, which was based on Ted Chiang's Nebula-winning novella "Story of Your Life"? Click here


The most common wrong answers were Contact and Interstellar. I was going to have an Arrival question all along, because I think "Story of Your Life" possibly the best novella of the past quarter century, and one of the most truly mind-blowing SF stories I've ever read (and some of the other candidates are also by Chiang!), and also a very moving tale. The movie version, directed by Dennis Villeneuve (who gets mentioned later in these questions!) was a very worthy adaptation, though, perhaps inevitably, not quite as good as the novella. 

7. This 1980s TV alien lived with the Tanner family after his spaceship crashed. His name may remind you of Bruce Wayne's butler, but it was derived as an initialism for which three word phrase. (Full phrase, please.) Click here


I knew this would play quite easy, but it played a bit easier than I had hoped. And, yes, it's yet another '80s TV series! Sorry about that. In retrospect, I probably should have replaced one of the three '80s TV questions. For me, there was less Science Fictional meat to this show than any of the others mentioned -- the point was the jokes, of course. As with the other '80s shows discussed, there were recent whispers of a potential remake, but nothing has come of that. And, of course, rumors that the Tanners of ALF and the Tanners of Full House were related have never gone away!

8. This picture depicts an "oankali" with a human. The oankali are "alien", but their mission can be said to bridge gaps so that no species is alien to the others, by combining genetic material from many species. They feature in a a trilogy by MacArthur prize-winning writer Octavia Butler. The trilogy is widely known by two different names -- one a Greek-derived word roughly describing the oankali mission, the other derived from a Hebrew tradition about a demon that mated with humans. Give either collective name for this trilogy. Click here


Octavia Butler was a tremendous writer, always thought-provoking and challenging, and still very fun to read. As with Cherryh, her first novel appeared in 1976. Also like Cherryh, she was a novelist first, short fiction writer only occasionally, though her short fiction is spectacular. The only reason she's not a Grand Master is her tragically early death at age 58, after a stroke and a fall. All of her work is well worth exploring. The oankali, who travel the Galaxy combining their genes with other species, come to a nearly ruined Earth and save humanity by breeding with some of the survivors and causing the children to have less agressive and hierarchical tendencies than those that lead to Earth's destruction. As such, they are the most interesting aliens (to me) in Butler's oeuvre.

9. Speaking of demons, this is one depiction of the Overlords, aliens whose (eventually) benevolent takeover of Earth is initially resisted partly because their appearance resembles traditional pictures of devils. They appeared in which 1953 Arthur C. Clarke novelClick here


The most common wrong answer was another Clarke novel, Rendezvous with Rama. When I was first reading adult SF, in 1972 or so, Clarke, Asimov, and Clifford Simak were the authors I first imprinted on. At that time Childhood's End was regarded as the peak of Clarke's SF writing, though its reputation seems to have diminished a bit. But it's an intriguing and philosophical novel, if a bit bittersweet.

10. Here's a depiction, from a movie poster, of another type of alien invader: a carnivorous and mobile plant. It was featured in a John Wyndham novel that is one of the earliest examples of the "cozy catastrophe" subgenre, and also in a movie released in 1962. What is this alien called, supposedly in part as a vague nod to H. G. Wells' name for the invading war machines in War of the Worlds. Click here

Answer: TRIFFID 

The most common wrong answerwas Tripod, I suppose because of the hint -- I tried to help people avoid that mistake by saying "in part" and "vague". "Cozy Catastrophe" is a term the great Brian W. Aldiss (another Grand Master!) coined specifically in reference to John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, though it applies to other novels by Wyndham, and by other (usually British) novelists such as John Christopher (The Death of Grass) and even (much more ambiguously) J. G. Ballard (The Drowning World) and Anna Kavan (Ice). It refers to an apocalyptic event that leaves a small group of people in fairly comfortable circumstances (though that really isn't true of the Ballard and Kavan novels I mentioned.) Wyndham (real name John Beynon Harris) had considerable success with novels such as The Kraken Wakes and The Midwich Cuckoos, but The Day of the Triffids, perhaps because of the movie, remains the most famous. I enjoy Wyndham's work, but of the novels mentioned above I most recommand Anna Kavan's astonishing Ice.

11. The attached image is of a Krayt Dragon as depicted in The Mandalorian, Chapter 9. However, many viewers thought it greatly resembled a huge creature from the desert world Arrakis in the 1965 Hugo- and Nebula-winning novel Dune (and its raft of sequels.) The animal in these books (and a forthcoming movie directed by Denis Villeneuve) was commonly called what? Click here

Answer: (SAND)WORM (also accepted: MAKER and SHAI-HULUD

Another question that played very easily. Certainly when I first saw the Krayt Dragon in The Mandalorian I said "That's a Sandworm!". (Though it turns out it has legs!) I really enjoyed Dune when I read it long ago, though I gave up on the series after three books. (It continued forever, it seems, even after Frank Herbert's death, when his son Brian along with Kevin J. Anderson kept adding on.) I will say that I am very much looking forward to the Villeneuve film, which will be in two parts, the first one scheduled for this coming October.

12. This is an image of an alien species, the Space Lubbers, from a comic book co-created by Nnedi Okorafor, the Hugo and Nebula-winning author of "Binti". The comics Okorafor created were a spinoff of what very popular movie that was also based on comic book material. Click here


The MCWA was Guardians of the Galaxy. I thought it was pretty cool that Nnedi Okorafor got the chance to write Black Panther comics, and this seemed a good opportunity for an alien as depicted only in comic books. Admittedly, that particular alien isn't terribly familiar, but I thought the rest of the question might point to Black Panther as the likely answer. Perhaps I also should have cited the year the movie came out. The question originally asked "Which author of "Binti" wrote the Black Panther spinoff featuring these aliens?", but I switched it around, partly because it seemed that spelling variations of Okorafor might have been difficult for the scoring team to deal with.

These next five questions didn't appear in the original quiz for one reason or another, but they still seem pretty good to me.

13. This illustration, by Frank R. Paul, of a creature called Tweel comes from the original pulp magazine appearance, in Wonder Stories in 1934, of one of the earlier examples in SF of a sympathetically portrayed alien who nonetheless is very "alien" in behavior. The story ended up in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame anthology. What was its title, implying a long journey on a different planet from Earth? Click here


This is the earliest story to appear in the classic anthology The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume I. Alas, the author, Stanley G. Weinbaum, died soon after it appeared, and his career never had a chance to truly flourish. In playtesting, it seemed to play quite hard, and I decided that stories I encountered in 1972 or so were not necessarily still remembered today.

14. This scary alien (or robot?) was a mysterious menace in the Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons, called by this avian name which was also the title of a novel Harlan Ellison long claimed to be writing, but never finished. Click here

Answer: SHRIKE

There were two issues with this question: does the Shrike count as an "alien" if it's a robot?; and, the alternate ways "in" to the question, the "avian" hint and, especially, the Ellison novel that never was, weren't as much help as I hoped. But, for all that, I still recommend at least the first two volumes in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos.

15. Creatures of pure energy are a favorite device of science fiction, writers, and the attached image portrays the Monster from the Id from this movie, one of the most celebrated SF movies of the 1950s. Click here


This was the last question to be cut from the official quiz. There was some question as to whether the "Id Monster" really counted as an alien or as simply a projection of the mind. I'd have liked to have an energy creature, but in the end the "Id Monster" didn't necessarily qualify. Also, it seemed perhaps one old movie too many.

16. A different kind of alien invasion is described in the Wormwood Trilogy (Rosewater. Rosewater Insurrection, The Rosewater Redemption.) The aliens are unseen but they release fungal spores (like those pictured) that change humanity -- and ultimately aim to change all of Earth for the benefit of the aliens. The author is which writer, considered a leading light of the Afrofuturist movement. Click here


I really wanted to make this question work, mostly to promote Tade Thompson, an exceptional writer. Wormwood Trilogy is a fascinating and original work. But the "alien" image (those "fungal spores") was, quite frankly, lame. So in the end this just didn't seem to fit the theme very well. But do check out Tade Thompson!

17. Sometimes aliens become popular enough to be used in toys, or candy promotions, or both at once! As in this alien, depicted as part of your smith's wife's Pez collection. What is the alliterative name given to this antagonist of Bugs Bunny in the Looney Tunes cartoon? Click here


I wish I had thought of using my wife's Pez as the image for this question before I put it in the Smith's note. If I had, I almost certainly would have replaced one of the '80s TV questions with this. I do wonder, however, how much Marvin the Martian is remembered by people younger than, er, me!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful, even if I only answered 7 of them correctly.