Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book meme run by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is “Books to Read If You Love/Loved X (X can be a genre, specific book, author, movie/TV show, etc.)”, so I took this opportunity to talk about a favourite character type of mine: inhuman characters. This could be anything from machines and aliens to gods and monsters, though the less human-like the better. My focus for this list is more on the ways a character’s inhuman-ness is represented and explored in the story too, rather than them just happening to have inhuman qualities.
In putting together this, I realized that the list of books/series I could personally pull for this post was not nearly as extensive as it could be. There’s surely a wealth of sci-fi and fantasy that qualify. I really hope there isn’t something obvious from all of the books I’ve read that I’m just not remembering. At any rate, I hope you enjoy checking these out if you do, and feel free to leave any recommendations of your own in the comments.
Though I’m sure the other books in the Wayfarers series would qualify as well, this is the only book I’ve read so far. In it, Chambers has carefully crafted a universe full of different alien species working and living together, each with their own special bodily needs, social quirks, and perspectives that need to be navigated in order for peaceful coexistence. As a bonus, issues over the treatment of A.I. are explored, as well as a relationship between a person and an A.I.
The propaganda train for this series trucks on further. Though technically alien, the Quintaglios have a nice earthbound twist to them, as they are the descendants of tyrannosaurs taken from Earth before the extinction event. Though still human enough in characterization to be relatable, Sawyer has crafted a culturally rich world fixated on these predatory carnivores, exploring everything from their strict social codes, to their hunting practices, to their unique body language and how that effects communication.
Though most of the cast is an archetypal party of adventurers on a quest to vanquish a Dark Lord, the inhuman darling of the story is Nth, a giant sentient spider who is forced to assume a human-like form and join them on their quest. The story throws an entire world’s morality of Light vs. Dark into question, giving the sympathetic spotlight to this hapless arachnid who is made to suffer the wretched new experiences that come with having an anthropomorphic form and a world that despises him.
Though much more human-adjacent than other entries so far, the angel and demon Aziraphale and Crowley are too great not to include. Though they have human bodies, great emphasis is put on how they merely inhabit those physical forms out of necessity and are otherwise more ethereal beings who operate very differently from the human beings around them, whom they are meant to save or damn, respectively.
One of the greatest graphic novel series ever made, each volume is jam-packed with wonderfully imaginative dreams, nightmares, gods, and the Endless themselves, who personify unending facets of the universe. The story itself concerns one of these Endless in particular, Dream, who has woefully human faults, yet is as rigid as his endless nature implies. Though following a multitude of story threads, the series is ultimately about how Dream is faced with either changing or being destroyed and the choice he eventually makes.
The Discworld novels make for some of the best fantasy reading out there, but definite standouts are the books focused on the character of Death, the grim reaper himself, who exists as an anthropomorphic personification in this world. Though remarkably disconnected from mortal experience, his surprising compassion, dry sense of humour, and desire to truly understand lived experience makes him a phenomenally endearing character. He’s the type of being that you yourself might want to see at that inevitable end, reaping you with care before you move on to what comes next.
The novel does more broadly cover the philosophical issues humanity would face when confronting extraterrestrial life immeasurably more advanced than us, but more importantly, it explores an increasingly intimate (nonsexual) relationship between a young woman and an alien, for whom she serves as interpreter. Though we never get a glimpse inside of his mind, the closeness between the two characters is shared with the reader and a great understanding of his very alien mind is fostered.
A series of graphic novels told completely without text, these books are masterworks of visual storytelling about the imagined world of the dinosaurs that once roamed the Earth. Though ostensibly animals, heroes and villains emerge in these collections of tales, with art that evokes real human emotion in beasts that the world has long moved on from.
Though in many respects Hellboy acts like any other affable slugger of a man while he engages with ghouls and ghosts as the world’s greatest paranormal investigator, his inhuman-ness forever haunts him throughout the series. He is continually forced to come to grips with an existence plagued by demonic heritage and a fate of bringing about apocalyptic change, something he wants no part in but simply cannot escape.
It’s been many years since I read this book, but once it came to mind I found I would be completely remiss if I left it out. The tale is of three domesticated animals, enhanced by cybernetic armour for military purposes, who must fight to escape their own exploitation in a world they struggle to understand, despite the augmentations to their intelligence. It’s a particularly short graphic novel, but well worth the read.
Until next time, thank you for reading! Feel free to share your own list down below.