It has been a long-held belief of mine that reality is often stranger, scarier and more fascinating than fiction, most likely because everything in fiction is based somehow on reality. True creativity does not exist. That is not to say that people are not creative, far from it, but all of our collective creative efforts are grounded in something we have experienced through our lives. For example, the groups of the animal kingdom – mammals, reptiles, birds etc. – we know them to exist and can probably easily distinguish which group an animal belongs to by it’s features, but try to think of a kingdom that doesn’t exist. Try to think of what the ‘next’ animal group, without it somehow taking features of those that already exist and therefore being able to be placed within those existing groups. Difficult, isn’t it? Our perceptions, the way we interpret and see the world, and thus the things we can imagine and create, are limited by the senses we have to gather information about the world around us. Recently, I read about Mantis Shrimp and how their eyes are able to perceive 16 different colours (compared to our 3), yet, though we know this, we cannot figure out exactly WHAT those colours might be, or what to call them, because we cannot see them ourselves. Our brains have to call upon prior knowledge and experience to create, because that is all it knows. The same applies when we try to develop fictional works. Some examples of older fiction were possibly the author’s attempts to rationalise with something they had experienced, but did not understand. Regardless, I seem to be getting distracted, the main purpose of this article and the ones I plan to follow, will be to compare fictional creations to their counterparts in reality (mostly those from games, since I’m supposed to stick with gaming as much as possible 😉 ), if this were a video I imagine there would be a deep-voiced man to do the occasional voice-over, perhaps for the titles? But alas, I don’t have that, so I’ll have to win you over with my words, instead of Morgan Freeman’s voice.
As the title above no doubt suggests, I thought I’d kick off the fact vs fiction with a long standing Horror-Science Fiction icon, the alien – or Xenomorph – from the aptly named Alien series. Having started their lives in a lithograph called Necronom IV and refined for the film, Alien, the Xenomorphs have grown in popularity to the point of a featuring in a number of sequels, spin-offs and, you guessed it, games.
These creatures really are an ingenious design by H. R. Giger, but when you start to break them down you can see all the links to reality. Probably the most iconic feature of the Alien is the ‘second mouth’, a fang-lined, biting set of jaws on the end of something akin to a proboscis where the tongue should be, able to easily pierce the skull of a human.
This weapon is based on a design used by carnivorous insect nymphs, an extendable jaw under the chin, called the labium (NOT to be confused with the singular of ‘labia’ which is a part of the vagina), these fire at high speed when prey is detected in order to snatch the tadpole or small fish for the little critter to eat. While I admit an insect larvae doesn’t scare me nearly as much as I imagine a Xenomorph would if I ever met one, I do feel sorry for the water-dwelling creatures that have to face them. Another link to insects would be the social structure of the aliens, which are very similar to ants, wasps, termites and other hive insects; they have a single fertile queen with many workers, or warriors if you want to call them that, who work to protect the colony and find food/hosts for more offspring.
Now, I’m sure anyone who’s a fan of the Aliens or H. R. Giger is aware of his strong sexual/phallic/fetish imagery, which features heavily in the design of the Aliens across their various life stages, even the eggs open in a way that (apparently) resembles the lips of the vagina – I swear, he says all this stuff himself, I read a book about the films and the creature design and whatnot, it’s not just a weird interpretation! I think the critic Ximena Gallardo explains more eloquently (and horrifyingly) than I ever could; “A nightmare vision of sex and death. It subdues and opens the male body to make it pregnant, and then explodes it in birth. In its adult form, the alien strikes its victims with a rigid phallic tongue that breaks through skin and bone. More than a phallus, however, the retractable tongue has its own set of snapping, metallic teeth that connects it to the castrating vagina dentata.” I’m not going to go into all the features of the Xenomorphs that have some basis in sexual imagery, because to be honest, I would be here for a very long time. The whole creature has a very sexual theme… just in a peculiar, twisted kind of way.
As a final note, I’ll talk briefly about the acid blood of the Aliens. Now, as of yet, we have not discovered any instance of a biological organism that uses acid in it’s blood – I’m not even sure how that would work in reality, given the mechanisms needed for adequate molecular transport but that’s beside the point – but some animals do utilise acid, for defence or otherwise. Wood ants, from the Genus Formica, for example, have the ability to fire formic acid at you, hence the name. They can literally squirt this acid several feet, which is quite the feat for something so small when you think about it.
Now I must say, in this instance, this work of fiction is far more disturbing and frightening than the original features they were based on, which I think we can owe to the surreal genius that is H. R. Giger.
This concludes the first installment of fact vs fiction, I hope to do more in the future, but for now I’m sorry if some will never be able to look at genitalia, or the Aliens themselves, in the same way again.