Has the sci-fi trope of "aliens seed the galaxy with humanoids" been done well?

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Francis Buck

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« on: June 20, 2014, 11:48:22 pm »
This is a nit-pick of mine for sci-fi in general. Obviously it stems from the initial concept of "all aliens look basically like humans with maybe weird foreheads or ears". Once people got wise to how to stupid that was, we started to see the explanation that some grand, all-powerful race of humanoids actually seeded life throughout the galaxy/universe/whatever, thus resulting in the abundance of intelligent alien civilizations that all look like humans.

My question is: has this trope ever been done in a way that actually made sense and wasn't just some lazy hand-waving to explain humanoid aliens?

Take Prometheus for example (probably a bad example to start with, but whatever). Supposedly these crazy proto-humans seeded earth with their DNA billions of years ago or whatever. The thing is, those "seeds" would have a HILARIOUSLY low chance of ever turning into anything like a human, even on an earth-like environment. Sure, there might be some convergent evolution and you end up with an intelligent species that has a head, two arms, two legs, and binocular vision (say, maybe something like the Navi from Avatar). But even that's a stretch.

A lot of science fiction uses this trope, and it has always bothered me. I mean, how does it work? Do you just drop a bunch of naked, bewildered humans onto a planet and let them have at it (at which point the fossil record of that planet becomes a major issue)? Do you manipulate the environment of said planet so as to "mold" humanoids? How the hell does it work?

Now, I'm fairly new to sci-fi literature (been on a kick with it recently, starting with the Dune series, then Blindsight by Peter Watts (all of you fuckers need to read this book right away -- if you like Bakker, you will almost certainly like Blindsight), and then finally the first two books of the Hyperion Cantos. I'm about to start the Culture series. But nonetheless I've been into sci-fi as a broad genre my whole life, and I can honestly say I've never seen a satisfyingly believable example of this trope in action.

Surely someone, somewhere, has done this successfully? The idea itself isn't horrible, it's just that the execution is always so vague and lackluster.

SilentRoamer

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« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2014, 01:08:08 am »
Its also funny because overall dinosaurs have rules the earth for the longest :) Dinosaurs on a spaceship seeding all worlds and EAT ALL LIFE on worlds where none Dino species evolved.

Yeah I personnaly don't subscribe to the idea that humanoids would be the resultant dominant species on varied worlds with wildly different envionments. I think the notion of intentional Panspermia on behalf of some sufficiently advanced and benevolent lifeforms is plausable though. I think any projects would consist of bombarding worlds with sufficient cometary material to kick start an atmosphere and seeding the surface with extremophile pods and all building blocks of life, put the kettle on for a few million years and then see whats going on.

Anyway back to your point. I cant think of any sci fi where there is a reasonable exlpanation.

Its either that they evolved to be humanoid as well and that this is a succesful configuration for a dominant species (we could argue that if on 60-90% of worlds eventually the humanoids went interstallar then it would be resonably methematically). Or its through the use of some sort of instant teleportation normally left by an older and more powerful species which of course is always fun to ignore causality.

Im very drunk so any spelling mistakes ill correct tommorow.


Wilshire

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« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2014, 04:07:01 am »
Sorry FB, none that I can think of. Just a lack of imagination :P

Most sci-fi I read starts with humans populating the galaxy. Dune, Foundation, Hyperion, and thats all I can think of right now (I mostly read fantasy). If you're looking for something unique to write about, it might be a good idea.
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Cüréthañ

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« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2014, 07:43:16 am »
David Brin did it well, I think. 
Progenitor race is long gone, aliens bio-enigineer/muck around with whatever organisms they find to create new (indentured) sentient races.  Known as uplifting.
Humanity is odd because no-one knows who gave us sentience, so our place in the galactic pecking order is uncertain.

Got your standard avian aliens etc, but some cool alien aliens like the Toroids and stuff iirc.
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SilentRoamer

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« Reply #4 on: June 21, 2014, 08:00:30 am »
Ok morning post now im no longer drunk.

Curethan is right Uplift is a good series. Another series I thought of this morning was Larry Nivens known space series where most life evolved from the same low level organism which was essentially food spores for another alien species.

Madness

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« Reply #5 on: June 21, 2014, 01:52:19 pm »
I can't imagine why this was originally posted in Philosophy & Science but if you want it moved back, FB, let me know.

And... to the question... that's a really exact trope. You're suggesting that there is a period of fiction (whatever medium) that responded to the idea that "we can't stop anthropomorphizing our fictional Others" with "how can we bolster that specific trope with believability?"

However, OG Universal Races are the same thing as OG Lost Civilizations. Translated into space... It's really just us looking into our past?

Its also funny because overall dinosaurs have rules the earth for the longest :) Dinosaurs on a spaceship seeding all worlds and EAT ALL LIFE on worlds where none Dino species evolved.

Yeah I personnaly don't subscribe to the idea that humanoids would be the resultant dominant species on varied worlds with wildly different envionments. I think the notion of intentional Panspermia on behalf of some sufficiently advanced and benevolent lifeforms is plausable though. I think any projects would consist of bombarding worlds with sufficient cometary material to kick start an atmosphere and seeding the surface with extremophile pods and all building blocks of life, put the kettle on for a few million years and then see whats going on.

+1 to your Dino commentary.

And otherwise then, you sir are the resulting spluge from the death of a star and planetary bombardment with mushrooms :P.
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SilentRoamer

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« Reply #6 on: June 21, 2014, 03:27:43 pm »
Its funny because explaining away our origins only moves the goal back. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.

Rama and Hitchhikers both explain humanity as well although in a different way than I think FB is looking for.

Royce

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« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2014, 05:29:31 pm »
In the Neverness series by David Zindell, a super advanced race of men fly around destroying stars, scooping up the stardust to seed life on planets all over the universe, resulting in different kinds of evolution all over the place.

This description is just from the top of my head, it is not as simple as that:)

Quote
And otherwise then, you sir are the resulting spluge from the death of a star and planetary bombardment with mushrooms :P.

Lol, and yes indeed :)

Francis Buck

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« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2014, 06:06:43 pm »
Its funny because explaining away our origins only moves the goal back. Turtles all the way down as the saying goes.

That's actually a point I meant to bring up in the OP. I've always kind of disliked the panspermia "explanation" because it isn't really much of an explanation. As you say, it just moves the goal back.

I'd heard of the Uplift series, I will have to check it out, as well as some of the other things ya'll have brought to mind.

Srancy

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« Reply #9 on: August 11, 2014, 05:05:50 am »
The only one that I can think of that made any sense was Future War