Created By: fulltimeD on April 21, 2012 Last Edited By: fulltimeD on October 20, 2012
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Mechanistic Alien Culture

Organic or Cyborg Aliens that behave like Mechanical Lifeforms or embrace a very mechanistic culture

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The Zeerusty cultural counterpart to the Retro Rocket, the Flying Saucer, and the Tin-Can Robot; usually seen in older media and Retraux works, these are aliens (usually but not exclusively humanoids) or future humans that speak, behave or function more like robots or Mechanical Lifeforms... despite being at least partially or even wholly organic. If they have a society, it is heavily mechanized, and characterized by its rigidity. However, they differ from Mechanical Lifeforms in that they are either fully biological organisms or only partially cybernetic.

This probably comes from a classic way of distinguishing aliens from humans in older science fiction: give the aliens machine-like characteristics and values, and suddenly what would otherwise be just, a Human Alien, a Rubber Forehead Alien, or some guy in a rubber suit seems much more exotic when compared to regular old humans.

Aliens like this may have some kind of Hive Mind, have a Hive Caste System, or be controlled by an Artificial Intelligence (these frequently overlap). However they are just as often portrayed as individuals, though perhaps unimaginative ones. They will often use mechanical sounding terms, combined with typical Spock Speak or Robo Speak and Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness to describe biological characteristics and processes ("energy extraction" or similar for eating; "waste extraction" for urination/defecation, "databanks" for memory, etc...), or their equivalents. Very often they will speak in a Creepy Monotone. Sometimes the reason that such a culture exists is because the entire species experienced a civilization-wide case of Cybernetics Eat Your Soul, often as a response to some kind of large scale catastrophe. In the case of organics though, they will skip the cybernetic stage and adopt a mechanistic society in response to catastrophe, with similar consequences as Cybernetics Eat Your Soul.

They are distinct from Mechanical Lifeforms in that they do not have to be even partially mechanical themselves, only that they model their behavior and/or culture on that of robots or machines. In some cases, it may not be clear whether they are Mechanical Lifeforms or not.

In-universe, the aliens might either think of themselves as living machines, place a high cultural value on the characteristics of machines that are not reflected by organic beings (efficiency, organization, emotionlessness, etc...), or maybe held in bondage by a machine like a supercomputer.

Whether or not the aliens have some mechanical components and count as Cyborgs varies from work to work; it is not a requirement to be an example of this trope, but it is commonly invoked (and just as commonly kept ambiguous).

Note that this often overlaps with Ditto Aliens and occasionally Transhuman Aliens.

Extreme and malevolent examples tend to be Bionic Zombies (and can emulate either the classic Zombie stereotype or the more modern viral Zombie trope).

More benevolent versions may be The Spock.

Contrast Mechanical Lifeforms, where the aliens actually are entirely mechanical, and may or may not possess a mechanistic culture like this.

Note that this is a cultural trope, having to do with social behavior primarily and physiology or hardware only secondarily. To be an example, the culture of the aliens (or future humans) must be mechanistic; cyborg aliens without a mechanistic culture would not count as examples.

Examples:

Film

  • The Martians in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians: Food Pill-eating, joyless, humorless humanoid creatures with metallic-green skin and distinctly robot-like headgear incorporated into their costume design; the dullness of their heavily mechanized lives results in their children getting addicted to joyful, cheery Earthling holiday television programming.
  • The Ilia Probe in Star Trek: The Motion Picture struggles to comprehend carbon-based life (the probe is a humanoid android created by a society of Mechanical Lifeforms to interact with the Enterprise crew), so it uses extremely mechanistic language, like "Carbon Units," "Kirk Unit," "Decker Unit," etc., to describe humanoid(oid) society and individual "carbon units." The Ilia Probe created by the machine entity V'Ger, being an android, is not an example, but its perception of humanoid society is, as it is colored by the machine belief (as it is on the machines' homeworld) that "carbon units" exist to "serve the creator" (which, according to the machine logic, must be a living machine as well, like V'Ger, its creation; similar V'Ger and the Ilia Probe perceive the USS Enterprise as a Mechanical Lifeform serviced by "Carbon Units"). Interestingly, this implies that "Carbon Units" (carbon-based life) on the machines' homeworld are considered "artificial" by the living machines, which raises some very interesting questions about their evolution and technology.
  • The Mondoshawan from The Fifth Element: are they beings wearing powered suits of armor, or are they Mechanical Lifeforms? It's pretty ambiguous. Then again, some of the dialog during Leeloo's reconstruction scene implies that the Mondoshawan have DNA (it's also implied that Leeloo, the titular "Fifth Element" and Living MacGuffin, had a form similar to a Mondoshawan prior to being reconstructed in human form, since the piece of her that they used to reconstruct her appeared to be a Mondoshawan hand).
  • Laughably bad MST3K fodder and Sci-Fi Cult classic film Robot Monster features Ro-Man... Appearing as a man in a gorilla suit with a deep sea diver's helmet, the alien invader's exact morphology is elusive. It seems to be a cyborg, it comes from an advanced civilization, it is able to resist radiation, and speaks in a typical robotic style monotone popular at the time in B-movies. However they are not simply constructs or tools, as we learn in the scene where the earth stationed Ro-Man contacts the leader of the Ro-Men, who is a similar diving helmeted gorilla-bodied biped.

Folklore

  • People who claim to have encountered The Men in Black frequently report that the individuals they encountered behaved in an odd, machine-like fashion, displayed an odd fascination with mundane objects, and spoke in unusual speech cadences, or a Creepy Monotone.
  • "Little Green Men" in 1950's pop culture often had highly regimented societies and had mechanistic speech, behavior and self-perceptions.
  • Similarly, the modern descendents of the Little Green Men Mythos, the modern-day Greys, are often described as being like organic robots or drones, and/or part of a Hive Caste System, sometimes even with a Hive Mind. In many iterations of the modern UFO Mythos, The Greys are also described as cold, soulless, or unemotional.

Literature

  • Kurt Vonnegut's Tralfamadorians, depending on the story or novel that features them, are either Starfish Aliens or Mechanical Lifeforms that replaced their organic ancestors (Vonnegut never makes it clear if there was a Robot War or if this was a more benevolent Singularity-like event), their culture is perhaps even more Starfish-y then their physical form (when Salo tries to explain their system of government in The Sirens of Titan, he sounds like he's fraking stoned). So, they sometimes count as examples of this trope, depending on the story. Vonnegut's literary Alter Ego, Kilgore Trout, wrote several stories using aliens that had the stereotypical features of this trope, including a race of Car-People.
  • The Vogons from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are not-so little Green Men whose overly bureaucratized society, like the Hierarchy in Star Trek: Voyager, may be taken as a parody or a deconstruction of this trope, with the over-bureaucratization standing in for over-mechanization.
  • The main aliens in Bruce Coville's Space Brat books are stereotypical green humanoids with antennae who hatch from eggs. Their children are raised by computers and public officials, and many other elements of their society are highly impersonal.
  • The Meklar from the Line of Delirium series were originally The Reptilians, but they have embraced machine-like thinking, viewing everything organic as inferior, and each of them begins replacing body parts with cybernetics soon after birth, becoming fully Mechanical Lifeforms by the end of their natural life span.

Live-Action Television

  • Doctor Who: The Daleks and the Cybermen are both technically cyborg races that follow this trope; particularly the Cybermen. They both have robotic voices and overlap with Transhuman Aliens. They are both obsessed with machine-like efficiency, but the Daleks are dedicated to exterminating other species (especially humans and Time Lords), whereas the Cybermen are The Assimilator.
  • Star Trek: Several aliens, primarily from the original series:
    • The drone-like Lawgivers in "Return of the Archons." In that case, the drone-like humanoids were controlled by an intelligent supercomputer.
    • The original builders of the Androids on Exo III were also stated to have been a society of biological creatures who ruined their homeworld and retreated underground where they became a more mechanized, machine-like society.
    • The Kelvans from the Andromeda Galaxy are implied to have a culture like this; they are completely organic beings, but in their true form they experience none of the sensory distractions of humanoids, and consider themselves much more efficient. They go about trying to take over the Milky Way with very straightforward methods (transforming Kirk's crew into vulnerable dust-cubes that only their technology can restore to human form, for example) but without any of the typical Trek villains' hamminess. The Federation is saved from them by the fact that, when in artificial humanoid form, the Kelvans become Sense Freaks and can be incapacitated in a variety of ways, such as by the effects of alcohol or unfamiliar emotions like pleasure or jealousy.
    • The Eyemorg (humanoid female) society in the infamous episode "Spock's Brain" were totally reliant on a mechanized underground industrial complex run by advanced computers (for which purpose they tried to steal "Spock's Brain," because they lacked the knowledge to maintain this infrastructure themselves unless); this was in contrast to the primitive, Ice Age-like culture of males that lived on the surface.
    • The Fabrini who lived aboard a generational asteroid ship, which they all believed was actually a planet, were similarly run by an advanced, tyrannical computer called The Oracle. The Fabrini were less "rigidly mechanical" and more "rigidly traditional" though, the rigid traditions being enforced by The Oracle.
    • The Borg are a Hive Mind of Hollywood Cyborg aliens that otherwise follow this trope, using cybernetically augmented humanoid bodies only as cannon fodder and servitor units.
    • Vulcans sometimes have elements of this, but their culture is much more complex. Their education system, however, as briefly shown in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and more extensively in Star Trek (2009), is very much in line with this trope and plays like a callback to the uber-intellectual, emotionless aliens of older science fiction.
    • The Iyaarans, a species from a Season 7 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, play this trope absolutely straight, and also like a callback to aliens from older Sci-Fi: They are Ditto Aliens with rubber foreheads and jumpsuits; they lack cultural concepts like antagonism, love, joy, pleasure, crime, etc; they all appear male and reproduce asexually by something called post-cellular compounding, the exact mechanics of which are, fortunately, never detailed. Their diet is extremely bland, consisting of nutrient wafers, because they consider their need to eat as matter of sustenance only, not pleasure or enjoyment, like many other humanoids consider meals. Unlike most examples of this trope, however, they are very curious about other cultures, though they struggle to understand diverse cultures like the Federation.
    • Similarly, the cauliflower-headed humanoids that abducted Picard for study in an earlier episode were all identical with no concept of individual identity or leadership. What little was revealed about their society hinted at something like this trope.
    • The Bynars from the first season episode "11001001" are closely dependent on their computers for survival. They have implants that connect them to their planet's central computer, have "digital" names like One Zero and Zero One, live and work in binary pairs, have a language based on binary, and when their planet's central planetary computer is fried by a nearby supernova it almost wipes out the entire species.
    • The Hierarchy from Star Trek: Voyager are a callback/parody/possible deconstruction of this, with their heavily regimented, computerized society, costume design, and snotty behavior.
  • An episode of Lost in Space featured a mechanized society of humanoid cyborgs whose leader was a computer. They kidnapped Dr. Smith to repair the computer. They also had clock-like mechanisms on their chests which they could use to turn back or alter the flow of time.
  • Not a straight example, but played with in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica: The Cylon Civil War happens to a large degree because Six's and Cavil's factions disagree about whether their society of Artificial Humans should explore their humanity (Six's faction) or embrace their nature as machines and "be the best machines the Universe has ever seen" (Cavil's faction).
    • Cavil is a real hypocrite about this, though, and most of his behavior is due to the fact that he hates having been given human form when his creators could have just as easily designed him as an omniscient God-like A.I.
    • In the original show, the Cylons were originally meant to be reptilian humanoids who wore robot-like armor and spoke in synthesized, robot-like voices. By the time the Pilot was filmed, however, their backstory had been changed so that they were now the machine descendants of an extinct reptilian species.
  • Blake's 7 had the System, a civilization controlled by the three powerful defense computers of the three inhabited planets of their solar system, which built the starship DSV-1. The System was administered by Altas (either cyborgs, androids, or augmented humans) and black-armored guards that appeared to be cybernetically augmented humans. There were also thousands of human slaves, descendents of the people who had built the computers that had taken over their civilization.
    • Similarly, the Ultra of Ultraworld in Series 3 are blue-skinned humanoid creatures either summoned or created by Ultraworld (a living, artificial planet/giant computer centered around an enormous brain) to interact with captured starship crews, whom Ultraworld intends to absorb into its gestalt. They walk with a jerky gait and speak in odd, robot-like cadences. The "menials," assimilated humanoid servants, are also examples of this trope: their identity, memories and emotions are recorded on a tube and stored in a library. They behave mechanistically as they toil about, maintaining Ultraworld.
  • In the eighties science fiction series Otherworld, the Church of Artificial Intelligence filled this role for the Alternate Universe where the heroes, an American family on vacation in Egypt, founded themselves stranded. It was the state religion of a totalitarian government that enforced strict conformity through the Zone Troopers. More like this trope is what they were striving for though, than what they actually achieved.
  • The Observers from Fringe who are future descendants of humanity hint at this with their uniformity, odd behavior, Creepy Monotone speech, and severely dulled sense of taste in contrast to their subtle perceptions of the flow of time, play this and most of the original MIB Mythos, see above pretty straight (that is, up until the episode "Letters of Transit"). It's possible the Scientific Team September, August, et al were a part of was some kind of "scientific caste" in Observer society; the behavior of the "Overseer" Observers in the possible version of the year 2036 in the episode "Letters of Transit" were much more carnal and human-like, and did not seem to use the same Creepy Monotone (though one or more of those traits might be due to prolonged exposure to modern/20 Minutes into the Future human behavior).
    • There appear to be no female Observers (at least none have been seen so far), and how or if they reproduce has never been addressed. They are also Ditto Posthumans, being extremely uniform, even when they appear in large numbers. They all seem to wear variations on a suit and a decades-out-of-style hat; this also includes when they appear in large numbers; the episodes set in the future make it clear that all Observers dress like this, not just the members of September's Scientific Team.
  • Many episodes of the classic sci-fi anthology Dueling Shows The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits featured aliens with ambiguously robotic characteristics. "Mr. Dingle, the Strong," for example, featured one with two heads.

Role-Playing Games

  • Warhammer 40K has the Tau, organic aliens who have embraced machine culture enough to section their society into castes based on their given functions in life and where they come from. Even their names denote their particular traits.

Video Games

  • The Starmen from Earthbound. They're visibly metallic and they have Robo Speak, but they're able to cast spells, and come back as ghosts, something one would not expect from robots.
  • The Machina race from the Xenoblade Chronicles RPG video game seem to be this.
  • The Space Pirates from the Metroid series of action adventures video games.
Community Feedback Replies: 38
  • April 21, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    ", but aren't" means the title is bad, since it doesn't state that key requirement.

    Cyborg Alien should be the title.
  • April 21, 2012
    fulltimeD
    ^Except that they are not necessarily cyborgs. They could be entirely organic with a mechanistic culture.

    I see your point about the title: How would you suggest changing it (given that they do not need to be cyborgs, just act robotically and usually for cultural reasons, for this to work)?

    For now I have changed it from "Robot aliens" to "Robotic Aliens" to emphasize that they are robot-like, but not actually robots.
  • April 21, 2012
    fulltimeD
    What about "Mechanistic Alien Culture" as a title, since that's basically what this trope boils down to?
  • April 21, 2012
    fulltimeD
    removed the Cyberiad example, they're Mechanical Lifeforms
  • April 22, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Anyone got any more examples? Particularly examples from older media like golden age sci-fi lit and 1960's anthology shows would be welcome.
  • April 23, 2012
    fulltimeD
    changed The Men In Black example category to Folklore from Real Life
  • April 23, 2012
    fulltimeD
    What are peoples' thought on this as it stands? Any suggestions for improvements?
  • May 5, 2012
    fulltimeD
    bump: anyone got more examples?
  • May 6, 2012
    HandsomeRob
    Transformers Prime has the Autobots and Deecpticons as this, as opposed to their previous status as genuine robots. They've been stated to have heart-beats, they can get sick, their parts are equatable to organs, etc. When Bumblebee lost his Transformation cog, it was considered the equivalent of being crippled.
  • May 6, 2012
    morenohijazo
    The Starmen from Earthbound? They're visibly metallic and they have Robo Speak, but they're able to cast spells, something one would not expect from robots.
  • May 7, 2012
    CosmicRock
    - Laughably bad and MST 3 K fodder Sci-Fi Cult classic flim "Robot Monster" features Ro-Man...Appearing as a man in a gorilla suit with a deep sea diver's helmet, the alien invader's exact morphology is elusive. It seems to be a cyborg, it comes from an advanced civilization, it is able to resist radiation, and they speak in a typical robotic style monotone popular at the time in B-movies. They are not simply constructs or tools, as we learn in the scene where the earth stationed ro-man contacts the leader of the ro-men, who is a similar diver helmeted gorilla bodied biped.

    - The Mechan race from the Xenoblade Chronicles RPG video game seem to be this.

    - The Space Pirates from the Metroid series of action adventures video games.
  • May 8, 2012
    fulltimeD
    ^Thanks Cosmic Rock. Could you elaborate just a little more on the Mechans and the Space Pirates? What robot-like or cyborg characteristics do they have?
  • May 8, 2012
    TBeholder
    Oh, come on. Let's make "Ambiguously, Trope!" pale shadow for every trope now? =D
  • May 8, 2012
    fulltimeD
    ^This is a distinct trope defined by its ambiguity. "Ambiguous" here is a perfectly valid descriptor. It's nothing like the overused "badass" naming meme.
  • May 9, 2012
    LordMelchior
    Do the Androids in Dragonball Z count? EDIT: Never mind, those don't behave like robots at all.
  • May 10, 2012
    TBeholder
    ^^ Lack of outstanding crappy name doesn't mean it's a valid trope. How many tropes can't be subjected to "Ambiguously, X!" cloning? "Ambiguous Mega Corp", "Ambiguously Conditional Powers", "Ambiguous Brain Bleach", "Our Bugs, Ambiguously, Are Different"? :D
  • May 10, 2012
    fulltimeD
    ^Are you saying this is not a valid trope, or are you saying it needs a better name? i think the degree to which this trope is in effect is the degree to which it's deliberately ambiguous and deliberately present in media- very often this is a "mixed bag" of characteristics, but the general theme is the same: non-robotic life forms emulating robots.
  • September 29, 2012
    fulltimeD
    and this is often to emphasize their difference from humanity; it's clearly relevant to the stories in which it appears
  • September 29, 2012
    norsicnumber2nd
    The Chitauri and Leviathans in The Avengers

    Also, the Daleks and Cyberman of Doctor Who are bad examples. The Daleks are a mutant race that looks a bit like a squid, housed in armour and The Cybermen are robots powered by a human heart and brain.
  • September 29, 2012
    fulltimeD
    changed the title and reworked the description somewhat
  • September 29, 2012
    fulltimeD
    re: dr who aliens

    I added that it's an overlap with Transhuman Aliens in both cases; how's that?

    Look... the Daleks speak in a stereotypical robot monotone screech. They don't have names. They're all about efficiency and Nazi-like purity. Sounds like a perfect example to me.

    Same with the Cybermen, whose exact nature varies from story to story, like many aliens in sci-fi. How are they "bad examples?" They're PERFECT examples of this trope.

    re: The Avengers

    Could you please describe both examples somewhat more?
  • October 2, 2012
    fulltimeD
    bump
  • October 2, 2012
    MrRuano
    • Warhammer 40 K has the Tau, organic aliens who have embraced machine culture enough to section their society into castes based on their given functions in life and where they come from. Even their names denote their particular traits.
  • October 3, 2012
    Koveras
    • The Meklar from the Line Of Delirium series were originally The Reptilians, but they have embraced the machine-like thinking, viewing everything organic as inferior, and each of them begins replacing body parts with cybernetics soon after birth, becoming fully Mechanical Lifeforms by the end of their natural life span.
  • October 3, 2012
    owlwarrorforaslan5
    The title is confusing. It could refer to any completely cybernetic being who just happens to be an alien.

    and the robots from Transformers Prime aren't part organic, they are just Ridiculously Human Robots. They may have suspiciously organic seeming traits, but they are still compleatly cybernetic. And it isn't heartbeat, it's sparkbeat. I just don't think it counts as this trope.

    The idea for the trope is great, it just needs a new title.
  • October 5, 2012
    fulltimeD
    This trope has gone through several titles:

    Mechanistic Alien Culture being one of them; people had problems with that; I've tried every name I can think of and frankly I am open to suggestions. I liked Mechanistic Alien Culture and would love to go back to that title; I only changed it to "Robotic Aliens" based on what dragonquest z said (and my disagreement with that).

    re: Transformers

    I'll think about taking it out; I'm not too familiar with that franchise
  • October 5, 2012
    fulltimeD
    changed it back to Mechanistic Alien Culture, since that is what this describes. I get the issue with overusing the word "ambiguous" (though as I said before, I think it's a valid descriptor in this case), and I can't understand why anyone would have a problem with Mechanistic Alien Culture.

    I'll add the new examples later...
  • October 5, 2012
    JonnyB
    Another STTNG example: The Bynars from the first season episode "11001001" are closely dependent on their computers for survival. They have implants that connect them to their planet's central computer, have "digital" names like One Zero and Zero One, act in binary pairs, have a language based on binary, and when their planet's central planetary computer is fried by a nearby supernova it almost wipes out the entire race.
  • October 7, 2012
    fulltimeD
    ^great example, thanks!
  • October 7, 2012
    Koveras
    ignore
  • October 9, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Does anyone still have any issues with the description or the name?
  • October 9, 2012
    fulltimeD
    or the examples?
  • October 9, 2012
    Chernoskill
    What about the Space Jockey race from the Alien movies? They were called Biomechanoids by creator H.R. Giger, and while the creatures themselves are biological, they seem to be able to merge with everything the use in any way (suits, ships, weapons), effectively making it another part of their body.
  • October 9, 2012
    fulltimeD
    That's a different trope, Organic Technology. And Unusual User Interface. Being cyborgs alone wouldn't qualify. Alien and even Prometheus (which revealed that they are our ancestors, and are much more human-looking under their technology) revealed virtually nothing of their culture, only that their technology used biological components.
  • October 11, 2012
    fulltimeD
    who thinks this is ready for launch? trying to collect hats at this point.
  • October 12, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ You have mine now.
  • October 12, 2012
    fulltimeD
    gracias- one more and we'll launch :)
  • October 15, 2012
    fulltimeD
    alri9ght... will launch this one shortly... next couple days. Doing some description and example edits. Taking suggestions.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=7l0f9abdci3mcvi5gmkgjqtv&trope=MechanisticAlienCulture