Inscrutable Aliens

"About Khaak culture absolutely nothing is known. From their behaviour it is difficult to determine a recognisable analogue, prompting some Argon exobiologists to comment on the 'fundamental impenetrability' of the modes of thought of extraterrestrials."

Sometimes, it's considered a mark of good World Building in the Science Fiction genre to develop an alien culture like you would any aspect of the story. To talk about their history, culture, motivations and character.

Other times, writers find it best to leave these questions for the ages.

The aliens are simply there. Any attempts at communication are met with silence. Their origins, motives, and plans are all mysterious. Nothing is known about their society and culture. Their actions come across as bizarre, incomprehensible, and frequently terrifying.

This trope is common in invasion literature and Horror, in order to add to the "other-ness" of the aliens.

Often the aliens in question are Starfish Aliens and may speak a Starfish Language. Given most are malignant invaders, many times they're Planet Looters.


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  • The JAM from Sentou Yousei Yukikaze. It has been 33 years since their attempted invasion of Earth. In that time, the Faery Air Force has been attempting to figure out what they are and why they invaded. After over 3 decades of fighting, they have learned absolutely nothing about them. Everything about the JAM that might be remotely accurate is all pure speculation. It also does not help that they may or may not even have physical bodies, as the only thing the FAF has seen of them are their aircraft and the makeshift "runways" they use to launch from.

     Comic Book 
  • The Image Comics series Trees follows the many misadventures of people who are part of an Earth that knows that aliens exist, because multiple gigantic black "posts" landed around the world (the Title Drop lies on the fact that humanity has had as much luck contacting the aliens that sent or are inside said posts as they would have asking a tree to talk, and so "like trees" the posts watch the world unfold).

  • Independence Day: The aliens just show up and blow up cities, the only time they communicate with humans is when one is taken prisoner and takes telepathic control of a scientist in order to demand its release.
    Peace? No peace.
  • The aliens in Battle: Los Angeles don't make any attempt at contact before they crash in and start killing people.
  • The Engineers in Prometheus seeded life on Earth billions of years ago, guided early humanity and left maps to their nearest outpost, then two thousand years ago decided to send a ship armed with bio-weapons to destroy everyone, the only thing that stopped them being that the weapons broke out. One of them escaped and made it to a stasis pod, to be awakened 2000 years later by human explorers. David had a grasp on their language and even spoke a few words to it, but its first act upon waking up was to start killing people and launch the ship.
    • It's even stranger when you consider that this impossibly advanced race is genetically identical to humanity. They look like humans but are utterly alien.

  • As with many Alien Invasion tropes, the Trope Codifier is probably The War of the Worlds. The Martians make no attempt to communicate and the humans can only speculate on their motives.
  • The Ender series has a word for such a species: varelse. More than one of the species placed in this category were later reclassified as the understanding between them and humans improved.
  • The Ark Megaforms in Space Mowgli, though they do attempt to communicate with humans via the title character.
  • The Wanderers in the Noon Universe novels: humanity finds traces of their presence all over the galaxy but has never encountered one in person.
  • Variation in Blindsight. The alien ship does make contact but the crew quickly figure out that they're talking to a "Chinese room". They spend a lot of the novel trying to figure out whether the giant starfish-like creatures patrolling the ship are sentient or just drones of some kind as they make no attempt at communicating. The truth is far more sinister, the aliens are not sentient, self-awareness is not required to build starships, sentience is an anomaly unique to H. sapiens sapiens and will be corrected
  • John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes (retitled Out of the Deeps in the US): A group of aliens invades the Earth's oceans. They never contact the human race in any way and the two sides engage in a war without either side ever seeing the other face-to-face.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's short story "Goldfish Bowl". Unknown creatures (it's not clear if they're from Earth or aliens) suck a huge pillar of seawater into a cloud and then return it to the ocean. They also send out fireballs that kidnap people. They're never seen by humans and don't communicate with humanity.
  • Stewart Cowley's Spacecraft: 2000 to 2100 A.D.. The City Ships of Alpha are huge cities that float from one pillar to another at irregular intervals. They have existed as far back as the Alpha Centaurians' history goes. All attempts by the Alpha Centaurians to communicate with their occupants have failed, and all attempts to enter the cities are prevented by a protective force field.
  • The contagion embedded in the deep space probe in The Andromeda Strain is a crystal-based organism that kills Earth creatures by reorganizing the minerals in their bodies to fit the crystalline template. It turns out, the crystals have predefined stop points, leading to the hypothesis that the organism was created by an extraterrestrial intelligence as a data storage medium.
  • John Varley's Eight Worlds series involves a Transhuman future where humanity has colonised much of the Solar Systemů and then one day aliens came and evicted humans from Earth, with no (visible) rhyme, reason, nor response when contact was attempted.
  • In Christopher Nuttall's Ark Royal the aliens ignore all calls for communication and simply dice humanity's ships to pieces. Though late in book 2 a faction of the aliens attempts to make contact, before being destroyed by the war faction.
  • In Edmond Barrett's Nameless War the Nameless make no attempts at communication, expeditions after the Mississippi Incident discover their handiwork but not the Nameless themselves. In Last Charge the Nameless do offer terms of surrender - humanity must stop breeding and go extinct peacefully.
  • Janusz Zajdel had these in Limes Inferior (very inscrutable, we can only speculate why they invaded, as well as Wyjście z cienia (we get a chapter from their point of view).
  • The Presger in Ancillary Justice exist mainly as an unknowable, outside force that has put a dampener on The Radch by proclaiming humans a 'significant' species that are worth not being disassembled in an amusing fashion. From what little we learn from one of their Artificial Human 'translators', their way of thinking is completely alien to ours and they don't seem to understand individuality or personhood, or at least not in a way translatable to us.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek
  • Stargate Verse:
    • The Stargate SG-1 episode "Grace" had the Prometheus encounter a ship which refused to respond to hails and opened fire on them, chased them into a Negative Space Wedgie which trapped them both, and abducted all of the crew save Samantha Carter. Even after Carter manages to figure a way to get everybody out (using a hyperspace "bubble"; It Makes Sense in Context), the alien ship doesn't respond to her when she hails it to demand the return of the crew in exchange for help; it just teleports the crew back.
    • Stargate Universe had the crew aboard the Destiny chased by a Starfish Alien species (dubbed the Nakai by executive producer Joseph Mallozi) that only transmitted the word "surrender" as a constant enemy, and the crew ends up finding little (if any) information about them during the course of the series.
  • The Vorlons from Babylon 5. While they can be spoken to, it's debatable whether they can be communicated with.
    Sinclair: Yes we have files on them, very large files. There's nothing in them, of course.

    Video Games 
  • The Mothership Zeta expansion of Fallout 3 features the player character fighting his way through an alien space ship. We hear a variety of accounts of (horrifying) experiences with the aliens from a number of people, but the human characters can only guess at the aliens' motives for the atrocities they commit.
  • The X-Universe series has the Khaak, a species with point-to-point jumpdrive technology that invaded the Community of Planets in X2: The Threat, and was finally defeated midway through X3: Terran Conflict. No attempts to communicate with them have gotten a response, prompting speculation in-universe that they're just too mentally alien. All the Community of Planets races have learned is that they are attracted to nividium and that they seem to be Bee People rather than individuals (the latter from having cracked their video communication codecs).
  • The Shivans in Freespace never communicate with anyone. They reveal nothing of their culture, or their mindset, or anything about themselves. Their only method of interaction is by destruction. The only things we learn of them are through ruins and left-behind information by the Precursors that had previously fought them (and lost), and consists entirely of their wild guesses. The endgame of the second game has the Shivans perform some very strange actions that are completely unexplained (and also make clear that they could have wiped out the humans and vasudans way before, but had chosen not to). No explanations are forthcoming either because the games were cancelled at this point.
  • In the intro video to Sword of the Stars First Contact with the Hivers is described thus: "They came in silence, no statement of intention, no declaration of war. Without even a demand for our surrender." Though, of course, other factions of the Hivers proved more talkative, as well as all the other playable species out there.
  • World of Warcraft has the Naaru. They're basically portrayed as space angel windchimes whose only known motivation is stopping the Burning Legion (who are demons/evil aliens). They also have absurdly high tech spaceships which for some reason seem to be built to be run by creatures with hands, like the draenei. Of course, in the Exodar's case, O'ros simply could have been piloting the ship psychically. He either lost concentration or crashed on Azeroth on purpose. The Naaru are known for doing harmful things to themselves to further their goal of stopping the Legion. Basically nothing else is known about them and they cannot/will not communicate in any way beyond psychic image projection.
  • Arcen seems to be fond of this on the whole. The three alien races from the AI War Fleet Command expansions are very non-human in their wants and priorities, though their view of humanity ranges from being friendly to antagonistic depending on the racial group.
    • This carries over to Stars Beyond Reach, where Spire prove to be even weirder when they aren't intergalactic refugees. By contrast (AI) Zenith are clearly making an effort to integrate with other races but they aren't good at it.note 
    • The Last Federation's Obscura put the rest to shame though; they're a particulate based form of life with which communication is impossible.