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Mechanistic Alien Culture

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Aliens or future humans that function like robots, despite being organic. If they have a society, it is heavily mechanized, and characterized by its rigidity.

The Zeerusty cultural counterpart to the Retro Rocket, the Flying Saucer, and the Tin-Can Robot; usually seen in older media and Retraux works. 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.

In the twentieth century, it was probably also a commentary on both fascism and communism as systems that placed little to no value on the individual, and which seemed likely to dominate the world at the time. Yet even back in the 19th century, Jules Verne portrayed such a future in a very negative light in Paris in the Twentieth Century as a response to the dehumanizing aspects of the Industrial Revolution.

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.


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    Film Live-Action 
  • 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 dialogue 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).
    • Leeloo's form appears to be rather fluid, since the first time she is seen she looks like a stylized humanoid statue it could be just some sort of sarcophagus, of course, but it certainly couldn't contain the bulk of a Mondoshawan.
  • 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.
  • 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 aliens in the French comedy Le Gendarme et les extra-terrestres are made of metal and they rust.

  • 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.
    • One theory is that they're just ordinary government agents who deliberately act weird so that witnesses who describe them will sound crazy.
  • "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.

  • 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, Author Avatar, 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 Trilogy 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 Meklar from the Line of Delirium series were originally Lizard Folk, 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. Not much is known about their society, as only two individuals are described in the novels, and they are more the exception than the rule. T'san works for the human Imperial Security Bureau, and many of his parts were developed by human engineers, making him a pariah of sorts among his own kind. Kas's'is works for the Family and is more loyal to the Mother than the Perfect One (the Meklar leader). They are able to communicate with one another with a line-of-sight laser, making it impossible to intercept them. A group of humans calling themselves Mechanists strive to imitate the Meklar, and try mechanize themselves as much as possible. This makes them unable to use aTan, but their cyborg bodies are highly-resistant to damage.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Many episodes of the classic sci-fi anthology Dueling Shows The Twilight Zone (1959) and The Outer Limits (1963) feature aliens with ambiguously robotic characteristics. The Twilight Zone episode "Mr. Dingle, the Strong", for example, features one with two heads.
  • Battlestar Galactica:
    • In the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (2003): Not a straight example, but played with. 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 Battlestar Galactica (1978), 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:
    • The System is 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.
    • The Federation could be said to be an example of this; it has rigid autocratic tendencies, computerized trials, and Star One, a computer complex that controls various functions of their society. They have "grades", hierarchical classes of citizens, and Federation colonies are highly controlled environments with pharmaceuticals pumped into the air and water to pacify the people.
  • The future world of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is much more emotionally subdued than our time. Buck finds the culture much too uptight, and the first season gets a lot of mileage out of Buck trying to loosen everybody up a bit. The second season, set on the Searcher, downplayed this idea, and Admiral Asimov and Dr. Goodfellow seem much more relaxed and "down to Earth" than most future folk we'd met in the first season.
  • 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.
  • 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" and the future-timeline of Season 5). It's possible the Scientific Team that September, August, and their comrades 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 the modern/20 Minutes into the Future human behavior of their ancestors).
    • There appear to be no female Observers (at least none have been seen so far), and how or if they reproduce was not addressed until the final season (they grow new observers using a cloning process with genetic screening and artificial selection for desired traits via genetic engineering and disposal of "anomalies"). 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. This fashion sense is also present in their own "native" timeline even further in the future.
  • 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.
  • Played for laughs on Mork & Mindy, where Ork is often depicted as a fairly sterile, mechanistic place out of touch with simple emotions. Orkans are "test tube babies" grown artificially, cloning is common, and they view individualists like Mork as disruptive or even threatening. This is why Mork was such a misfit there (and indeed, why Orson sent him to another planet, because Orson considered him a pest), and why Earth's culture seems so strange to "normal" Orkans like Orson.
  • 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.
  • Star Trek:
    • 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.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series:
      • In "What Are Little Girls Made Of?", the original builders of the Androids on Exo III are 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 drone-like Lawgivers in "The Return of the Archons", who are controlled by an intelligent supercomputer.
      • In "By Any Other Name", 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" are totally reliant on a mechanized underground industrial complex run by advanced computers (for which purpose they tried to steal Spock's brain, because they lack the knowledge to maintain this infrastructure themselves); this is in contrast to the primitive, Ice Age-like culture of males that lived on the surface.
      • The Fabrini from "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" live aboard a generational asteroid ship, which they all believe is actually a planet, and are similarly run by an advanced, tyrannical computer called the Oracle. The Fabrini are less "rigidly mechanical" and more "rigidly traditional", though, the rigid traditions being enforced by the Oracle.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
      • 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 Borg are a Hive Mind of Cyborg aliens that otherwise follow this trope, using cybernetically augmented humanoid bodies only as cannon fodder and servitor units.
      • The cauliflower-headed humanoids who abduct Picard for study in "Allegiance" are all identical, with no concept of individual identity or leadership. What little is revealed about their society hints at something like this trope.
      • The Iyaarans, a species from the episode "Liasons", play this trope absolutely straight, and also like a callback to aliens from older science fiction. 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.
    • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 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 fan game Mother: Cognitive Dissonance reveals that they were once Martians but after losing a war to Giegue, they became Transhuman Aliens loyal to him.
  • The S'pht from Bungie's Marathon are all cybernetic life-forms that have destroyed most organic life on their homeworld, and have existed for so long that they are baffled when they see the main antagonistic alien species of the game, the Pfhor, not understanding how they can live without life support. They are all enslaved and simultaneously controlled by a cyborg that the Pfhor built. You end up killing him and starting a rebellion (making the S'pht the first computer-controlled allies in a video game, aside from robotic drones), but a human-made rogue AI replaces the cyborg.
  • The Meklar of the Master of Orion series essentially began as cyborg mollusks with a cultural obsession with augmenting themselves, to the point that they've converted themselves into fully Mechanical Lifeforms in the third game.
  • Inverted in Starbound with the Glitch, a race of robots artificially created to naturally evolve through civilization and not realize they are robots, who ended up stuck in the Middle Ages stage because of a programming glitch, and outright witch hunts whoever gains awareness of their mechanic nature and/or try to invent new technologies that go beyond their medieval status.