Is ”Blue and Orange Morality” a working trope at all?

Hi, I love your work and I try my best to use your tips in my own worldbuilding. I’d like to create alien sapients with weird values, and I look for inspiration from the TV Tropes page about ”Blue and Orange Morality”. Most ideally, my non-human civilizations would be very different yet capable of competing with humans. But I have difficulty with creating off-putting values that are actually valid and functioning rather than being evil-under-a-different-name. I would like to hear your opinions on this trope and tips on how to handle it.

Tektalox

Hey Textalox, thanks for the kind words! 

I was a little confused when I first read Blue and Orange Morality, because I thought it referred to the comic Judgement Day, in which blue and orange robots are used as a clear parallel for human racism. 

Looking at the TV tropes page, there are certainly ways to make this trope work, but as you’re discovering, it’s not easy. A lot of the examples fall under cosmic horror, where writers add on a layer of strangeness to something dangerous so it seems even scarier. Cthulhu is much more intimidating when he’s an unknown eldritch force that will destroy the world for unknowable reasons than he would be as a regular monster. 

If you’re going for something where the non-humans aren’t just a big threat, you’ll run into the problem that it’s difficult for humans to imagine a non-human morality system. Most stories that do it successfully keep their non-humans mysterious, like the Presger in Ancillary Justice. They’re very weird aliens, but we don’t see much of them. If we did, it would be difficult to keep them from seeming contrived or evil. 

When creating non-human aliens, my advice is to look at the tangible differences between species, then extrapolate out to what kind of cultural differences that might create that’ll seem weird to humans. 

For example: In human-like aliens, it would be contrived and off-putting to have a tradition of eating one’s siblings. Humans don’t have that many children, so eating each other wouldn’t be a practical survival strategy, and even human infants are too aware for it to seem anything but cruel and evil. 

But if your aliens spawn like fish, and only a tiny handful of the initial offspring survive to mature, then eating one’s siblings makes more sense. At the spawn stage, the offspring aren’t seen as people yet, so the aliens don’t find it upsetting when they eat each other. Once the offspring get older, that kind of behavior is no longer acceptable or practical. 

There are other methods, of course, as morality isn’t purely a function of evolutionary practicality. But explaining soft factors like history and culture is often more difficult, so I’d look at physical differences first when designing non-human aliens. 

The tradeoff is that the less human-like you make your aliens, the harder it is for human readers to identify with them. It’s all about striking a balance depending on what role you have for these aliens in the story. If they’re a cosmic threat or unknown enigma, then make them as weird as you like. But if you want readers to get attached, then the aliens need to have some human-like traits. 

A good example of the latter can be found in Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. In that book, we meet the alien Rocky, who is basically made of rock and magma. He has a few unusual quirks, like being really opposed to sleeping alone because that can be dangerous for his species, but otherwise his values are similar to human ones. If they weren’t, it would be harder for readers to fall in love with him. 

Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!

Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.