In the dead of night, they move and consume in the spaces of your house you do not see. When you notice them, you react with violent intent, attacking with rolled up newspapers, poisonous sprays, and shoes. The bug dies, and while you revel in the momentary victory....hundreds of its brethren wait in the shadows. Since the beginning of science fiction, all the way back to 1902, the insect has made for a compelling and enduring hostile alien template. Some of the most iconic military science fiction works have featured insect-based aliens species bent on conquest. From the xenomorphs from ALIENS, the Arachnoids for Starship Troopers, the Buggers from Ender's Game, they all are examples of how sci-fi creators took a commonly held fear and twisted into the creepy, crawling nightmare enemy species waiting for us out there among the stars. In this installment of FWS continual serial of "Our Enemies", we will be exploring and explaining the insectoids.
The Sci-Fi Aggressive Insectoids
Insectoids and Mythology
Insectoids and UFO Culture
The Sci-Fi Aggressive Insectoids
Insectoids and Mythology
Insectoids and UFO Culture
Why Do Insect-Aliens Make Great Sci-Fi Foes?
Will We Fight Hostile Insect Aliens?
If we are to the point-of-view of sci-fi as a whole for the answer to this question, then the answer is nearly unanimous confirmation that we will, in fact, fight hostile alien bugs on other planets. However, reality does cast some doubt on that assertion. While terrestrial insect species can and do organize themselves in complex societies that divide labor, explore to find shelter and food, and communicate with one another, none has developed into a truly intelligent species that develops technology, art, or literature. We do not see long-term memory within the insect species and their language mechanism is far too simplistic to drive development towards complex and expressive language.
During my research, one of the central concepts of intellectual developing requires a foundation of long-term memory. With the lack of insectoids in UFO culture and here on Earth, that could be “proof” that insects lack the ability to gain the type of intelligence that could form spacefaring civilizations. This does not preclude the possibility of an encounter with hostile insectoids on exo-planets. As we have seen with the xenomorphs in the ALIENS universe, hostile insectoids could be native to an exo-planet and once Terran landing parties make contact is when the bloodshed begins.
Other aliens, like the Engineers from Prometheus, could be the means of spreading the insectoids to other worlds on accident or for a form of biological warfare. If there was a spacefaring insect species, it could mean warfare between us and them with interstellar real estate and us being classified as a threat to the hive. As I outlined in my book Endangered Species, the rate of reproduction coupled with the rivalry between queens and hives could be the genesis of space colonization, and the source of conflict between us and the space bugs. As new queens attempt to establish their own brood via new hive-colonies, they could compete with us for settleable worlds. One online article I read discussed that one some exo-planets with hostile environments could led to the evolution of insects like the hostile high-gravity, wild temperature ranges, thick atmosphere local conditions found on Gliese-832c in the Gilese-832 star system, 16.10 LYs away. Worlds like this could be an evolutionary breeding ground of ET bugs. Even if these ET bugs on Gilese-832c developed into non-spacefaring civilization, we humans would likely avoid the hostile atmosphere and prevent a war between us and the space bugs of Gilese-832c. That was close...
Insect Alien Society
Science Fiction and the Hostile Insect Aliens
Should You Use Insectoids in Your Sci-Fi Work?
With insectoids being so popular within science fiction, should you use them for your sci-fi work? Development of a primary foe in your fictional universe is a critical step and the better your enemy, the better your story and setting will be. For my 2015 book release, Endangered Species, I very deliberately chose the hostile alien bug template of my enemy construct due to my attempt to bring yet another “bug hunt” story to life in the vain of SST and Armor. For me, the Praying Mantis was the best model for the enemy lifeforms in the Endangered Species book and its sequel (if it is ever finished given the lack of success of my novel!). If you are going to incorporate the insectoid as an enemy, then you need to pay attention to the sci-fi traditions laid down and then see how you can take a fresh twist on the insectoids without betraying the real behavior of the insect species. A great deal depends on the how important the aggressive insect species is to your fictional universe. If they are nothing more than target practice for your space marines, than only the basics of the insectoid trope need to be obeyed. Given the vast amount of insects here on Earth, then one of the advantages of using insectoids gives you a vast well to call upon and work off of.
The Brood from the Marvel Universe
The Formics from the Ender's Game Universe
The Xenomorphs from the ALIENS Universe
The Yars from Yars Revenge
The Formics from the Ender's Game Universe
The Xenomorphs from the ALIENS Universe
The Ovion Insectoids from the Classic BSG “Sega of a Star World Pt. II/III”
The pilot of the classic 1978 Battlestar Galactica series was a three-hour television movie that covers a great deal of ground, and one of the pit-stops of the rag-tagfleet was the planet of Carillo, rich in Tylium fuel for the long journey to Earth. The planet is home to a swinging 70’s full-scale relaxation destination. This was a front for the insectoid masters of Carillo, the Ovion. The casino, nightclub, and hotel were all an elaborate trap to ensnare the human visitors and just them as food in vast underground chambers. The Ovion were only seen in the pilot three-part episode and as the most common Mattel figure line as the green four-armed insect creature (I had one). In the episodes that featured them, the Ovions were a conquered people of the Cylon Empire and they oddly observing the situation in their own club via private rooms and light-up cyclops masks to obscure their menacing insect faces.
The plan goes all wrong when the Colonial Warriors breakup the buffet coupled with a massive explosion from Tylium mines. Some believe that the bulk of the Ovion were killed in the mine explosion. Certainly, no one is going to the resort anymore. The Ovion insectoid was designed in concept art by Ralph McQuarrie and with several others noted concept artists and several clay models were mocked up over the course of the preproduction for the pilot. The actually adventurous costume was constructed by the makeup and costume department and was worn by 5’1 stuntwoman Paula Crist. It is amazing to see just how good the full-scale monster suit was specially when examining the insectoid aliens featured in Andromeda and the 3rd season of ST:Enterprise. My memories of these insect aliens were that they were completely creepy and so was the setup. Here is a link to an in-depth article on the Ovion costume: http://www.galactica.tv/battlestar-galactica-1978-news/the-history-of-the-ovion-costume.html
The Yars from Yars Revenge
Those of us who played video games back in the early 1980’s, all know the classic 2600 cartridge Yar’s Revenge. Back in those days, ATARI packaged a mini-comic in their boxes that either filled in the backstory of the game or where connected to the ATARI Force storyline. It was kind of awesome to open a game and find a comic. The most batshit insane, in an awesome 1980’s kind of way, was the mini-comic to Yar’s Revenge.
According to the mini-comic, mankind’s first interstellar expedition starship is destroyed and the ship crash lands on a world where the radiation and local conditions allow for the house flies onboard ship to mutant into an intelligent insectoid species that call themselves, “The Yar”. Their enemy is the Qotile, and these unseen enemy have destroyed one of the Yar’s colony planets. To counter this, the Yars outfit their insect warriors with powered armor to take down the shield to the Qotile missile base and allow the Yar’s powerful Zorlon cannon to fire an destroy the enemy missile base. These may not be an example of a hostile insectoid species, but I had to totally talk about this 80’s awesome comic!
The Insect Xindi from Star Trek: Enterprise
The Entire world of Sectarus: Warriors of Symbion (1985)
The 1980’s were time of experimentation by toy companies with high hopes of deliverying new toylines to all the good girls and boys of the western world and healthy profit margins. It was common practice at the time was to package the new toyline with a cartoon and comic book series, some of these toylines became icons in their field and warm childhood plastic memories. For every He-Man, GI Joes, or Transformers there was STARCOM: US Space Force, Air-Raiders, ROBOTIX, and Sectarus: Warriors of Symbion from 1985. Produced by X with a limited Marvel Comics series, and cartoon series with a short-lived run (but awesome!) in 1985, which featured human-insect hybrid warriors riding monstrous fuzzy insects battling for an old-technology mountain base on the planet of Symbion.
This toyline was adventurous in its style and design with hand-puppetry being used for using for moving huge insect vehicles. Puppetry was also used in the monsters that guarded the three-foot tall Hive playset. I can remember the comic and the toys and they were super creepy with fuzzy flying insects and spiders and humanoid hybrid warriors. It failed due to an oddball concept that was too close in concept to the Masters of the Universe, creepy toys that were high in price. I read a few of the Sectarus comic’s back-in-the-day and they were far better than the cartoon. BTW: FWS will be discussing Air-Raiders and ROBOTIX in upcoming Military Sci-Fi Toys blogposts!
The Geonosians from the Star Wars Prequels
In the second film of the half-baked Star Wars Prequel series, ATOC, we are introduced to the insectoid Geonosians, one of the core members of the Confederacy. The inspiration for the Geonosians came from a termite infestation of George Lucas’ house. Much like those destructive ants, the Geonoisans are a hive-mind and live in great hive-like structures on Geonosis. There were two leaders within the hive structure. One was the queen that was the “brains” of the operation and breeder of the species, while a male was empowered to be the representative of his race, and is seemingly more “independent” than most hive-minded creatures.
With their single-mindedness, the Geonosians had become one of the major industrial powers outside of the core systems, and were known to product the army droids for the Trade Federation. When the Clone Wars erupted, Geonosis was seen as the first battle in that long war. While only seen in one film, the insectoid Geonosians were featured in the Star Wars Clone Commando video game, where the flying aliens were a pest that needed healthy amounts of blaster rifle. One of the greatest feats of Geonosian engineering was the blueprints of the Death Star, however, this development did not lead to any loyalty by the Empire. A bloody culling of their world felt much of the population dead. Can I just say that I hate the Geonosians? They never worked for me and their technology was all over the place, and maybe it was just the bad computer effects, but I still rank the Geonosians as one of the weakest concepts of an alien species in the Prequel films.
The Ants on Banshee from Armor
In 1984, DAW Books published Texan John Steakley's take on Starship Troopers with his increasing the combat and the psychological horror of the wave of crazed murderous giant insectoids. Armor became a classic of military science fiction literature and sadly, Mr. Steakly died before he could finish the sequel. While the book does have a serious design flaw with the Jack Crow space pirate section that abruptly seperates the reader from the adventures of Felix on Banshee, when it works, it rocks with solid sci-fi combat sequences involving powered armor wearing Terran warriors and hordes of giant ants with weak heat blasters. The "ant" warrior drones are merciless killing machines on the hostile world of Banshee and a great deal of the Antwar itself is completely unexplored and unexplained. The ants themselves are more for a vector for the visceral close-in combat that is brutal and makes the combat scenes in the Starship Troopers book pale by comparison. By the end of the book, the ants on Banshee have taken such significant casualties that nearly hatched warrior drones and worker drones are sent against the Terran warriors. Armor was a direct influence on my 2015 military SF book Endangered Species and I reference it several times. Also, I met Mr.Steakly at convention in Dallas in 2002, and was grateful for the experience given his recent passing.
The Arachnids From the Starship Troopers Universe
The work that forged the link between military science fiction and hostile insectoids was the founding classic of military SF literature: 1959’s Starship Troopers novel by Robert Heinlein. We discuss this book a great deal here on FWS and that is with good reason, it laid the foundation for so many traditions in sci-fi and military sci-fi, and that includes hostile alien insect species. This book always influenced the creation of other visions of the Arachnids for the original text. The literal arachnids of the SST novel have been translated several times for other SST works in various media. In the original novel, the pseudo-Arachnids were not described until page 107 of the 1987 ACE paperback edition I own. In those yellowing pages, the big bad bugs are more spider-like and live within caste system society that uses technology, including starships. However, these space spiders use their warriors in massive wave attacks that overwhelm their enemy, but at a high price. This concept of the intelligent the Arachnids was carried through the 1976 Avalon Hill RPG…then the 1997 film came out. In the stripped down, balls-to-the-wall insanity that was the SST live-action film, the Arachnids were completely altered into a very aggressive, non-technological species that colonized via hardened space spores and controlled via brain bugs and the god bug.
While the fans of the book were horrified at the portrayal of the warriors, however, I’ve always thought that the overall design of the warrior drone bugs was very effective and terrifying. This design would become more or less standard in every subsequent SST works to come after the film. Another vision of the Arachnids came from Bandai Visual OVA Uchu no Senshi and they were more organic, jellyfish-like than insect based and are boldly hued. For the short-lived Roughnecks: the SST Chronicles American animated series that ran around 1999, there many subspecies of the overall Arachnid species featured.
Some designs were taken from the 1997 film, but many other bugs were added to fulfill roles in their empire and hive complexes and there was to be an overall-in-charge Queen Mother, but she was never seen due to the series cancelled. These bugs had enslaved the Skinnies to serve in their war against the Terrans, but they were liberated during the run of the series. Humans first met the Arachnids on Pluto, and it was discovered they commanded a vast empire that wanted humans out of the way. The animated series presented the most diverse picture of the Arachnid Empire and society.
The Xixchil/Thri-Kreen from the D&D and Spelljammer Universe
FWS does not include a great number of examples from the fantasy given that it is outside the purview of FWS. However, I like to throw in some examples from time-to-time since I used to be a casual D&D gamer. In the Dark Sun setting, the Thri-Kreen was a nomadic praying mantis warrior race that exists in tightly packed groups and enjoyed their Elf meat. Known for violent combat skills, living to only 35, and being difficult to get along with, they possessed no real society or culture. In the Spelljammer, Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun and D&D game settings there is a mantis insectoid species of nomadic warriors called the Thri-Kreen. These nasty buggers were also transported to the insane Spelljammer universe as the Xixchil, who were experts in the ways of body modification and enjoyed making kittens with wings…seriously.
The Tyranids from the Warhammer 40K Universe
When it comes to the nastiest parasitic species that have insect appearance and behavior of sci-fi, the Tyranids from Warhammer 40,000 are definitely in the running. This crawling, creeping, murderous bio-mass is one of the greatest threats to the entire Milky Way galaxy, and at times, the hostile races will ban together to fight these lethal insectoid xenos. The Tyranids date back to the foundation of WH40K, with some elements of their later designs would appear in the 1987 Rogue Trader manual that established this darkgrim future where there is only war. The first element of the Tyranids would appear in the Genestealers from the Space Hulk games and the Tyranids as we know them today, would appear in Advanced Space Crusade in 1990.
If you want to be creeped out than sit down and read the Codex about them and the great Hive Fleets inbound from another galaxy to ours. With their ability to recycle and use all bio-mass, the Tyranids can quickly overwhelm any defense and transform the dead and living into alien monsters that are devoted to the single-minded purpose of killing. There have been several major engagements between the Imperium of Man and the Tyranids where victory was not certain. It is believed that these aliens are fleeing a depleted galaxy for one with fresh victims. In the tabletop game, the Tyranids were an expensive army to amass and paint and with the recent nerfing by GW, some fans of WH40K have called the Tyranids broken. There some fans that also are waiting on the Tyranid invasion of Earth as well…
The Uchuu Kaijuu from the Gunbuster Universe
One of the better military sci-fi anime series is 1988’s Gunbuster and the big, bad enemy is a race of “Space Monsters” or the Uchuu Kaijuuhe. Aggressive and massive in scale that has wiped out a few Terran fleets when the RX-7 Mecha and Gunbuster suits are developed to counter the space organism assault. They draw power for the sun and dislike our muscling in on resources. Many of the attack Uchuu Kaijuuhe forms are insect-like in appearance while others are more akin to sea creatures in appearance. The series focuses more on the human characters and the combat rather than exploring the motivations of these space monsters. Despite the inclusion of the Uchuu Kaijuu on the Gunbuster Science Lesson video, there is not much fleshed out about them.
The Zerg Swarm from the Starcraft Universe
One of the most terrifying enemy in the Starcraft universe is the Zerg and their combat organic army, the Swarm. Coming in a vast array of combat forms and types, the Zerg Swarm use their rapid evolutionary adaptability to counter any threat or planetary condition to sweep across the world, pushing aside any defenders. They strike from the ground, air, and even space to dominate the worlds and military bases of the Terrans and the Protoss with overwhelming numbers in waves of Zerg rushes.
One weakness of the Swarm is the hive-mind, as we saw when the Queen of Blades took over the broods and set the entire swarm on her personal quest. If for any reason the Zerg units are separated from their hive-mind, they are not as much as a threat and are far less intelligent. These superorganism are not strictly insectoids in appearence, but given their adaptability, they can take on many shapes given the local conditions...much like the Tyranids from 40K. They are often a odd lumping of the Xenomporhs from ALIENS and real-world insects.
The Rachni from the Mass Effect Universe
There are three major insectoid races featured in the Mass Effect universe: the Collectors, the Keepers, and the Rachni. While all are important, the Rachni and the wars that came about altered the galactic history. Over 2,000 years before the events of the Mass Effect games and began when Salarian explorers jump into a previous unexplored system and found the hive-minded insect species known as the Rachni on the planet of Suen that took control of the ships and killed the crew. With this insect species being sparcefaring and hostile, wars erupted that nearly ripped apart the galaxy.This was not the first time that this happened.
The Rachni had been bred and used as soldiers previously by the Prothean some 50,000 years ago, but the Protheans lost control of the insectoids, causing the Protheans to nearly wiping them out. As the Reapers waged their genocide on the Protheans, the Rachni laid low and rebuilt their civilization. After the violent introduction of the Rachni to the Citadel races, the Rachni reverse engineered the ships and accessed the Mass Relay, spreading out among the galaxy. Thus began the Rachni Wars. This fast breeding race soon overwhelmed the galaxy, and the Salarians uplifted the Korgan to deal with the Rachni. By the end of the wars, the Rachni were once again believed to be wiped out...not so. One last queen was discovered by the Terran company of Binary Helix on a lost ship with an egg in cryo. It was on the ice world of Noveria that the Rachni live again. Sadly, they are used by the Reapers in the 3rd game, and once again, you are faced with the choice of regicide or mercy. The Rachni were based on elements of the Formics and the Arachnids.
The Yanme'e (Drones) from the HALO Universe
Appearing in HALO 2 as well-armed pest to your adventures, these flying snipers and harassers are called the Drones, due to their insectoid nature. Despite being a conquered species forcibility incorporated into the Covenant, the Yanme’e are loyal to the Covenant political system and religious dogma. So much so, that they side with the loyalists during the breakup of the Covenant. Much like many insect-based alien species, they have a breeding queen and endless legions of drones all linked via a hive-mind. On the battlefield, the Yanme’e used their power of flight and anti-gravity to float and sting, with swarms of them attacking. While they are pests and can overwhelm you, they die easily and quickly with a single burst from a Battle Rifle. The design, behavior, and sounds of the Drones in the core HALO games are quite good and can have a “creep-out” effect on the player.
The Ohmu from The Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
This 1984 anime feature film by the legendary director/ creator Hayao Miyazaki is a cautionary tale of environmental damage that features a very different Earth one thousand years in the future. The polluted Earth is no longer dominated by mankind, and roaming the world are giant insect-larva creatures known as “the Ohmu”. Giant in scale, and easily provoked if any insect is killed, they are murderous. Similar in destructive power to the Sandworm of Arakis, the Ohmu are one of the reasons the Earth of Nausicaa is so dangerous. They are also tough buggers with their exoskeleton being like hardened armor and it is said that they were bio-engineered by long ago humans to clean the polluted world. Much like the Sandworms of DUNE, the Ohmu are misunderstood along with their destruction.
“The Blue” Insectoids from Blue Gender
This 1999-2000 26 part military sci-fi anime series was imported to the US shores around 2003 and shows a classic “bugs vs. powered armor” story, however, the enemy is not some alien invader but a by-product of the seemingly incurable B-Cell disease. Evolving from the B-Cells, was a race of monstrous insectoids that were created by humanity fooling around with the B-Cells to develop a bio-weapon similar to the Company’s motivations on LV-426 in ALIEN and ALIENS. These various hive-minded creatures are generally called “blues” and have overrun the planet, forcing what remains of the human race to a massive space station. This was a take on Gaia’s Revenge and the series was fairly solid until the end.
The Bee People from Starblazers Episode “Stop at Beeland”
In epsiode 16 of the original 1979 "Quest for Iscadar" series of Starblazers, we see our astronaut-soldiers of the Argo located a lush green world that the command staff agree would be ideal for resupply and shore leave given the increasing complaints from the crew about the food and the gray metal walls. The planet, known as Beemera, was to be recon'ed by Nova and IQ-9. After IQ-9 proposed marriage, Nova crashes the survey fighter, allowing them to be captured by the worker class of Beemera, when the girl and her robot foolish explore a beehive structure. The Bee People believed that Nova was a Gamilon and while captured, Nova witnessed the terrible conditions due to the massive slave labor enforced by Queen Melina, who was under the thumb of the Gamilons. Slave labor is being used by Queen to harvest the royal jelly, a favorite food of Leader Desslok, to keep herself in power. If quotas are not met and the workers' revolt, the Gamilon threated replacing Melina. Of course, IQ-9 seems to know all of this and explains the entire situation to the audience and Nova.
As a Gamilon cargo vessel lands to pick up the cargo, some of the workers rally around an older worker bee as he calls out that the Queen sold them out to the Gamilons, this being the apex for the Queen being forced to to make a choice: shoot down the Gamilon cargo ship or face a rebellion. Instead, the Queen fires the laser towed artillery cannon, and blasts him to bits. Before the riot can begin, a rescue force from the Argo shows up and rescues Nova, as the Bee People's society collapses and Queen Melina is presumably killed as a fire rages. The mission is a failure, and the battlecruiser moves to towards Iscandar. Okay, this episode is just dumb, poorly done, and the story could have been used such a different manner than what was seen on-screen. While some of the design and animation with the Bee People is interesting, it is wasted. I found the original 1979 American airing on Youtube....and it did not change my opinion.
Shelob from the Lord of the Rings Universe
While FWS is in no way a fantasy war blog, I do like to include a good example from time to time, and when it comes to creepy ass insect monsters, one of the most iconic is the giant female spider from The Two Towers: Shelob. She was the last of the great spiders that survived the destruction of Beleriand, and they took up in the Mirkwood Forest and Mountains of Mordor, eating those unlucky enough to cross paths with them. In 3019 of the 3rd Age of the Sun, Samwise and Frodo were forced to engage with Shelob, and she was mortally wounded by the Elven blade. She retreated and died and that disgusting place. For many of us, Shelob was one of the most terrifying creatures of Tolkien's Middle Earth, and I for one was totally creeped out when I read these parts and saw them in the films. It is odd that Shelob was not seen in the glorious 1970's animated film.
The Invid from the ROBOTECH Universe
One interesting hybrid example from sci-fi of insectoid-like qualities comes from the Invid of the third ROBOTECH television series. In the vast backstory of the ROBOTECH universe, the Invid homeworld was the origin point for the Flower of Life that allowed for some much of the technology and warfare displayed in the series. Before Zor discovered the Invid, they were a race at one with their planet’s biosphere and did not know of warfare, hatred, and greed; all were one in the hive mind of the Invid. When the humanoid race that became known as the Robotech masters sent a science to investigate the Invid, it altered the destiny of both species via a scientist named Zor. The organic fusion that produced clean energy caused a war over the resources and twisted the Invid into a race defending themselves and they forged mecha that resumed insects. After the destruction of the Invid biosphere, they split their hive mind intelligent into a male/female leader system: the Regis and the Regent. The nature of the actual Invid bio-form is not insect form in nature, rather more in the hive mind and their style of Mecha. In actuality, the Invid are more slug-like in their biological forms.
The Antlions from the Half-Life Universe
The Antlions from the Half-Life Universe
Next Time on FWS...
It is time to suit up and mind the bump...because FWS is finally discussing spaceborne/space drop/space assault soldiers! From Starship Troopers to the ODST from HALO, these space paratroopers are a fixture and a hallmark of the entire genre. This uniquely science fiction concept of upgrading the regular Airborne paratroops to not drop in from the sky, but from space. So, join FWS next time when we drop feet first into hell!