alien adj.

of or pertaining to an (intelligent) being or beings from another planet; that derives from another world

SF Encyclopedia


  • 1919 A. Merritt Moon Pool (1994) 355 A. Merritt bibliography

    Subtly, undefinably it was of our world and of one not ours… It had eyes—eyes that were now only shadows darkening within its luminosity like veils falling, and falling, opening windows into the unknowable; deepening into softly glowing blue pools, blue as the Moon Pool itself; then flashing out, and this only when the—face—bore its most human resemblance, into twin stars large almost as the crown of little moons; and with that same baffling suggestion of peep-holes into a world untrodden, alien, perilous to man!

  • 1920 E. R. Burroughs Princess of Mars 62 Edgar Rice Burroughs bibliography

    I was later to witness the results of the discovery of an alien incubator.

  • 1926 I. Edman Adam, Baby, and Man from Mars in Jour. Philos. Aug. 19 449

    Adam, the Baby, and the Man from Mars have always been invoked in the history of thought as the only three unprejudiced observers of the human scene—Adam, fresh from the hand of his Maker, the Baby new to earth and sky, and the Man from Mars on his first visit to an alien planet.

  • 1929 J. Williamson in Science Wonder Stories July 115/1 Jack Williamson

    Here was the display, indeed, of alien science and power!

  • 1929 J. Williamson in Science Wonder Stories Aug. 243/1 Jack Williamson

    I knew that it was intelligent, a sentient being. But it was not human, not a thing of flesh and blood at all. It was a machine! Or, rather, it was in a machine, for I felt far more of it than I saw—a will, a cold and alien intellect, a being, malefic, inhuman, inscrutable. It was a thing that belonged, not in the present earth, but in the tomb of the unthinkable past, or beyond the wastes of interstellar space, amid the inconceivably [sic] horrors of unknown spheres.

  • 1929 J. Williamson & M. J. Breuer Girl From Mars 12 Miles J. Breuer, M.D. Jack Williamson

    I led him into my study, shut the door, and sat down by my desk. He remained standing, a striking and powerful figure with his mighty, muscular limbs, his strong and prominent features, and his eyes of penetrating brilliance. Then there was the difference I mentioned, the air of alien power and the strange, malign spirit that lurked in the green-black eyes, setting him apart from ordinary men. ‘Is Pandorina the child of earthly parents?’ he asked harshly, his sharp eyes boring into mine. ‘Why, what makes you ask that?’ I countered, caught unexpectedly, but unwilling to admit anything. ‘You have told her that she is not your child. In pallor of skin, color of hair, and luster of eye, she resembles me. But I am not a terrestrial man. I came to earth in a meteor. I am the son of the science of another world, and I know that two other similar meteors fell on the same evening. I was brought up by a farmer named Mason. He lived in the village of Folsom, over toward Camden. He did not, as you have done, lie to his foster-child about his origin. These are the reasons for my question; these, and the fact that Pandorina and I feel an irresistible attraction.’

  • 1936 C. L. Moore in Astounding Stories Dec. 18/1 page image C. L. Moore

    This girl, this unknown, unimaginably far-distant girl, perhaps star-born, certainly very alien—had died as all her race must be doomed to die, until the last flicker of that stupendous civilization was stamped out.

  • 1936 C. L. Moore in Astounding Stories Dec. 19/1 C. L. Moore

    He could not guess where he was, in what land or time, in the presence of what alien race. The men were all little and dark and hairy, and somehow crooked, like gnomes. He had never heard a tongue like the gutturals they mouthed.

  • 1936 H. P. Lovecraft in Astounding Stories June 132/2 H. P. Lovecraft

    According to these scraps of information, the basis of the fear was a horrible elder race of half polypous, utterly alien entities which had come through space from immeasurably distant universes and had dominated the earth and three other solar planets about six hundred million years ago.

  • 1939 A. E. van Vogt in Astounding Science Fiction July 17/1 A. E. van Vogt

    The killer attacked Jarvey, and then discovered his flesh was alien—uneatable.

  • 1944 I. Asimov in Astounding Science Fiction Aug. 40/1 Isaac Asimov

    You abandoned a subject of the Foundation to torture and death at the hands of an alien mob, Mallow, and you have only five seconds to prevent the punishment due you.

  • 1953 A. Norton Star Rangers ii.30 Andre Norton bibliography

    He sensed alien life.

  • 1964 G. Roddenberry Let. to F. Bachelin 10 Dec. in S. E. Whitfield & G. Roddenberry Making of ‘Star Trek’ (1968) i. vii. 110 Gene Roddenberry bibliography

    It should be seen from the outside of the fortress and used again on the inside of the fortress to give ‘alien’ unity to the whole set.

  • 1966 S. Delany Babel-17 i. i. 10 Samuel R. Delany bibliography

    It isn’t a code, but rather an alien language.

  • 1970 A. McCaffrey Ship who Sang (1991) i. 3 Anne McCaffrey

    Helva scooted around in her shell…studying her lessons in trajectory, propulsion techniques, computation, logistics, mental hygiene, basic alien psychology, philology.

  • 1985 S. Sucharitkul Alien Swordmaster i. i. 5 S. P. Somtow bibliography

    We stopped to couple with every alien life form we conquered.

  • 1991 A. D. Foster Cat.a.lyst xiii. 189 Alan Dean Foster

    Soldiers descended from the ancient Incas, all of them armed to the teeth with weapons derived from an alien technology.

  • 1993 K. S. Robinson Red Mars iii. 89 Kim Stanley Robinson bibliography

    They had stumbled upon a long-abandoned alien spaceport.

  • 2015 R. Silverberg Reflections in Asimov’s Science Fiction Mar. 6/1 page image Robert Silverberg

    How plausible is it going to be that we will ever develop handy translating devices that will let us communicate with the inhabitants of alien worlds?

Research requirements

antedating 1920

Research History
Mike Christie submitted a 1936 cite from Jack Williamson.
Brian Ameringen cited Jack Williamson's title "The Alien Intelligence", from 1929, and Mike Christie submitted a cite from it from a 1942 reprint, which Rick Hauptmann subsequently verified in the 1929 version.
Mike Christie submitted a cite from a 1977 reprint of Philip Barshovsky's story "One Prehistoric Night" from the 1934 Wonder Stories; again, we would like verification of the original.
Rick Hauptmann submitted 1929 cites from Jack Williamson and Dr. Miles Breuer's "The Girl From Mars" and from Jack Williamson's story "The Alien Intelligence".

Christopher Pound submitted a 1936 cite from H.P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time".
Cory Panshin submitted a cite from a 1975 reprint of C. L. Moore's 1934 "The Bright Illusion".
Cory Panshin submitted a cite from a 1975 reprint of C. L. Moore's 1934 "Black God's Kiss".
Cory Panshin submitted a cite from a 1975 reprint of C.L. Moore's "Tryst in Time"; Mike Christie verified the cite in the 1936 first appearance.
Cory Panshin submitted a cite from a 1994 reprint of A. Merritt's "The Moon Pool"; we would like to check the 1919 original appearance in All-Story Weekly, or failing that any pre-1929 appearance. Fred Galvin submitted a cite from a reprint of John W. Campbell's "The Black Star Passes"; but Andrew May determined that the cite was not in the original 1930 magazine appearance.
Fred Galvin submitted a 1913 cite from Alice Meynell.
Imran Ghory submitted a 1926 cite from Irwin Edman's "Adam, the Baby, and the Man from Mars"
Lerida Arnold submitted a cite from a 1920 reprint of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "A Princess of Mars: we would like to verify this in the magazine serialization (in All-Story magazine ca. 1912)

The term "alien" appears to have acquired the straightforward "non-earthly" meaning sometime in the thirties, though earlier isolated examples such as the 1913 cite do exist. The usage appears to have been changing via "utterly unfamiliar" and "inhuman, humanly incomprehensible". We would like early cites documenting this change from before 1929.

(Earliest cite in OED: 1944)

Last modified 2020-12-16 04:08:47
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.