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Xenofiction is all about point of view. It is a term applied to stories told from the perspective of a non-human. This could be an animal, an intelligence animal, an extraterrestrial, or any creature significantly different from a human. This fictional exercise can be very rewarding because it opens up infinite possibilities about literature, ideas, and existence itself.
If you can easily replace the non-human perspective with a human one, it's likely not Xenofiction.
Xenofiction is successful when the perspective is well developed, so much so that it cannot be easily replaced with a human perspective. Stories told from the perspective of a non-human require writers to be very much involved in the character and the world. Writers do a significant amount of research and spend a good chunk of time on world-building--this is done to help not just the writer, but readers immerse themselves in this non-human consciousness.
The quintessential example of Xenofiction is Watership Down, by Richard Adams (though not a Sci Fi example). This novel is a powerful saga about rabbits, told from the perspective of rabbits. Adams creates a world that is wholly rabbit, there is even a note about how the dialogue is translated from the way rabbits communicate. There are many rich details that build this world, like the fact that rabbits can only count to four.
Xenofiction is not a strict Science Fiction sub-genre. Indeed, some works fall more into the Fantasy genre than Sci Fi. Also, Xenofiction is distinct from anthropomorphic.
- Level of Real Science
Variable. The science will vary according to the perspective taken. For example, a story told from the perspective of a fictional unicorn is not going to be very scientific. However, a story told from a member of a technologically advanced alien race has great potential for scientific exploration.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
High. When we are transported into a story outside of human consciousness we are challenged about things as basic as our senses and how thought is constructed. As a result, Xenofiction stories are incredibly thought-provoking.
- Level of Characterization
High. When a story is crafted around a non-human perspective, that character has to be well developed to ensure some kind of connection with the story's human readers. In order to understand a consciousness that is decidedly not human, characterization needs to be very well developed.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Moderate. Xenofiction stories require a significant amount of world-building and so the plot can sometimes suffer.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Depending on the perspective and what story that character ends up sharing, violence may be prominent or not present at all.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Speculative Fiction. Xenofiction is a great example of Speculative Fiction because it goes to the heart of speculating, not just about an idea, but on perceiving the universe and the other.
- 1 Evolution
By Stephen Baxter. This novel chronicles human evolution by telling a story where each character represents a different evolutionary stage.
- 2 Raptor Red
By Robert T. Bakker. Written by a paleontologist, this novel follows a young female Utahraptor through an eventful year in her life.
- 3 Uplift series
By David Brin. There are several species and societies in this series that are decidedly nothuman and some of the stories focus on them(like Startide Rising, where dolphins command a starship).
- 4 Speaker for the Dead
By Orson Scott Card. Humans, pequinios, and the Hive Queen must find a way to live together.
- 5 Planet of the Apes
By Pierre Boulle. The book that launched a cinematic saga is a version of Xenofiction taking place on another planet where apes are intelligent and civilized.
- 6 The Gods Themselves
By Isaac Asimov. The middle portion of this novel is all about the aliens--sex, communication, gender, maybe even existence.
- 7 The Faded Sun Trilogy
By C.J. Cherryh A coming of age story about Niun, a miri (alien race) protagonist.
- 8 Excession
By Iain M. Bank. This novel features spaceships that are sentient.
- 9 Incandescence
By Greg Egan. This novel has two narratives, each told from two different alien civilizations as they explore scientific ideas.
- 10 The Firebringer Trilogy
By Meredith Ann Pierce. An example of the fantasy side of Xenofiction. This series is targeted at young adult readers and features unicorns as protagonists.