Make science fiction ‘others’ relevant to readers

No matter how different science fiction characters are from humans – whether they be extraterrestrials, artificial intelligences, or a far future species evolved from Homo sapiens – they must be relevant to readers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that readers identify with those characters, only that those characters “say” something about humanity that the reader then finds relevant.

To achieve that, ask if these non-human “others” in your story serve any of these purposes:
• Metaphors or stand-ins for human characteristics – For example, Mr. Spock with his logic stands for the human philosophy of rationality and logic. HAL 9000 represents how the inability to distinguish between two contradictions can lead to paranoia. The metaphor/stand-on approach is especially useful for writers wishing to criticize a specific human characteristic.
• Mirrors/counterpoints for humans – In “Star Trek,” the Vulcans’ suppression of emotions is a counterpoint to humans’ expression of them. An alien species that develops space travel might consider those races lacking it (such as humans) to be less evolved, just as we might consider technology-vacant Homo erectus to be less evolved than us.
• Shed light on the human condition through their interactions – Data of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” does this by questioning his crewmates about what being human means. Such interactions need not be between the non-human and a human but can be between two of the non-humans; as we learn about them, readers then learn something about themselves.

Arguably, as a human writer, all of your non-human characters can’t help but possess some characteristics of humanity because that’s your only frame of reference to work from. Whether or not that be the case, what matters most to a reader is how relevant you make such characters (Whether or not the nonhuman character has a scientifically plausible basis for existing is important, too, but a topic for a different discussion!).