The main character of The Earth Hypothesis is a Vaal. They are medium height, reptilian humaniods. Their heads are vaguely triangular and they have fleshy spikes along their jawline.
When I began writing the novella, I knew that the main character was an alien to Earth. I knew that she could not breathe in our atmosphere, but I didn’t know anything else. When the main character, Jhilly, got back to her ship I realized I needed to know what kind of creature and well as what kind of person Jhilly was.
The bellicose nature of the Vaal seemed like a given, considering where I wanted the story to go (no spoilers here!) They remind me entirely too much of early Western explorers, confident in their superiority and ravenous in their desire to take. But I needed to think about human cultures that have baked-in militarism. I came up with several key pieces that give me lots of material, especially for my gay hero. The emperor as sole ruler, the strict roles and classes, the emphasis on manners.
All of these strictures help to pressure Jhilly into the actions she takes. But the main tension in her life stems from her sexuality. Of course this topic interests me and I love exploring how a character hides from society and the ways that she gives glimpses to those around her. In early drafts I had the Vaal as very open to homosexuality, kind of like the Spartans. I changed my mind, but I think lesbian fiction can encompass all sorts of journeys — including ones where the tensions have nothing to do with societal approval. With this story though, I wanted to explore the claustrophobic feelings of Jhilly in the closet. And I discovered that the tension between Jhilly and Dantla is important to the story.
Overall the Vaal are any race that conquers another, enslaves, robs, oppresses…. and there are too many Earth examples of that behavior to even begin to list here. No group seems to be immune to the trap of conquest. But I hope that I’ve shown that the Vaal are as complex as any human. My core belief that humans are basically good carries over to the Vaal. I think the average Vaal is just trying to live his or her life — no one is actively thinking about how to further oppress her servants or how to destroy the artifacts of another culture. They are just living their lives, trying to get by…. Sometimes that looks like a joyful embrace between lovers, or a mother cooing to her baby, or a woman thoughtlessly donning a fur coat or strangers ignoring each other on the bus.
In that way they are a little too much like us.