What was the first SciFi work that had a an intelligent race that was biologically significantly different from humans?

Not simply "non humanoid", but, say, non-vertebrate (non-humanoid vertebrates are OK, as long as they are clearly non-humanoid). In other words, intelligent octopi or better yet aliens like bacteria or insects; these are what I'm interested in, but intelligent cats – like Kzinti who are fairly humanoid – are not.

A "race" means there's a whole large population of biologically similar beings. One-off intelligent monsters like Cthulu or Godzilla aren't what I'm asking about.

  • ...has anyone concocted an intelligent bacterial race? Aug 8, 2012 at 22:50
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    @GorchestopherH - Yes. several times. Feel free to ask for the earliest example - I know of at least 2 (one is Sector General series) Aug 9, 2012 at 0:30
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    Greg Bear, in Blood Music and later in Vitals. In Vitals, they're natural and have been here since the beginning of life on the planet.
    – John O
    Aug 9, 2012 at 3:00
  • @DVK Wow, given that bacteria are single-cell organisms without even a nucleus, I would have never imagined someone concocting a story where they are intelligent. Aug 9, 2012 at 13:00
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    @GorchestopherH: And what about the midichlorians?! They have some sort of mass intelligence. :/ (Yes, I'm being totally sarcastic.) Aug 9, 2012 at 18:48

3 Answers 3


I would like to humbly challenge the accepted answer. Gulliver's Travels, written in 1726 features intelligent horses living on an undiscovered island (human-level or maybe even slightly higher intelligence).

While they are mammals, they are not human-like, so I think it does not fall into the furry cats-people exception the QA stated.

(If we counted folk tales, legends, etc, we could find earlier examples: talking, intelligent lizards, or talking ants and grasshoppers from Aesop's fables, but we don't classify them as sci-fi. Gulliver's Travels is however a clear sci-fi, even if the term was not used in this form at that time, just look at the description of Laputa)

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    Hm... I'm a bit ambivalent on whether GT is sci-fi - I personally would classify them as more of a fable. Would you mind asking if it is SciFi on meta? If the consensus on meta is that it's SF, I'll change the accept to this answer as it's clearly earlier. +1 Aug 9, 2012 at 13:31
  • @DVK: Wikipedia says it's a proto sci-fi. My opinion is, that if it contained only the first two books (the lands of the size/12 and size*12 people) which are often retold as children's stories, it would not really be a sci-fi. The last two books however, are somewhat different. I posted a question about it on meta, feel free to edit or comment it. meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/2111/…
    – vsz
    Aug 9, 2012 at 14:51
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    To be honest, the latter part of your meta question changed my mind, so I won't even need to wait for meta answers. Aug 9, 2012 at 15:10
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    @MarkBeadles: I assume the example with the cat-people was not about the "cat" part but about the anthropomorphism: furry cat-people who look more like humans with cat-ears than cats.
    – vsz
    Aug 9, 2012 at 17:34
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    @MarkBeadles - Sorry, that was bad writing on my part in the Q. The problem with Kzinti is not that they are cats - it's that they are cat-originated very-close-to-humanoid. A horse on the other hand is very much NON-humanoid, vertebrae and all Aug 9, 2012 at 18:39

The War of the Worlds (1898) is an early work, and the Martian Invaders were biologically different: octopoid and unusually susceptible to Earth bacteria. Prior to that, Martians were not noted as biologically different but rather just as human, or smaller, etc.

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    Weird. For some weird reason I was 100% certain when asking that Wells' Martians were humanoid and expected that to NOT be the answer. Shoulda checked :) Aug 9, 2012 at 0:29
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    WotW is often an answer to "Earliest X in Sci-Fi"...except when it isn't
    – AncientSwordRage
    Aug 9, 2012 at 0:45
  • Predating War of the Worlds is Les Xipehuz [The Shapes] by J.-H. Rosny aîné, featuring aliens that looked like geometric solids, who visited Earth in prehistoric times.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 25, 2015 at 1:23
  • The book I mentioned above was from 1887, BTW. And this article mentions that Camille Flammarion published three stories in 1873 featuring a disembodied spirit who "observes the potential range of wondrously exotic life in the universe". It also says that in one of the stories, Lumen, "Flammarion was the first author to thoroughly apply the theory of evolution, albeit Lamarckian, to the creation of truly alien life forms".
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 25, 2015 at 3:05

May not be first but is certainly early - The Selenites inhabiting the Moon in the film Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902) appear to be humanoid ants.

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