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Which is first known work of sci fi, that include avian alien race?

Notes:

  1. This must be sapient species/race, not just part of extraterrestrial fauna

  2. This must be birds or bird-like beings, winged humanoids will not be considered.

Something like this

4
  • Star Rangers, by Andre Norton, and written in 1953, has a humanoid descended from avians, but I don't think that would count.
    – sueelleker
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 14:33
  • 8
    The pictures you've linked to seem pretty humanoid to me. Bipeds? Check. Two arms? Check. Prehensile hands? Check. Head on a neck over a torso with shoulders? Check, check, check, check. If "winged humanoids will not be considered" please supply your definition of humanoid... maybe you meant "humans with wings" like in Black and Blue Magic.
    – gowenfawr
    Commented Jan 7, 2023 at 17:30
  • Several of the ancient Egyptian gods are bird-like, not giving as an answer because a.) They're not aliens (unless you follow Stargate lore), and b.) It's religion, not sci-fi. Though it's possible there's some sci-fi that uses Egyptian mythology (e.g. Stargate again, but likely there's some older examples) that would qualify. Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 14:56
  • Further to gowenfawr's Comment, The pictures you've linked to seem in no way avian. Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 1:08

8 Answers 8

3

These don't count as alien, but are certainly works of fantasy featuring birds that are sapient:

Note that in many early European myths/legends (e.g. Norse myths) birds have their own language which they use to communicate with other birds - Hugin and Munin spring to mind, as do the birds with Sigurd in the Volsunga Saga.

  1. St Brendan's voyage (early medieval; approx mid 400's to late 500's AD). In this St Brendan sets sail from Ireland and comes across numerous marvels, including a Paradise of Birds (~1/2 way down page), where a tree is covered with white birds. Brendan prays to God to reveal the meaning of the birds, and one of the birds comes alive and talks to him, telling Brendan that the birds are angels fallen from heaven with Lucifer. The birds also sing vespers. There are similar stories in a number of other legends from the same time-frame.
  1. The Conference/Speech of the Birds (1177), by Attar of Nishaipur. In this epic poem, the birds are without a king and decide to appoint the legendary Simurgh as their king, so they set off in search of it. During this process the birds pass through many trials and tribulations, each associated with some flaw of people that prevents them from reaching enlightenment. At each point some birds die or leave the quest, until finally only 30 birds make it through, to find that each has become the Simurgh/achieved enlightenment.
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Cyrano de Bergerac's 1662 fragment Fragment d'Histoire comique par Monsieur de Bergerac, contenant les Estats et Empires du Soleil concerns a trip to the Sun and the meeting of the various peoples there.

Among these is a Kingdom of intelligent Birds who can speak both their own speech and the speech of de Bergerac.

Amongst the Wood I spied a Magpy, that made a great bustle flying up and down; and I heard her call to me, that I should not make resistance, because her Companions were already consulting to put out my Eyes. This admonition put a stop to all the Strugling that I could have made; so that these Eagles carried me above a Thou­sand Leagues from thence into a great Wood, which was (as the Magpy told me) the City where their King held his Residence.

Source of translated text, a 1686 English translation

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  • I found an earlier flying intelligent species in fiction and posted it as an answer. Cyrano de Bergerac may have used Lucien's story as a source for his.
    – Wastrel
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 15:12
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If de Bergerac's usage doesn't match the criteria because they are basically Earth birds, just intelligent, the next best answer I have is Camille Flammarion's 1889 work Uranie (translated to English 1890 as Urania).

The author, along with the titular Urania, have left the solar system and are visiting "Gamma Andromedæ" where they find a race that live their entire lives in the air:

But, as I have said, we were approaching one of the worlds belonging to the system of the sapphire sun. Everything was blue,—landscapes, water, plants, rocks,—slightly greenish on the side lighted by the second sun, and hardly touched by the rays of the orange sun, which was rising on the distant horizon. As we floated into the atmosphere of this world a soft, delicious music was wafted into the air like a perfume, a dream. Never had I heard anything like it. The sweet, deep, distant melody seemed to come from a choir of harps and violins, strengthened by an accompaniment of organs. It was an exquisite anthem, which charmed at once; it needed no analyzing to be understood; it filled the soul with ecstasy. It seemed to me that I could have lingered there listening for an eternity. I was so fearful of losing a single note that I dared not speak to my guide. Urania noticed it; stretching out her hand toward a lake, she pointed to a group of winged beings who were hovering over the blue waters.

They had not the earthly human form. They were beings who had evidently been created to live in air. They seemed woven out of light. At a distance I thought they were dragon-flies; they had their slender, graceful shape, the same wide wings, quickness, and lightness. But on examining them more closely I noticed their height, which was not inferior to our own, and realized from the expression of their eyes that they were not animals. Their heads were very like that of the dragon-fly, and like those aerial creatures they had no legs. The delicious music to which I had been listening was but the noise of their flight. They were very numerous,—perhaps many thousands.

From the Project Gutenberg reproduction of the 1890 translation of Urania

The book also includes a race of men who form a chrysalis on death and are reborn in a butterfly-like form, and a race from Mars ("Martials") who are basically intelligent flying plants:

Everything there is more aerial, more ethereal, and less material. The Martials might be called winged, sentient, living flowers; but in fact no earthly being can serve as comparison to aid us in imagining their form and manner of existence.

ibid

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Tweel, the birdlike Martian encountered in Weinbaum's 1934 "A Martian Odyssey", qualifies: at least, Tweel looks birdlike at first impression, having feathers, a large beak, and the ability to leap long distances. It's certainly sentient.

8

I'm not sure if this matches the criteria.

Lucian's "A True Story" from the 2nd century is partly about a war between the Moon and the Sun. Just as it seems that the Moon is going to win...

Cloud-centaurs, flying horse/human hybrids from the milky way, arrive from nowhere and attack the disarrayed moon forces.

According to this.

These "horse/human hybrids" do not seem very avian, but neither are they humanoid. This could be an answer, depending on what the OP is looking for, and it is interesting, anyway.

Another possibility is the Harpies of Greek mythology, which I think look almost like the OP's picture. In this case, it's debatable whether they are portrayed in science fiction.

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  • harpies would count as mythology, not science fiction, as they were thought to live on earth (like all Greek mythological creatures).
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 13:30
  • @juventing I tend to agree, but I said it anyway. :-)
    – Wastrel
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 15:02
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The novel Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis was published in 1938, and in it the protagonist travels to Mars and encounters three intelligent species of aliens there. One of the species, called Sorns (or Seroni), are described as decendants of avians who lived in forests on the surface of Mars and flew among the trees. The Sorns have feathers and much of the same anatomy of their flying ancestors, but the story suggests they are flightless. I don't know if this disqualifies them with respect to your question.

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If the Overlords from Clarke's Childhood's End count1 then this would be either the publication of the novel itself in 1953, or the precursor story "Guardian Angel" published in 19502


  1. Alien species? check!, Winged? Check! Sapient? Check! Not humanoid? Hmm not sure if they meet this criteria, or how this criteria could/should be met.

  2. I haven't read that original short story, and don't know if the Overlords were described as being the same form as in the novel.

0

The Daimoni are discussed in the works of Cordwainer Smith (Paul Linebarger) frequently. They are circa 1960s though so are far from the earliest candidates. They are masterful engineers who built buildings that are indestructible for their clients.

They are described as being bird-like aliens similar to eagle-men hybrids.

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  • 1
    OP isn't asking for a list. They want the earliest
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 22:24
  • @valorum - And what about those who come after? They may well be looking for a list for their own reasons. This is the sort of question I would be looking for under those circumstances.
    – user90961
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 12:34
  • @valorum - Besides, if your objection is why you voted to delete, why aren't you treating the rest of the answers the same way?
    – user90961
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 12:51
  • Because you've openly stated that you're aware that it's not the earliest.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 12:59
  • And the timestamps for the other answers are all in chronological order matching the dates in their answers? It's these sort of responses that sharply discourage volunteering answers to questions. My answer isn't off topic, rude, wrong or some other category that is a real problem. It actually helps provide background. You do you but I'm about ready to go silent and just be a reader after experiencing this.
    – user90961
    Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 13:01

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