Since I’m on a Star Trek kick lately, I decided finally to watch the last two episodes of Strange New Worlds. One of those doubled down on the Gorn as space monsters, only this time Alien’s xenomorphs crossed with Jurassic Park’s velociraptors.
The Gorn Conundrum
While I still believe canon isn’t real, it’s a little worrying that the copyright holders can’t agree on the basics of such a popular yet little-used starfaring species. Checking with Memory Alpha1 I count the following depictions:
- The original slow reptiles in caveman-style furs
- TOS (Star Trek, original series), “Arena”, 1967
- TAS (Star Trek: The Animated Series), “The Time Trap”, 1973
- LD (Star Trek: Lower Decks), figure on Capt. Freeman’s shelf, 2020-22
- A mirror universe reptilian slaver in leather
- ENT (Star Trek: Enterprise), “In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II”, 2005
- A skeleton in Lorca’s collection
- DIS (Star Trek: Discovery), three episodes, 2017
- A Gorn wedding
where guests started gnawing on an inadvertent human crasher
- LD, “Veritas”, 2020
- Background Gorn on a human space station
- LD, “An Embarassment of Dooplers”, 2021
- Vicious monsters that eat human captives or use them to incubate young
- SNW (Star Trek: Strange New Worlds), “Strange New Worlds”, 2022
- SNW, “Memento Mori”, 2022
- SNW, “All Those Who Wander”, 2022
- Gorn trading vessels2 coming to the aid of the Federation
- PRO (Star Trek: Prodigy), “Supernova, Part 1”, 2022
I’ve listed these in airing order. In Star Trek continuity, these series span the following years3 (CE):
|23rd||2256-2257||DIS (season 1)|
A Gorn Synthesis
For my own amusement I decided to unify these depictions with a sketchy historical, biological. and social history. This also borrows from Gorn in the Star Fleet Battles universe, the Gorn from the MMO Star Trek Online (set in 2410), and other “non-canon” sources mentioned in this video.
Due to difficulties in translating the Gorn language – a series of hisses, tongue taps, and inhuman throat sounds with an equally humanoid-unfriendly lexicon and grammar – the Gorn government has been known as the “Gorn Hegemony”, “Gorn Confederacy”, and briefly the “Gorn Theocracy” due to mistaken beliefs about the Elders. Even the name “Gorn” comes from other species’ names for their (presumed) home planet, Romulan “Gornu” or Tellarite “Gornar” (probably from the Romulan). Their unpronounceable names for themselves and their planet translate, respectively, as “People” and “Home World”.4
Much remains unknown about Gorn space. Gorn5 are highly territorial, and resent intrusions into their space or even questions about their lives. Except for Cestus III and a minority of immigrants in human space in the 24th and 25th centuries, most Gorn prefer to live on worlds populated entirely by their own kind. The Federation and Gorn share only the world of Cestus III and Outpost 28, and Federation authorities believe the Gorn carefully choose who lives there to minimize incidents and present an acceptable image.
Much of what follows is speculation based on intercepted transmissions, peaceful interactions with the Gorn after Cestus III, a handful of medical scans performed on wounded Gorn, and characteristically inscrutable answers to direct questions.
Federation Intelligence, and information obtained from Klingon and Romulan sources, indicates that a generation of “elders” runs the Gorn’s government, science, military, and all other aspects of their society. Intelligence indicates that these Elders are at least 75 Earth-years old, and may live two or three centuries. These elders stay almost exclusively on the Gorn homeworld, or in well-established colony worlds within Gorn space.
No one knows whether the original Elder Gorn grew up from Breeders or came from an older species that created the Breeders.
All “adult” Gorn have approximately the same appearance: large pseudo-reptiles at least two meters high with smooth green or green-gray skin6 and wide jaws with rows of sharp teeth. Some details vary depending on the adult’s origins:
Compact, muscular, plodding Gorn mostly came from the Gorn homeworld or another planet with higher gravity than Earth, while the swift, rangy, dinosaur-like Gorn grew up under Earth-like gravity. Genetic engineering eventually combined the best of both breeds into the Gorn seen since the 24th century: slightly larger than an average human but far stronger.
Fully adult Gorn typically have no tail and plantigrade (if large) feet. A minority of Adult Breeders born in “low” gravity retain a digitigrade gait and a short, blunt tail to aid their balance.
Most Gorn have the compound eyes seen by Kirk in 2257. However, Breeder Gorn assimilate some DNA from their hosts, so may have more human-like eyes and other variations.
Genetic engineering produced larger, stronger “warrior” Gorn and smaller, more dextrous “technician” Gorn in the late 23nd and early 24rd centuries, during the Neotene experiments. Most such individuals died (or became Elders?) by the end of the 24rd.
Behavior varies by the Gorn’s origins as well:
Even as adults, Breeders retain the ruthless hunting behaviors that carried them through their “childhood”. They regard any creature not a Gorn, especially other sapients like humans, as just more prey to be toyed with, used as hosts for their eggs, or killed outright if they prove too troublesome. They need specific orders not to kill other beings, and even then frustrated, hungry, or tired Gorn may simply ignore those orders.
The laboratory grown Neotenes follow orders more readily, and restrain their latent hunting instincts for the sake of long-term goals. Some have even described them as almost Vulcan-like, a comparison neither species appreciates. Romulans may be a more apt comparison: short-term emotional urges sublimated for the sake of their advancement in Gorn society. That said, certain stimuli can revert a Neotene back to ruthless carnivores: intense physical pain, confinement in a small space with “enemies”, trespass onto “their territory” (quarters, homestead, or planet), or sometimes an insult to what can loosely be translated as “pride” or “dignity”.7
The genetically engineered Gendered are possibly the most human-like, for good or bad. Males, by far the most commonly seen outside Gorn space, initially seem as stiff and almost robot-like as the Neotenes, but through interaction with humans acquire human mannerisms and personalities. (Even with acculturation they still can go “primal” like Neotenes.) Females, who mostly shun other species, combine the intense focus of Neotenes and the vicious territoriality of immature Breeders. Federation xenosociologists believe female Gorn behaviors stem from social as well as biological factors, and some female Gorn have conquered their xenophobia to work in the Gorn merchant service … albeit on long haul, zero direct contact routes.
Other sapients can’t tell the origins of any given adult Gorn, apart from the physical and behavioral cues above and clothing. (Breeders prefer furs and skins from past kills, others prefer synthetic clothing designed more for warmth than style.)
Encounters with the Species
The Gorn sighted during early disastrous encounters between Gorn and other species have been retroactively termed Breeders. Xenobiologists regard their lifecycle as unique among sapient beings, while those who’ve been reluctant witnesses have termed it “horrific”:
- A young or adult Breeder spits an acidic “venom” at its prey. Within this venom are tiny “Spindles” that burrow into the victim’s flesh, hoping to find a rich source of food, e.g. a major artery or fatty tissue.
- Successful “spindles” grow into an embryo, which resembles surrounding tissue on conventional medical scans. Depending on the host species the embryo develops in days or weeks.
- Within an hour or so before “birth” the embryos will draw more nutrients from the hosts. Hosts often feel dizzy, tired, nauseous, or out of breath. Many develop sores oozing a sticky substance as the embryos’ enzymes start dissolving flesh.
- Gorn hatchlings chew their way out of their host, which causes the host intense pain and almost always instant death. (Those few who don’t die immediately die in agony moments later from residual flesh-dissolving enzymes.) If two or more newborns hatch from the same host, they will fight for dominance, and one will eventually eat the rest.
- Hatchlings will then hunt for food to help them grow. Unlike most organisms, most of the food they consume goes directly to their own mass, so they survive larger predators, often other Gorn. Even a small Gorn can fell a human if it strikes an artery, and young Gorn almost never back down once they spot prey.
- When a Gorn reaches an adult size, its hunger abates and its metabolism slows. Subsequent, more carefully chosen meals enhance brain development.
Even a Gorn at adult size and with a full-sized brain isn’t considered an Adult in Gorn society. Such creatures, who developed in a matter of weeks, have no language, no knowledge, and no control over their animal instincts. Adult Gorn corral these proto-adults, “break” them, and start teaching them all the things members of a starfaring species need to know.
Improvement of the Species
After the Treaty of Cestus III, forced on them by the Metrons, the Elders had to consider that they could not seize new colonies forever. Breeders excelled at turning new worlds into Gorn worlds, but unleashing them on a Federation world would bring swift reprisals, if not from the Metrons then from the large and well armed Federation. Their only other neighbors, the Romulan Star Empire, had already “negotiated” a border through merciless ship-to-ship battles and a scorched planet policy.
To their credit, the usually conservative and deliberate Elders decided that the greatest risk to both truces was the Breeder life-cycle itself. They therefore began engineering what Federation xenobiologists call the Neotenes: Gorn whose intellectual development kept pace with their (slowed) physical development, like most humanoid species.
After some trial-and-error, Neotenes proved far better citizens than Breeders. Despite their longer “childhoods”, Neotenes absorbed knowledge easily, and if a young Neotene lost control of their instincts, they were at least smaller and weaker than a grown but immature Breeder. By the age of twelve a Neotene was not only ready for Adulthood, they were ready to interact with other species.
The main flaw with Neotenes is that each had to be conceived in a lab. The original process modified Breeder DNA in a Spindle, then gestated it in a non-sapient animal or, later, in a quantity of nutrient gel. Scientists later reused modified DNA to create clones, and eventually refined the process to avoid the Spindle stage entirely.
In the late 23rd century Gorn Elders evacuated all remaining Breeders from Cestus III, dropped a population of Neotenes on the eastern half of the main continent, and invited Federation colonists to the western half. After some due dilligence by Starfleet, and trepidation from early colonists, the two species coexisted uneasily but without major incidents. By the mid 24th century both colonies thrived, and Gorn and humans mingled occasionally in a few border towns.
Once cloning technology matured the Elders experimented briefly with specially engineered Gorn castes. The “warrior” caste proved too large and aggressive for 24th century combat, the “technician” caste proved useful on starships but often used their wits for less socially acceptable activities, and the “citizen” made a nice control but not a model citizen. Subsequent generations of Neotenes combined warrior strength, citizen temperament, and technician manual dexterity into a unified Adult form.
Reinvention of the Species
Having decided on Neotenes as the template for a new Gorn species, the Elders decided to solve the problem of reproduction the same way evolution had on virtually every other known world: male and female Gorn.
Gendered Gorn received the X/Y sex determination system used by humans and other humanoids, rather than the Z/W system of Earth birds and reptiles. Some evidence suggests that Gorn scientists adapted human genes directly, since female Gorn develop noticeable but non-functional breasts. (All young Gorn eat only meat.)
As difficult as the genetic hurdles might have been, the cultural ones must have seemed insurmountable. “Instead of spitting at prey, you want us ‘males’ to do what to a ‘female’ Gorn? And then the spawn come out of where?” Elders tried their best to acclimate these new Gorn to a new yet absurdly common life cycle, even importing traditions from human societies like weddings and nuclear families. In the end they succeeded only in creating a generation of female Gorn ashamed that they were “hosts” and “prey” of the males, and many males who took advantage of their shame. Successive generations recovered from the culture shock, but even in the 25th century males ventured out of Gorn space, and females mostly stayed home.
All three species of Gorn – Breeders, Neotenes (now called Neuters), and Gendered male and females – exist in Gorn space. Even Breeder Adults considered safe to leave Gorn space wear the same clothes as Neuters and Males, making the three species indistinguishable. As the number of new Neuters dwindles and the Breeders run out of prey, the Gendered may one day inherit the Hegemony.
Warning: this site has way too many video ads. ↩︎
Identical to the Gorn starship model used in a remaster of “Arena”. ↩︎
Excluding flasbacks, flash-forwards, time travel, etc. ↩︎
Their original word for non-Gorn sapients translated roughly as “New Prey”, but after the Treaty of Cestus III authorities began using a term meaning “Outer People”. ↩︎
The word “Gorn” is both singular and plural, and it denotes the species, the language, and the culture. ↩︎
Some Gorn have rough or bumpy skin that can be mistaken for scales. ↩︎
Unlike Klingon honor, this “pride” or “dignity” seems to be an expectation of respectful treatment, perhaps grounded in primal instincts. Violence usually stops if the offender removes himself or makes a gesture of submission, and then, after the Gorn is rational again, a suitable apology. ↩︎