Alternate Zoology

What he has done with both AFTER MAN and THE NEW DINOSAURS is so exciting that I feel it deserves a special name of its own: Alternative Zoology. -Desmond Morris, in the introduction to Dougal Dixon’s ‘The New Dinosaurs’

Alternate Zoology is a rather difficult subject to work with. It starts by saying, “How would this creature be different if it filled this niche, as well as or instead of its’ own?”

But the person working on something like this, especially if this zoology is for some alien planet, must be careful that their creatures make sense. On another planet, one must answer the questions, what does this creature eat? What eats it?

For example, look at the world of Pandora, from Avatar. The creatures of the world were designed by a team of biologists and zoologists, to fit into the ecosystem and atmospheric conditions of the world, such as lower gravity, which enables large creatures with six legs- a feature that no vertebrate on Earth has ever had.

Another example of successful Alternate Zoology is that done by Dougal Dixon, who, in two different books, predicted changes in animals if humans disappeared, and changes in dinosaurs if they had not gone extinct. The first can be found here:

The second, here:

These two books are some of the best AZ I have ever seen. Take a look.


Ocean World

Well, for my sci-fi novel (I still haven’t come up with a name), I’ve designed an ocean planet inhabited by a humanoid species, with a vaguely Stone-Age culture (after all, it’s hard to forge bronze underwater.) Here’s some of the information.

A’~’tli’ Se (say: ai-(trill rising low to high)-(sharp click with tongue against roof of mouth) Say)
:ocean planet
A tropical ocean planet, orbiting two suns, covered entirely in water that is hundreds of kilometers deep, with some large floating algae mats. The atmosphere has a very high concentration of water vapor, making the surface of the ocean not a very sharp contrast- the water just gets thinner. You can swim up to 500 feet above the ocean’s surface.
At the very bottom of the ocean, pressures are so great that the water is compressed into ice, despite actually being above freezing.
Nearly everything has bioluminescence, so most of the ocean is basically in eternal twilight.
‘People’: humanoids, about 7’3″ tall, that can live over 630 years. They have extra long, webbed fingers and toes; a ridge along the spine that is believed to be a vestigial dorsal fin; long, pointed ears, the better to hear underwater; greyish-green skin that is pale on their bellies and necks, and has a reddish tint on the rest of them; and extra-large blue, green, or purple eyes with a nictating membrane, or third eyelid, that protects it. Their sharp-toothed mouths are curved slightly up at the corners. The only hair on their bodies is in their eyebrows and eyelashes; that on their scalp is really external gill filaments that extract oxygen from the water, and are thus kept fairly long. They have phosphorescent patterns on their skin based on tribe. They have a rapid healing mechanism not fully understood.

example names (translated to Standard):
Male: Phainon, Phosphoros, Stilbon, Theras, Sora, Andrius, Icaros
Female: Selene, Arilonia, Cania, Caste, Sakita, Liana, Andria

An excerpt from my Science Fiction novel.

This is a scene from the first chapter. There’s a prologue that tells what caused the crash.

The eighteen-year-old stood once more at the crash site. He hadn’t been here since the crash, six years earlier. He hadn’t changed much since then. He was still wiry, and wore his shaggy red hair at medium length. He’d grown a little bit taller, and slightly more muscled due to his practice of a self-formulated style of martial arts. Otherwise, Keneth was basically the same as he had been that day, six years earlier.

All that remained of the crash was the plowed-up bit of ancient stone, the wrecked speeder itself now covered with the faintly luminescent blue-gray moss that was found all over the underlevels. As Keneth stood there, he heard a faint scratching noise. Whirling around, he saw a caped and hooded figure behind him. The figure threw something at him. Catching it, Keneth looked. It was a laserfoil.

“Wha-?” Keneth began, but just then his opponent activated a laserfoil of his own. Fft-zzzz! A grayish-silver blade sprang from the black hilt. Keneth, eyes widening, activated his brown-hilted laserfoil, and marveled at the turquoise blade. But he didn’t have much time to do so, for his opponent came rushing at him. It was only by sheer luck that the still-startled teen blocked his enemy’s blade, but he soon managed to stand on his own in the fight- barely. He managed to translate some of his martial arts style into blade movements, as well as getting in a few kicks here and there. Still, he was mostly holding on by luck alone. But he had a few tricks up his sleeve.

The silent opponent jerked thrice in quick succession. Three metal spikes had struck home. As Keneth’s left hand swung left and completed the swing, he knocked the opponent off his feet by swinging his left leg into the backs of his opponent’s knees. Meanwhile, Keneth had been defending himself, but now he took the laserfoil- and sliced. He then fell to the ground, retching. When he had recovered, he stood and took his new blade with him as he returned shakily to his speeder and flew away.

I’m currently trying to work out a title for the story. Any ideas are appreciated; just put them in a comment.

Writing Science Fiction

I’m currently working on a novel that I have described to a friend as ‘The 1920s of Star Wars, as written by Isaac Asimov after watching too much Tron.’ It’s kind of a science fantasy/ space opera/ space exploration thing, with some Asimov, Tron, and Three Musketeers thrown in.

Anyway, if fantasy is about the magic, science fiction is about the technology. If you’re writing a sci-fi novel, it’s best to do your research to determine if your tech would actually work, or just blow up in your hero’s face (which is also useful at times).

As an example, my sci-fi story has a weapon called a laserfoil, which I’ve detailed below:

Laserfoil: A very useful weapon. Though sadly hard to find if you are not an Imperial Soldier, the basic properties and technology of these weapons are fairly well known. The device functions by means of the emission of a blade of supercooled photons, with a thin coating of superheated plasma. The secret lies in building it correctly in order to keep the blade stable. Hence the focusing emitter, which keeps the blade stable by recycling the energies involved and reusing them, as well as holding the blade to its proper length and shape. However, if this emitter is broken while the laserfoil is active, or if it is activated after the emitter breaks, the blade explodes violently, making a handy grenade in emergency situations. -Kanelio’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The weapon’s breakage point is an integral part of the plot, providing the focus point that puts the main characters where they are at the beginning of the tale.

Since I wanted to have Faster-Than-Light travel, or FTL, I had to design some sort of device to let my characters bypass lightspeed. Here it is:

Propulsion Drive: The things that make the starship move, and usually break down at just the wrong moment- such as when you are being chased by debt collectors. They are also known as the Fusion-Ionic Drive. Superheated plasma is focused by electric arcs so that the plasma nuclei start fusing. This creates an immense level of thrust, caused by expansion of the reaction mass. However, it also creates lots of neutron radiation. This is dealt with by charging the radiation into ion particles, which are also projected out the back of the Propulsion Drive. The ions alone are sufficient for in-system travel, and many ships have an ion-only drive for this purpose. -Kanelio’s Guide to the Galaxy.

With the Propulsion Drive, you can go extremely fast, but not quite break lightspeed. Hence the

Hyperdrive: A type of Fusion-Ionic Drive which supercharges the plasma streams themselves into ions, and uses Etherspace to bypass the speed of light and travel from one distant point to another.

Now I suppose I need to explain Etherspace.

Etherspace: Accessed by means of a Hyperdrive, which enables travel much faster than the speed of light. Etherspace is defined by one scientist as ‘The tunnels between wormholes’. It is theoretically the dimension that ships travel through if they pass through a wormhole, and thus ships that use Etherspace travel are personally creating short-lived wormholes. Of course, there are limitations- for example, you can’t go through a planet or star in Realspace while you are in Etherspace- if you try, you kinda go boom. This is why charts are useful.

Incedentally, Kanelio’s Guide to the Galaxy is sort of my galaxy’s version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide.