Writing Excuses 7.3: Fauna and Flora

Animals and plants, round two! We begin this episode with examples where we think people did their flora and fauna wrong, or poorly, or at least in ways we can poke easy holes in. Our examples include:

  • Pitch Black
  • Twilight
  • Avatar
  • And then we get tired of negative examples, and talk about The Mote in God’s Eye.
We then attempt to brainstorm some flora and fauna on our world of mutagenic meteor dust. Pizza-trees, armored buffalo, fire-dandelions, and more… and that’s before we even get started populating the coast, and Brandon calls can-of-worms on the project and hands the brainstorming to you, the listener.

Populate Excustoria’s coast with some magically, meteorically mutated life.

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudniki. It’s a fantastic example of well-constructed flora and fauna, and it’s also a good example of how to make a sequel almost completely unlike the book that came before it.

49 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.3: Fauna and Flora”

  1. To be fair, ice and desert planets make a lot of sense – there are fundamental reasons for both those conditions that can be planet-wide. Lack of water and heat is pretty easy to cause, and there’s lots of water out there for the far-from-star planet to get ice: comets.

    And lol at Mary’s mockery of Twilight.

    So, what was the name of the book with ranching humans, and the comic with zombie-vampire-human mayhem?

  2. Ice and desert planets (Titan and Mars!) make plenty of sense, yes. The moment you add a full ecology to them they’re harder to justify. The ice patches on our planet appear to have been colonized by things that originally evolved in temperate conditions, for instance.

    That’s not to say that it can’t be done. Take it as a challenge, and make the cave-dwelling apex predator of Hoth an inevitability rather than a plot requirement. :-)

  3. I’m all for mocking Twilight and I don’t understand why these all-powerful vampires don’t rule the world, but there is some thought given to why they don’t overrun the world. Apparently having sex with a vampire less concerned with their human partner than Edward would somehow kill the human partner. Vampires like being rough or something. And vampires go into a blood frenzy when they bite and rarely leave humans alive long enough to become vampires. Vampires need a lot of self control to procreate.

    What I don’t get is why vampires have to be so much stronger than necessary AND beautiful in order to hunt humans.

  4. I absolutely love the book suggestion. Speaker for the Dead is a brilliant book. I don’t think that it is completely different from Ender’s Game. What it does is flip every conflict that appeared in Ender’s Game.

    (Some slight spoilers here, but both books are over 20 years old.)

    Ender’s Game is dealing with saving humanity by destroying the attackers, Speaker deals with saving humanity from becoming galactic tyrants who kill all other sentient beings. In Ender’s Game Ender is constantly separated from all other people because he can’t have strong connections otherwise he won’t be able to do what he needs to. Speaker is all about Ender reintegrating with other humans.

    Speaker is an amazing book on about 20 different levels, the subtlety of the worldbuilding, the intertwining plots, and the reversal of every theme from Ender’s Game were all brilliantly executed in this book. I think that the only reason this book doesn’t get more acclaim is because when they pick it up most people are expecting another Ender’s Game. As much as I enjoyed Ender’s Game, I think Speaker for the Dead is a better book.

  5. Ice and desert planet ecologies are hard to justify because they are extremes. On Earth, the biggest critters that evolve to live in ice are tiny worms. Other critters adapted to live there after evolving elsewhere. No tauntauns, no snow-beasts. Desert critters need water, especially the big critters. From an evolutionary standpoint, there needs to be enough water for cell division to get it’s kickstart, which on earth probably happened at a thermic vent under the ocean. You’ll note that on Mars there are no sandworms, no giant lizard beasts, no desert dragons, no curly horned buffalo, and definitely no Jawas. And if any of them did happen to be dropped off, they wouldn’t last very long. The atmospheres on ice and desert planets would not likely be breathable by humans. Most oxygen in planet formation tends to get bonded to carbon as CO2 and buried in the ground until volcanoes spit it out. On Earth it took millions of years of plants putting just the carbon back into the ground as coal and oil to make our own atmosphere breathable. It is highly unlikely humans would be able to breathe the atmosphere on any alien planet that didn’t have an earth-like ecology.

    However, a story about where there is only one natural/geological source of breathable oxygen on the planet could be pretty compelling.

    That said, jungle planets are much easier to justify, especially since Earth probably used to be one.

  6. I’m happy to see you guys stretched this topic to another week. I enjoyed last week, and I’m looking forward to this.

  7. ben–an ice planet is very justifiable. I think someone mentioned the snowball Earth hypothesis in last week’s discussion (though perhaps obliquely). It turns out that if glaciers start to form below a certain latitude (which I don’t remember off the top of my head but I think it something like 45 degrees) you get a runaway ice albedo feedback that would leave most of the Earth covered in glaciers. There’s plenty of debate over whether you’d completely freeze the oceans, but in any case, you can go from a temperate planet to an ice or mostly ice planet with the right climate forcing. For the Earth it’s thought changes in atmospheric composition (specifically a loss of methane from the atmosphere) is what led to snowball conditions. I’ve always assumed the creatures on Hoth were descendants of organisms that initially evolved in more temperate conditions and adapted as the planet became ice-bound.

    Desert planets (a la Dune) can be justified similarly. You just have to think of a sink that would pull all of the water out of the system. In the case of Dune it was the organisms sequestering it away. If you’ve read “God Emperor of Dune” you may recall the planet becomes semi-arid after the sandworms are destroyed, supporting at the very least one major river. It is a good question where the sandtrout and sandworms evolved. though.

  8. I think thematic and stylistic reversal does qualify as being completely different from the original. Aside from a few characters and some tech carrying over, and the numerous mental issues one of them has, the two books could well have been in completely different universes and written by completely different authors. In fact, I’d argue the fact that so much of Speaker is opposite to Ender’s Game is what makes it _completely_ different.

    And I wasn’t really suggesting that Pluto+comets=fully functional Hoth with Wampas and the like, or that Mars is plausibly Arrakis/Dune or Tatooine, despite the fact that Mars actually does have sufficient water to support life (somewhere…that enormous canyon is not a wind-worn phenomena). In the latter case, I don’t think either ecology is possible in the environment at all, no matter what history you have. It is true that, by vibrating, it is possible to move through sand — loose sand, anyway — but you would never develop the kind of speed the sandworms are capable of. And that spice has several…unlikely…properties, though I can’t say for sure there isn’t a mix of theoretically possible chemicals that could induce such effects. And the probability of muskox-wooly mammoth crossbreeds (Tatooine’s banthas) evolving on a desert planet is similarly improbable. Humanity evolved a lack of hair when adapting to life outside the shelter of forests, and most other plains-dwelling creatures have very little hair. Furthermore, I’ve never heard of a desert-dwelling mammal, though that could be simply my lack of zoological knowledge.

    I can think of a couple of plausible explanations for Hoth, though. If an appropriately sized asteroid were to impact an earth-like planet from behind on its orbital path, it could induce an outward spiraling orbit – adds a bit of forward momentum, meaning the orbit climbs. It would likely take a number of such impacts (perhaps an asteroid belt in a highly elliptical orbit that intersects that of our Hoth-to-be) to shift it to a sufficiently high orbit to remove it from the Goldilocks Zone without either exterminating everything multicellular on the planet or simply shattering it. This would lead to temperatures lower than capable of creating life, but may allow for the hardiest of life forms to develop into creatures capable of surviving in the arctic wasteland that is Hoth. (Still working on what tauntauns would eat. Lichens adapted to living on snow, perhaps?) It’s interesting to note that, in-world, Hoth is alarmingly close to an asteroid belt of extraordinary density (ours is nothing like that…we successfully shoot satellites through it in more-or-less straight lines with a very high success rate). And if you’re concerned about evolution happening on a planet that spends part of the year in an asteroid belt, I can think of 2 possible reasons. Firstly, asteroid impacts have a very interesting effect on evolution. Anyone observing the Cretaceous period without information about more recent times would never have said that, in 65 million years, the sole surviving decendants of those massive lizard-like critters running around would be covered in feathers and no bigger than 3 meters from one end to the other. Secondly, one of the more common theories about the formation of asteroid belts is that they used to be planets that were destroyed in some colossal collision….or lasers from evil galactic empires’ moon-sized space stations. (According to Star Wars books, Alderaan became an asteroid belt.) While such collisions are more likely in the formation of a solar system, when there’s lots of very large rocks floating around, it is still possible that such a collision could take place. Neptune has at least 1, if not more, dwarf planets that cross its orbit: Pluto. If Neptune were another terrestrial planet as opposed to a gas giant, the impact of those would potentially destroy the planet to form an asteroid belt. Alternately, if a large moon (like ours, relative to earth’s size) were to crash into its primary, the result would likely be similarly catastrophic. Either way, we generate an asteroid belt that may well have an extremely oblong orbit, long after the formation of the planet that would become Hoth. Thus, that planet would have plenty of time for relatively peaceful evolution before the annual asteroid bombardment began.

    I’m not saying this is likely. I’m simply saying that, according to what I know about solar system dynamics and evolution, there is nothing to say it’s not possible.

    Too bad the infinite-universe theory has been debunked – otherwise I could claim Hoth actually exists somewhere: no matter how improbable, in an infinite universe, everything exists…an infinite number of times. The more probable things are just…more infinite. Hmm, maybe it’s a good thing that theory’s wrong.

  9. Desert and ice worlds are good examples of 1-type-enviromental planets. You have to explain where the oxygen comes from, in such a world, if that’s what people and animals are breathing. That could be as simple as bacteria or maybe algaee in a water world. Even though the people in the story don’t come across the oxygen source it can still be hinted at, anyway it’s still important for the writer to know. Of course in a traditional setting that’s already known by everyone, except by Dan of course ;)

  10. Oh and concerning Twilight.

    I dislike the fact that they have taken a great traditional monster and turned it into your gay friend thjat you can talk to and work out your problems. It will take many, many years before you take vampires as serious monsters again.
    No disrespect to gays or vampires, I’m cool with both (although for different reasons).

  11. Re: Pitch Black, though they don’t spend a lot of time on it, the two main gripes are addressed in the film. The reason they don’t try to wait out the eclipse is because when they look at the little planet model (the one that let them know it was coming in the first place) they say that the model predicts a “lasting darkness”, implying the orbits will synchronize and the eclipse may last for days if not weeks or longer. This is why they risk crossing open terrain with so many predators. Also makes the predators life cycle a bit more plausible. Also, the only other thing on the planet aside from desert and predators is that huge skeleton graveyard they mistake for trees in act one. These details paint the picture of a seasonal apex predator (like locusts mixed with lions) that is coming out of hibernation after some sort of ecological disaster that wiped out their primary food source. Given the age of the encampment found on planet, it’s possible the ecology collapsed years or decades ago, between this eclipse and the last (who knows how often they happen, if the eclipse lasts a long time, it might be that the planet’s orbit is rather wide). There may have still been an ample food supply when the creatures last woke, and it would seem more likely as there’s not much reason to build a permanent settlement on a planet with absolutely no natural resources. And we know it was a permanent settlement as there was only one escape craft and it would never be big enough to carry the amount of people who could be housed in the settlement we see. Clearly it was assumed to be self-sufficient.

    BTW, though it may sound it, I don’t mean to be pedantic there, but I had the same thoughts initially and making these connections helps me enjoy the film more.

  12. In the episode you are using the word ecology where you should be using the words “ecosystem” or “biosphere”. I’m sorry, but as a fan and an actual ecologist I can’t help but correct you.

    On the topic of a one ecosystem planet, a complete jungle planet is quite possible, given the right topology and climate (not to mention soil composition, geological factors etc), Earth has actually been close to being a complete marine planet at one time in geological history (with most of land area being covered with ice). Ice planet though? Without water in the liquid phase, no life would be present on that planet, at least not on the surface.

  13. Hi. Another great podcast on a topic I knew nothing about. I hope that in the future you might find time to do a podcast on Space Opera and perhaps how it’s different than other science fiction.



  14. Your discussion of Pitch Black’s monsters having evolved to adapt to one night every hundred years made me think of Asimov and Silverberg’s remarkable Nightfall.

    They took an environment that is extremely one sided – there is always light from one sun or another – and then introduced the missing element – night – and everybody went mad. Every single character was affected and the majority of the population went mad with fright.

    After reading this excellent novel, it feels silly to imagine a world where night happens once every hundred years and the monsters don’t die of fright…

  15. To add a tidbit to all this desert planet/ice planet discussion its worth noting that George Lucas has acknowledged in DVD commentary that Tatooine and Endor and Hoth and Dagobah don’t really make sense. He said the reason he kept the planets simplistic was because when they were working on the original trilogy they didn’t have the budget to shoot/design really exotic and ecologically complex planets. That’s part of the reason he added a lot more animals etc in the special edition.

  16. Mars seems to me to be a bad example of a single tundra planet. As I understand some theories, it was once a somewhat Earth-like planet but only for a short period—like a million years or so—but its lack of size and other factors meant it couldn’t support oxygen for long because gravity couldn’t hold it properly and it boiled off.

    If a planet was a single tundra environment, like a desert, wouldn’t life simply shift to an subterranean society? That is assuming life was able to evolve in the first place.

    When the writing excuse was proposed I immediately thought of panspermia where a meteorite might carry bacteria which could change the structure of life on a planet to “terraform” it in a way. It would make some interesting contrast where old environment meats new, encroaching, environment. I don’t like radiation events changing life so much as radiation is random and, as I think about it, only affects a relatively small area. I would think it would turn an area into a place that local life avoids and effected life would mutate out of existence.

  17. Are you guys stalking me?! Our book club just decided to read Ender’s Game last week and I have a novel where I need to ensure I’ve got a unique ecosystem in balance.

    For space faring races with travel as easy as Star Wars, I see it being very possible that introduced alien plant and animal species could take hold and flourish/adapt on worlds where they couldn’t have evolved naturally. That being said, I’m still scratching my head about giant worms living on tiny asteroids with nothing but passing spaceships to munch on. Really?

    On earth, we’ve had our own share of invasive species brought either intentionally or accidentally by someone.

  18. So I have to say that I absolutely love when you guys brainstorm. Normally brainstorming is slow going for me but when you guys get talking I get lots of cool ideas.

    So I know that you were focusing on the flora and fauna of this crazy planet but I wanted to throw an idea out there. Like you guys said the sentient life on the planet would be higher then a normal ecology without the magick meteor dust. So here is a couple things to think about.Which animals become sentient and how do they do so? In my opinion an animal becoming sentient would NOT be something that someone could simply decide. Yes the people and/or creatures on this planet have this magick that they can mutate things or themself (I believe it would make it more interesting if they could only mutate OTHER creatures. Not there own genetic makeup.) with. But the fact of the matter is that even if you had this magick you still would not understand where sentience comes from. This of course could be an evolving issue in this crazy shared world. Where does “God” or “the higher power” come into play? Is sentience a combination of genetic mutations or is it something we could never understand. I learn towards the latter. But then of course this is sci-fi…..so maybe we can bend the rules just a little bit.

    So we have this planet with magick meteor dust and genetic mutation screwing things up left and right. So what would this planet need to be a little more realistic? What would it need to survive? The first thing that comes to my mind is a sentient race that governs and controls the genetic mutation. So the “rulers” of this planet would be scientists. The government would be intelligent beings (human or not) that could understand science and keep a kind of balance on the planet. You could go many ways with this. The government could be corrupt and evil. The government could be understaffed and overrun with problems. I think the first would be very suspensfull and the second would be more humor then anything. But….im getting off topic.

    So to bring it back to my original question. What if one of these scientists happened to gain this meteor dust magick and have this genetic mutation ability, and then, found out the secret to creating sentient life? That scientist would have amazing power. He would be a god in a way. That is where my brain went. It seems like you could do a lot with this shared world idea. I would love it if that Wiki could be turned into more of a shared world short story writing page. Not just about flora and fauna but short stories as well.

    I hope my brainstorming helps and I ask that you guys brainstorm more often!!! thanks for letting me listen.

  19. One way to regulate the apex predators is life cycles: take your long-lived species and only let them reproduce once every century or so.

    Ooh, that could lead to a great conflict. The predators’ numbers gradually increase, up to the point that their population is too much of a strain on local resources and most of them starve to death. If they were sentient, it could be a world war.

    The rest of the world might recover quite quickly, but these predators might take millenia to regain their numbers. Of course, this would be enough time for a civilisation to develop.

    Another complication: if the predators were sentient and didn’t die from age, then the most intelligent of them from the last catastrophe might set themselves up as gods for the next wave of civilisations. As time went on and people realised they were just old, conflict would inevitably develop. That could be the world-ending disaster, instead of the resource shortage.

  20. I think the Twilight books keep vampires extremely monstrous. Consider the love interest:
    – He follows and watches the MC, goes into her room uninvited – while she’s asleep inside – and even follows her to another town.
    – When he breaks up with her and she starts engaging in suicidal behaviour, rather than taking that as proof that the relationship was a toxic and that she needs to develop into her own person, he decides to end the separation.
    – He controls her, for example forcing her to drive a particular car ‘for her own safety’. Apparently when you are in ‘True Love’ with someone, you don’t respect their ability to make decisions. I must have missed that memo.

    That’s without even touching the discourse around the injuries she receives, and the way she insists it’s all her fault.

    The problem is not that Twilight renders vampires into friends. The problem is that their actions are considered evidence of true love, rather than plain abuse.

    Of course, Twilight is hardly the only book series to treat . It’s just the most successful one in recent years.

  21. @Rashkavar: There is at least one type of rodent that lives in the desert, not to mention Camels…
    And all you need for Hoth is multiverse theory. ;)

    What about a world that became extremely hostile, so the humans all climbed up onto the backs of the two-mile wide mutated Giant Spiders. The humans could hunt winged parasites that normally live off of the Giant Spiders. Humans could also farm lichens or similar on the backs of the Spiders… What do you think?

  22. What do you guys think about combining Earth flora and fauna with your fantasy world flora and fauna? Not cross-breeding, but when you’re writing. Does your fantasy world require an entirely new ecosystem with unique names or can you have earth names for some things that are similar and then new names for things that are completely different? …Or does that pull people out of the story because they can’t figure out if they’re on Earth or somewhere else?

    I’m not sure if that question was clear, but the reason I’m asking is because I was wondering how much more work I needed to do with my story. I have several creatures and plants that are described or mentioned that are obviously not Earth and then I described a tomato plant as well. Should I change the tomato plant into some other non-Earth fruit or should I stick with it because many fantasy worlds are very Earth-like anyway so crossover doesn’t really matter?

    Just wondering if you all had any opinions about f&f blending as a good idea or bad idea. Thanks!

  23. That Care Bear voice made my teeth hurt. Don’t do that.

    Interestingly enough, there’s an ecology student’s paper floating around out there about the ecology of vampires based on what we know about them from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show. If you Google about, you should find it.

  24. @Alissa,

    If it looks like a tomato, smells like a tomato, and tastes like a tomato, go ahead and call it a tomato. It eases the reader’s entry into the setting without forcing them to remember what the heck the “gobawookiedob” is when it really is just a “tomato”. I think Orson Scott Card said that once in one of his books on writing.

    Now make sure that the earth plant or animal still fits the ecosystem of your fantasy world. If the plant or animal is like nothing on earth, then go ahead and call it something new and fit it into the wild and wacky setting your working on.

  25. @Alissa,

    As far as naming goes, it can go either way. Almost every traditional fantasy setting has horses. Dogs, cats, rats, and birds are also pretty common. In Wheel of Time, Jordan has s’redit, or giant boar horses, but once you read their description, you can tell that they’re elephants

  26. This was a really fun one, thanks. Mary’s Carebear voice about made my eyes pop.

    Other fauna problems with Avatar:

    – Jake’s inanimate avatar body spends an entire night in the forest all alone… the same forest where he almost died of massive predator attack the only other time he spent the night there alone. This is arguable; it’s in the wake of a huge disaster in which no doubt many of the local fauna were killed. But there are many dead bodies lying around, and Pandora has been played up as such a dangerous place, and rainforest ecologies are notoriously ravenous–tons of competition for every calorie–so it still seems pretty odd to me that over a whole night no scavengers show up.

    – The Thanator (giant cat predator thing), as it chases Jake on his first trip into the jungle, *roars* at him over and over. Actually if I remember rightly it roars *before* chasing him. This is not predator behavior, I don’t care what alien ecology it’s in. It’s totally counterproductive to the predator’s goal, which is to catch something to eat–not warn it, scare it, or impress it, just catch it. In the real world, when people who live near lions hear them roar, they know they’re safe tonight. Hungry lions don’t roar; they don’t want to announce their location.

    That’s a really common movie mistake though, because what the want out of their predator is to look scary. I think it’s counterproductive to a movie too, though; just as a mysterious monster is more truly creepy, so is a totally silent predator. I think it’s because our instincts are tuned to the real. In real life, it’s what you don’t see that can really hurt you.

    Animal behavior might actually be another really good thing to understand when world-building flora and fauna–especially applicable to the actual writing stage. There are a couple of really accessible and very good books on this by Konrad Lorenz (the guy who discovered that geese imprint on their mothers.) One is called King Solomon’s Ring and is mostly “Here’s some interesting tidbits from my study of animals” and the other is called On Aggression, all about aggressive and also social behavior (they’re related) in animals. Really fascinating. One of his most interesting points is that predation and aggression are two completely different things. The predator feels no anger toward the prey.

  27. @Talmage,
    The giant space worm is vaguely plausible as an existing life form, though evolution seems …difficult. Genetics experiment gone sideways? Carbonaceous asteroids have most of the necessary elements for terrestrial life. One would need a massively complex digestive system to break down what’s essentially limestone into everything needed for life, but it’s all there, and there’s plenty of space in that thing. Having oxygen come from your food rather than air makes not starving to death a whole lot more interesting.

    The thing about Twilight, though, is that it’s supposed to be touching… Our society doesn’t really understand the concept of a fictional healthy relationship. Or that the healthiest thing for people as clingy that is to learn to cope without. Reminds me of Ringworld, where (spoiler) Teela is so lucky that she can’t develop as a human on Earth and her luck arranges for her to be transported to a much harsher planet where things can go wrong. (There’s a whole subplot about breeding for luck that’s quite odd.)

    Interestingly enough, my Dad told me about one of his introductory ecology courses today. His first assignment, meant to teach base principles, involved the concept of an extra-terrestrial ecosystem. He can’t remember exactly what the assignment was, but the idea was to be able to examine a system by first principles without having biases of known things. (ie, when you’re looking at an oceanic ecosystem, and see a shark, you’re going to assume it is, or at least, is almost, the apex predator.)

  28. In the opening of Pitch Black there are skeletons the size of whales foreshadowing that either the climate has changed or something is taking some very large animals.

  29. “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
    And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
    And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,
    While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.” Augustus De Morgan

    In the meantime, a transcript for your reading pleasure…


  30. I have loved those two brainstorming episodes. Not only are they fun and helpful in itself, they also demonstrate (to me) that really thinking about foundational properties of your world like this gives you civilisation and culture for free (if you think it through properly).

    Take the proposed world with mutation magic. Obviously, every kind of civilisation will have the job/profession of protecting the balance of nature and some kind of order around settlements (those goals can easily conflict; plot hooks!). Manipulating nature in a haphazard way would be considered a crime. Furthmermore, you might have ecological chaos outside of the controlled zones, as engineered life forms get out and mess up everything. And, you know, apprentice life shapers have to train somewhere. So you have these islands of calm inside a sea of messed up nature — awesome!

  31. Am I the only one who thinks giving someone power over evolution is a terrible mistake? I think that the time between these cyclical meteor showers would be times of catastrophe as a minute change within any ecosystem typically results in a drastic change at all levels of the said ecosystem. I almost wonder if “civilization” could arise at all given the havoc the change would make. Maybe, if the cycle was long enough, then a civilization could rise, only to destroy itself by changing the ecosystem upon which it survives. The subsequent ‘Dark Age’ would result in a loss of all knowledge built up during the pre-meteor era as survival becomes more and more difficult.

    Eventually, the cataclysm could become a thing of legend and as the sapient species works its way back up to some semblance of “Civilization” lo! another meteor shower gives a new group the power to genetically alter their surroundings, and the cycle starts all over again. Or maybe it doesn’t, which is where a good story is, I think. Regardless, I think that the world would be a mish-mash of outdated evolutionary traits and could lead to some pretty free-handed flora/fauna creation.

    When I look back at our own history, then give, say Medieval Europe this power, it makes me shudder at the possibilities.

  32. Acre, maybe someone figures out in time and takes control of the power by evolutionising away ability to evolutionise from all but a select elite?

  33. @Raphael? You mean the Catholic Church with control of evolution? Or would you prefer the Knights of the Gene Table? An elite in control… you know the saying about “who guards the guardians?” Well, who evolves the evolutionary leadership? You say you want an evolution, well, you know, we all want to save the world… although the Declaration of Evolutionary Independence might make interesting reading, actually.

  34. Mike, I am not saying that an evolutionary regime like that would necessarily be and remain a good thing, but I do think it would develop out of necessity. You think it is doomed to fail? Well, have it fail and tell the story after such an authority became corrupt(ed), the hero(s) fighting for or against them.

  35. Acre:
    I had imagined that sooner or later a civilization would come to expect the passing of the magical meteor field. They would prepare themselves to find whatever pieces of meteor they could and train their people in the importance of mutating organisms according to certain guidelines.

    One of the cultures I imagine is a city-state that had been situated at the foot of a very tall mesa. When the meteors fell, the city migrated the best it could to the top of the mesa itself, creating plants that would shield them from the sun, as well as plants that would grow down the mesa, covered in thorns and angry mouths, leaving secret paths to climb down if it were needed.

    These and other civilizations that got the same idea would exist in a highly regimented, highly ordered society that was cut off from the rest of the world, until the next meteor shower, when expeditions might be sent out to collect meteors and take note of new critters.

    I would also like to coin the term “evolurgy,” being the meteor magic used to evolve these organisms.

    A few creatures I came up with:
    The relic of the highly religious Mur-Ka society. While hovering, its wings flap in a particular back and forth fashion to produce the sound of one of their spiritual or hunting proverbs. The Lady Temperance Mayhew, evologist, watched as a green and red mummingbird halted before a large, unopened bud. She recognized the humming of the bird’s wings becoming cogent in the phrase, “sharp spear, half-full belly.” Her mouth dropped agape as the bud popped open, showing itself to be a large, yellow flower we have named the shy maiden. The mummingbird fed to its delight, buzzed away and over the next several minutes, the flower returned to its closed state.

    Furry Mummer:
    The furry mummer has an adaptation that allows it to fool the flowers upon which mummingbirds feed. The mummer is a furry little primate, about the size of a squirrel, that was seen climbing the stalks of the shy maiden. It tilts its head back so that it’s throat is lengthened and produces a rhythmic humming sound similar to the mummingbird, but it produces no Mur-Ka proverb. All the same, the shy maiden opens and the mummer, less gentle than a mummingbird, pulls a nectary from the flower and happily chews it. Lady Mayhew reports that the furry mummer developed this ability through natural evolution, rather than evolurgy.

  36. Writing Excuses Podcasters: Do your “Writer Game Night” roleplaying game sessions turn into weekend long game nights? Seems to me like they might. Since you now have a WE Care Bear, what’s the WE equivalent of the “Care Bear Stare”?

  37. I’m thinking that on the coast, assuming we have saltwater oceans, our main points of interest are going to include things that happen to the ancient forests common to coastal areas, the interactions involved when a freshwater river hits the sea, the near-constant light drizzle, and tides. Depending on how fast these mutations occur, we have many possibilities. I’m gonna say that mutations take a couple days to a week generally, just to make things easier for me. I can’t remember how regular the meteor showers are supposed to be, either, so I’ll fit them in with our own meteor showers, which can occur several times a year. I feel I can ignore mutations that a creature inflicts upon itself until it gets to a certain intelligence level, however they would evolve much more quickly and reach this level faster. They’d also have a lot more variety in species and subspecies. That’ll give their scientists something to study for a couple thousand years.
    Wood in coastal areas rots incredibly quickly, so I’d imagine that sentient life in the area would have created wood that resists rot for much longer than regular wood. Such wood would be more valuable in other areas until people get tired of paying for it and make their own.
    Fish, among the least in intelligence, would be affected mostly by sentient species. Some would be altered to be easier to catch and have lots of meat, while others might be created to provide a sport fishing challenge. That’s one thing about this world. Lots of things made more difficult for sport.
    Natural reptiles would quickly become fearsome on their own, becoming the apex predators without sentient intervention. These reptiles may develop fins rather than webbed feet for greater swimming capacity, or greater land mobility through leg modification. I don’t imagine the monster crocs of our own world would be absent, though they’d be mutated a bit.
    Birds would not need to migrate. Second-class intelligence (only lower than mammals) gives them an enormous amount of capacity for what I’m going to call conscious mutation. I don’t know that coastal birds tend to be migratory, it would depend on the coast, but these certainly wouldn’t migrate. Cold weather turns them all into penguins for a few months, at least if there’s been a meteor shower recently. That’s a bit exaggerated, of course. Their quest for food would quickly wipe out insects in an area, but the bugs’ incredibly short life cycles make up for it.
    Coastal mammals are great swimmers, but don’t feel out of place on land. They wouldn’t be able to take out the apex crocs until a few generations have passed, but they’d soon have the components required. More research would be needed to see how long the apex croc stays apex. The mammals would outfit themselves defensively first, but when everything is perfectly outfitted to get its natural prey, they’ll have to find something to eat, even if it’s the apex predator.
    Sentient life would mix the great parts of each group, but with greater intelligence. As mammals evolve toward sentience, they become more and more varied. Eventually, personality arises, and creatures change so drastically that it is difficult to find another close enough to one’s own genetic makeup to breed with. As sentience arises, the only way to reproduce is to consciously alter one’s body until it matches the mate’s. Sentient families would be small as a result. Going back to the coast, many would choose to throw gills into their genetic code, but would find it difficult to use lungs, as well. The result is a split between the new merfolk and the land-dwellers. An uneasy peace between the two seems likely. Also, anyone named Mary would become a bright neon color and grow short fur, a small tail, and have a high voice. Because Care Bear Mary is awesome. (There’s a lot more I wish I could bring up, but I don’t want to deal with Worldbuilder’s Disease on a prompt.)
    Plants would grow accustomed to the high salt content much faster than normal. Other species’ conscious mutations on them would create higher crop production. Basically, bigger fruit that comes more often. Unfortunately, the energy requirements upon the plants because of this causes them to become scraggly and susceptible for most of their lives. Many don’t make it long enough to see their fruit grow ripe.
    I’d love to see what everybody thinks about this, but I’ll probably be lucky if it gets read… Most people that aren’t caught up to this point in WE aren’t likely to bother with the comments. Oh, well.

  38. I would be interested to hear opinions about mixing real and imaginary plants and animals in our worlds. For example, is it generally a good idea to have a venomous sindor preying upon a deer? It seems to be quite common to have horses in the same world as magical creatures, but does anyone find that mixing real and imaginary weakens the world you are building? The dilemma to me is without using at least some familiar inhabitants you end up having to describe too many elements of the world.

  39. Simon:

    I enjoyed your post a great deal, and like where you’re going with it, but there’s one key point where it diverges from the prompt: the world we are given has the meteor showers (the important ones, anyway, with the magic dust) only every few centuries. They also mention that only a few mutations from each era survive in the long run, while the rest die out as a flash in the evolutionary pan.

    This impacts a lot of what you’ve laid out. For example, the sturdy wood is very feasible from a coastal region, but that wood will remain a commodity for generations. In this setup, it is easier to pay the coastal nation for its wood in trade than it is to wait for another meteor shower, convince the lucky fool who develops evolurgy to recreate the wood, and *hope* it survives. If a nation gets tired of paying for their wood, they’d likely send some agents to steal saplings/seeds (which can be an adventure in itself).

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