Jun. 20th, 2006

oneirophrenia: (Contemplative Doctor)
Here are just a few brief sketches of some of the planetary biospheres and tailored Human species I've invented for Drift. They're all pretty sketchy, but that's all that's really needed, since I certainly don't see this thing as being an ultra-hard-sci-fi exploration of evolutionary biology and exoplanet development.

Amethyst. Introduced in the prologue and possibly only mentioned there, Amethyst is a small terrestrial world orbiting a very hot, white, young G-type star that spits out a LOT of intense UV, which has driven a furious mutation rate. It's a small world with a thin atmosphere, and may eventually end up like Mars, except for the fact that its local lifeforms have been doing their best to keep water on the planet. First of all, though it's a small world, it's rich in silicates, and all of the local carbon-based life uses a lot of silicates as shell and out-integument materials. The dominant form of life on the planet is the "bubble-forest," complexes of numerous symbiotic vegetal forms that grow into large, most-sealed spheres of bioglass to contain water, air, and other lifeforms. Bubble-forests rely on a chlorophyll analog that is, in fact, very light blue, reflecting a lot of the star's high-end EM radiation, but most of the bubble-surface photosynthesizers and other forms that live outside of the bubble-forests actually look black, since they also have developed chemical defenses against the sleeting, constant UV. Since the planet is small, and there are no real seas left to divide the surface up into continents, and no real geological activity to generate mountains, the biosphere is pretty homogenous across the globe.

The Amethystians engineered to live within the bubble-forests are all long-limbed, with prehensile toes as well as fingers to aid them in getting around in the packed interiors of the forests. They have very large torsos, though, full of very big lungs designed to suck as much O2 from the atmosphere as possible. Their skins are pitch black to defend against UV exposure when they go outside the forests, they have tiny, hard, multifaceted eyes designed to protect their retinas against the UV as well, huge ears to pick up sound better in the thin atmosphere, and gigantic beaky noses full of small fibers designed to filter as much siliceous pollen and crystalline silica dust to protect their lungs (which also have their own silicate filters).

Then we've got Xanthus, the primary world in the novel. Xanthus is big. Really, really big...for a terrestrial world. Almost three times the size of earth. But not quite as dense, as the planet is surprisingly poor in metals--it's all just chondrites and your standard terrestrial mix of granites and metamorphic rocks. Quite geologically active, with many belts of volcanos and many, many small seas. The entire planet is yellow...hence the name. Yellow rocks, yellow deserts, yellow seas full of algaes and complex biomes. The planet is particularly rich in sulfur for some reason, and most lifeforms have evolved the utilize sulfur-powered enzymes and whatnot. Hence, almost everything is yellowish or yellow-green. The biota is diverse and extremely hardy, and there are no real differences between plants and animals: all lifeforms are photosynthetic and carnivorous, as the local photosynthetic compound isn't good enough to supply the energy needs of anything more complex than algae. Evolution took the easy way out, though: instead of rebuilding its entire biochemistry, it just led to organisms that devoured other organisms. So...it's a harsh world. Dry, heavy (2.8g surface gravity), full of ash from the volcanism, hot, and nasty.

Just like the Xanthians. The Xanthians are a tough species made to deal with a tough world. They're big, thick, tough-skinned, and powerful. Their skeletons and musculature are massive to handle the gravity, and like all other Xanthian organisms, they're photosynthetic--partially, at least. They are by far the most traditionally "human"-looking Humans in the novel, save that...well, they're yellow, their skins are rough like rhino hide, and their feet are like elephants' for greater stability. The primary Xanthians, though, have huge, bioengineered skulls that curl in on themselves like nautilus shells and are packed full of brains and hard-drives. The secondary Xanthians' usually have heads encrusted with external cyborg brains and other electronics.

Octom is the eighth and largest moon of a jovian gas-giant that the locals just call Big-and-Red. When Erasmus first entered Octom's system, it didn't think there were any habitable worlds at all...until it took a closer look at the eighth moon of the second big jovian--where it found a diverse but simple biosphere. Octom's biosphere was no more than a few hundred millions years old: it was Precambrian, at best--nothing but single-celled organisms and a few very basic multicellular forms...but what a diverse selection of simple lifeforms! The moon's atmosphere, though clouded with hydrocarbons and rather cold, was rich and warmed by the fierce exothermic reactions of its biosphere. Engineering a Human species to exist on a world whose biosphere was barely a billion years old and was just now discovering oxygen metabolism presented a unique challenge, but Erasmus had learned a lot by seeding nearly ten thousand worlds in the past twenty-K years.

The Octomese are huge, elephantine beings, their bodies sealed off and packed full of symbiotic colonies of various bacteria whose interactions provide the Octomese with a certain amount of food, and plenty of oxygen. They're quadrupedal and look a lot like elephants, save that their "forward" legs can also serve as heavy-lifting arms, and they've a small set of more dexterous arms just behind their heads. Their skins are multicolored and covered in lovely, ever-changing colors due to varying colonies of symbiotes, and they frequently adorn themselves with colonies of bright fungi that cover their bodies with coral-like fruiting bodies. They're definitely the strangest-looking Humans, but they're also very useful in an interplanetary setting, because they don't need breathing apparatus when operating in hostile environments or even vacuum: their bodies contain their own complete oxygen-cycling system and heating system. All they need is to be covered with an airtight "pressure" membrane.

And finally...Pelab. Pelab is a very earthlike world (if a little chilly) with an extensive, diverse biosphere covering a number of continents and vast seas between huge icecaps. The biosphere is rich in plants and animals of all kinds...but none are vertebrates. In fact, very few of the local animals have solid skeletons of any type. Even plants don't have fixed systems of structural proteins like lignins or cellulose. Simpler plants can dissolve their structural proteins entirely and move around like slime molds before regenerating structural elements. The more complex plants are structured something like complicated tents, with various soft structures strung over "struts" and "scaffolding" that, in some cases, the plants can rearrange following the usual phototropisms. Animals all have "modular" skeletons that they can disassemble and reassemble along various standardized lines. For example, predators can restructure their shapes to some degree for different activities. But the primary life-form on the planet are the "landworms," gigantic wormlike creatures that inch their way across the Largest Continent, consuming anything and everything organic in their paths.

The Pelabic Humans are primarily designed to live on the Largest Continent and take advantage of the greatest, and most consistent, local resource: the landworms. The worms' blood is extremely rich in nutrients, and they're so huge they barely pay attention to the hundreds of parasitic species that adorn them. Erasmus realized that the easiest way to fit Humans into the biosphere was to make them dependent on the landworms, because the landworms were clearly the dominant species, and nothing was going to change that any time soon. Making the Pelabi somewhat dependent on the landworms would guarantee their survival by allying them with the planet's greatest (if mindless) residents! So, the Pelabi are parasitic. They are small of body but large of skull, so they all rather look like skinny children with large heads. They are omnivorous, and can and will feed on local vegetables and fruits, as well as other local species parasitic on the landworms ("worm chickens" and "syringe-cattle" are the primary domesticated food animals), but their number one source of nutrition is worm blood. Each landworm can host approximately five to six hundred Pelabi, who are usually all related; this is the foundation of the "House" system on Pelab. Many of the Great Houses, however, claim residents of four or more landworms. As Pelabic technology grew, though, the Pelabi began separating themselves from life dependent on the landworms, and have even engineered smaller, "personal" versions of the landworms to provide individuals with food and form the basis of a non-nomadi, non-worm-dependant life. All of the Pelabi on the Expedition are of this type.

Ohyeah...the worms' nervous systems also produce a neurotransmitter that, when processed, amplifies intelligence and provides Pelabi adepts with immense mental clarity, much like melange provides Guild Navigators and Mentats with greater mental powers in the Dune books.

OK...so that's it for now. Any comments, questions, etc.?
oneirophrenia: (Mr. Rogers)
First of all, there are memos scroting around in the Pentagon that still classify homosexuality as a defect, even though the American Psychiatric Association itself declared over thirty years ago that homosexuality is no such thing. Way to behind the times, Pentagon staffers. Just because homosexuality is an abomination before God, sick, twisted, grotesque, horrible, and clearly the reason why our nation is undergoing such bad times right now...that doesn't mean it's a mental defect. Nor does it mean that it isn't fucking awesome.

Also, some Massuchusetts senator is "outraged" that his son got a fluffernutter sandwich for lunch in school. Daddy Dearest is incensed because fluffernutter sandwiches will...Idaknow, rot your teeth, cause hallucinations, and lead his son into a homosexual marriage? No, wait--scratch the latter: that's legal in ol' Mass. I call upon the state congressman representing Arkham and environs to issue an injunction against pursuing legislation concerning a fucking sandwich in favor of pursuing legislation to investigate the mysterious island recently risen from the South Pacific ocean. You know, the one covered in five-dimensional architecture and broadcasting dreams of hideous destruction to artists and mental patients all over the world?

Seriously. Doesn't the US government have better issues to deal with right now? A useless occupation of a foreign country, perhaps? Alternative fuel-source research? Grants to Kurzweil AI to hurry this goddamned SIngularity along so I can damnwell just be a fucking robot already?!

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