Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Marine Biology of The Swarm

The SwarmSF Signal reviews the The Swarm by Frank Schätzing. The novel, which was a bestseller in Germany, opens with whales, crabs and other sea life attacking human sources of ocean pollution.

As the book continues, the reader learns about the ultimate cause of the issues with the sea creatures and this is where the science fiction element comes into the picture. It is here where I was intrigued since the author really spends some effort describing how an alien intelligence would not necessarily be like what we would normally categorize as intelligence.
An article by the novel's translator, Sally-Ann Spencer, notes that the book has a solid basis in science.
Many of the books deep-sea monsters are taken straight from reality. The Australian tourist board will be none too pleased with Schätzing's description of a box jellyfish plague. Capable of killing a human in less than four minutes, the notorious Chironex fleckeri is reputed to have caused a hundred deaths in as many years. Less toxic but more outlandish is the Portuguese-man-of-war, a collection of four types of polyp with a net of tentacles up to fifty meters long. The notion of a colony of organisms equipped with minuscule harpoon-like stinging cells is disturbing enough without further embellishment. The biofouling threat posed by Schätzing's zebra mussels, though, is accentuated by the addition of flagella. With the ability to propel themselves through the water and steer their course, the mutant zebra mussels are able to block pipes and infest waterworks more rapidly and efficiently than their real-life counterparts.

In the novel biological plagues and species mutations are engineered by the [alien] yrr, but, as Schätzing points out, humankind is achieving roughly the same effect unaided. Ordinary flagella-less zebra mussels have been imported from the Caspian Sea to the Great Lakes in North America, where they can be found in densities of over 700,000 per square meter. Jellyfish plagues may not have reached the proportions described in The Swarm, but transoceanic shipping has been responsible for ferrying some dangerous stowaways, such as the Australian spotted jellyfish that wreaked havoc among Mississippi fish stocks in 2000.
The source of all that information is unclear; Schätzing has been accused of plagiarizing science articles on the web site of marine biologist Thomas Orthmann.

Of course scientific accuracy doesn't necessarily make for a good book. As the review of The Swarm in Strange Horizons points out, the loads of scientific detail can drag the story down instead of driving it.


1 comment:

  1. actually I cannot blame the organisms for revolting
    arrogance,greed,ignorance,obesity, and xenophobia are sad excuses for the state of the majority Homo sapiens now,
    of course I am referring to USA folks

    Viva El Frente, Viva La Gente
    Viva La Revolucion

    IMPEACH NOW and hang in public and no to military


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