Tuesday, July 01, 2008

John Sladek: Stop Evolution in Its Tracks!

"Speaking as a scientist," he began, "it just beats me how anybody can believe in the evolutionary fairy tale for five minutes!" There was some nervous laughter and applause.

"Evolutionists will tell you how some little old amoeba evolved itself into some bigger bug, and how that evolved itself into a fish, and so on, right up the scale until the ape evolved itself into a man. But there's two things wrong with that cockeyed story.

"In the first place, the amoebas never evolved at all. They're still here! Speaking as a scientist, I can vouch for that! I have looked down a microscope myself and seen them. They look like this."

He showed a slide of blobs. "Still the same little critturs they was when Noah marched them aboard the ark, two by two."

When the murmurs of amazement had died down, he continued: "In the second place, apes could not evolve into humans for a very simple reason: There are no apes. The things we call apes in zoos are nothing but men dressed up in hairy suits. I myself have visited a theatrical costume place where they rent such costumes. There they are, hairy suits with nobody inside."
~ "Stop Evolution in Its Tracks!", John Sladek

Not long before I started blogging here, a some intelligent design creationists claimed that science fiction writers don't "push evolution's envelope" they way they do with "genetics, nanotech, biotech, neurotechnology . . . " Now hopefully readers here realize that not only does evolution play a central role in many SF stories, but the fact that evolution is, well, a fact is implicit in most SF. "Stop Evolution in Its Tracks!" is a 1988 short story by John Sladek that plays on that assumption. As the introduction to the story in The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF explains:
"Stop Evolution in Its Tracks" implies by antithesis the validity of the hard sf attitude. It is an interesting contrast in technique to James P. Hogan's "Making Light," which approaches everything from the assumed hard sf attitudes (and equates them with moral superiority), without attempting any formal innovation. This energetic and sophisticated piece succeeds by making pseudoscience into surrealism. Sladek's allegiance to reason and science is affirmed by making the opposite madness.
Or, as David Harwell points out, the story is "funny only if you know the most basic facts of evolutionary biology."

Although the story gave me a chuckle or too, the claims of the fictional creationists are a bit too close to the claims of the real creationists for me to fully embrace the humor. Maybe I've just been reading the Panda's Thumb too long.

Anyway, if you like your science fiction to make satiric jabs at pseudoscience, John Sladek is probably right up your alley. Sladek's short stories are currently available in the anthology Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek.

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  1. Anonymous2:49 PM

    I understand evolution better now than when I first read Microcosmic God, so it would be interesting to read it again. "Stopping evolution in its tracks" somehow reminded me of a story in which someone invented a device that would eliminate friction, built it up as a military secret (more efficient engines) so that enemy agents would steal it, and watched their machines fall apart as screws unscrewed, etc.

  2. Wow, Mr. Parsons, that's a very long advertisement for your books. You are welcome to comment, but if you spam the comments with your ad again I'll delete it.

    Ford: A friction eliminator sounds just like something the military would pursue without considering the possible consequences.


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