Monday, August 13, 2012

At Science in My Fiction: Metamorphosis, Transformation and Evolution

In the huge, crisp cocoon, extraordinary processes began. 
The caterpillar's swathed flesh began to break down. Legs and eyes and bristles and body-segments lost their integrity. The tubular body became fluid. The thing drew on the stored energy it had drawn from the dreamshit and powered its transformation. It self-organized. Its mutating form bubbled and welled up into strange dimensional rifts oozing like oily sludge over the brim of the world into other planes and back again. It folded in on itself, shaping itself out of the protean sludge of its own base matter. 
It was unstable. It was alive, and then there was a time between forms when it was neither alive nor dead, but saturated with power. And then it was alive again. But different. 
~ Perdido Street Station, China MiƩville
I have a new post up at Science in My Fiction that looks a bit at the metamorphosis of caterpillars into moths or butterflies and asks how that might have evolved.

There are many examples of wonderful - or horrifying - metamorphoses in speculative fiction, but they tend to be featured more often at the fantasy end of the SF spectrum.  For example, China MiĆ©ville's Perdido Street Station (quoted above) features the transformation of a ravenous multicolored caterpillar into a giant dream-sucking butterfly-like creature. And folk tales of werewolves and vampires tell of humans transforming into animals and back again.

So that leads to my question: what SF aliens go through a scientifically plausible metamorphosis?

The example that immediately comes to mind is the alien Pequeninos (or "piggies") in Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead. The piggies go through a metamorphosis from an intelligent pig-like animal into an intelligent tree. While it works in the story as a life cycle sure to take the settlers of their planet by surprise, it never seemed very biologically probable to me.

So are there more scientifically plausible examples in science fiction?

Read the post "Metamorphosis, Transformation and Evolution" and join the conversation.

Photo: Manduca (either tobacco horn worm or tomato horn worm) preparing for metamorphosis by devouring my tomato plant. Photo by me, all rights reserved.

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