Biology is a fascinating and diverse field of science that explores the living world and its interactions. Science fiction is a genre that uses biological concepts, themes, or elements to create imaginative stories, worlds, and creatures. Some aspects of biology that are commonly found in science fiction include evolution, disease, genetics, physiology, parasitism, and symbiosis.
Some examples of biology in science fiction are:
- Speculative evolution: This is the idea of imagining how life forms could evolve in different scenarios, such as on other planets, in the distant future, or in an alternate history. Speculative evolution is often based on real biological principles and processes, such as natural selection, adaptation, and convergence. Some works that feature speculative evolution are H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, Dougal Dixon’s After Man, and Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition.
- Disease: This is the phenomenon of organisms being affected by harmful agents or conditions, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins, or environmental factors. A pandemic can be used as a plot device, a metaphor, a challenge, or a threat in science fiction stories. Some works that feature disease are Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.
- Genetics: This is the branch of biology that studies the inheritance and variation of traits in organisms, such as genes, chromosomes, DNA, and mutations. Genetics can be used to explore themes such as identity, diversity, ethics, and power in science fiction stories. Some works that feature genetics are Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.
This field of science is a given.
Even if the story doesn’t involve alien ecosystems, a near or far-future world is an undiscovered country of new manifestations of living things, human or otherwise. What have we so far found living on this planet? Plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, slime moulds, archaea. From synthetic to quantum biology, the list of organisms that can be conjured up is endless.
Aldiss demonstrated a keen interest in the natural sciences, particularly biology, and skillfully merged it with imaginative storytelling. His works often feature richly detailed biological worlds, where exotic and alien life forms interact with human characters. Aldiss seamlessly integrates biological concepts and principles, crafting intricate ecosystems, evolutionary processes, and symbiotic relationships that add depth and authenticity to his narratives.
Whether exploring genetic engineering, ecological systems, or the implications of human evolution, Aldiss’s use of biology in fiction goes beyond mere backdrop and becomes an integral part of the story. His adept portrayal of biological themes serves to emphasize the interconnectivity of life, the fragility of ecosystems, and the profound impact of scientific advancements on humanity. Aldiss’s ability to blend biology with speculative fiction showcases his skill in bridging the realms of science and imagination, leaving an indelible mark on the genre.
Udods, The Dark Light Years
“Hothouse,” is set in a distant future where the Earth’s flora has evolved dramatically, and numerous unique and fascinating creatures inhabit the lush and perilous world.
- Traversers: These are large, intelligent plants capable of moving and communicating with humans. They play a crucial role in the novel as characters interact and form alliances with them.
- Symbiants: These creatures are a hybrid of animals and plants, combining the characteristics of both. They have the ability to photosynthesize and use their leaf-like appendages for camouflage and defense.
- Bats: Bats have evolved into massive creatures, resembling pterodactyls, with a voracious appetite for the smaller creatures of the forest.
- Mucoids: These slimy, amorphous beings inhabit the humid and murky depths of the forest. They possess a rudimentary intelligence and prey on smaller creatures that venture into their territory.
- Sunflowers: Enormous sunflowers have evolved into towering, mobile entities. They possess rudimentary intelligence and serve as sentinels and protectors of the forest.
- Fungi: Various types of fungi populate the forest, some of which are dangerous and deadly to humans. Others play a crucial role in the ecosystem, acting as decomposers and nutrient recyclers.
- Carnivorous plants: There are numerous carnivorous plants throughout the forest, ranging from stationary varieties that lure in unsuspecting prey to mobile, aggressive ones capable of pursuing their targets.
- Tummy-bellies: Small, slug-like creatures that serve as a primary food source for many of the larger creatures in the forest.
In Brian Aldiss’s “Helliconia” series, which consists of three novels set on a planet named Helliconia, there is a rich array of creatures that inhabit the planet’s diverse ecosystems.
The Wutra’s Worm is a colossal creature in the world of Helliconia, whose lifespan aligns with the vast cycle known as the Great Year. It is akin to a legendary dragon of Helliconia. During the summer season, the young worms take to the skies, gracefully soaring through the air. As the winter descends, the mature worms shed their wings, becoming wingless and finding refuge in an intricate labyrinth of tunnels that sprawl beneath the surface of Helliconia. These tunnels form an extensive network where the wise and weathered worms reside, braving the cold and harsh conditions of the winter season.
The Phagors, also known as ancipitals due to their double-edged horns, are humanoid beings covered in white fur, reminiscent of mythical minotaurs. While roughly the same size as humans, they possess distinct characteristics. Their civilization, though intelligent and with its own language and culture, has never progressed beyond a hunter-gatherer stage. Originating during Helliconia’s earlier cold period, the Phagors differ from humans in several aspects. Their blood is golden instead of red, their internal organs are arranged differently, with their guts situated above their lungs, and their intellect and psychology are utterly alien. They exhibit hardiness and longevity, yet they struggle with warm conditions and water. As a Phagor ages, it gradually shrinks and undergoes keratinization, resembling a lifeless totem devoid of outward signs of life.
Bone Fever and Fat Death
Bone Fever is a viral affliction that affects Helliconia’s humans, marked by an extreme manifestation of anorexia. It spreads rapidly across the globe during the early stages of the Great Spring. Conversely, Fat Death is another disease characterized by an extreme form of binge eating, which becomes an epidemic during the late stages of the Great Autumn.
Both illnesses inflict significant suffering and have alarmingly high mortality rates. However, those who survive are left with bodies drastically altered in composition. Individuals afflicted by Bone Fever become considerably thinner, while those affected by Fat Death experience excessive weight gain and metabolic changes. Consequently, these survivors become better adapted to the forthcoming conditions of either summer or winter, respectively.
Curiously, both diseases stem from the same virus, which is carried by ticks and activated by seasonal environmental shifts. Humans unknowingly share a symbiotic relationship with the virus and, in turn, with the Phagors who harbour the ticks responsible for transmitting the virus.
Certain individuals in remote areas possess a rare immunity to the virus, rendering them outcasts in society due to their stark deviation from the prevailing physical standards—either grotesquely emaciated or morbidly obese.
The presence of Bone Fever and Fat Death in the world of Helliconia highlights the intricate interplay between humans, the virus, and the Phagors. These afflictions shape the physical and social dynamics of the population, introducing a complex web of adaptation, prejudice, and survival.
Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor Cycle
Throughout the series, Silverberg introduces readers to various fascinating creatures that inhabit this fictional realm. Here are some notable lifeforms from the Majipoor Cycle:
A smallish, somewhat octopus-like race. Many are wizards, and they are known for the direction-finding and healing arts. Some can see the future in a limited way.HjortsA squat, bipedal race with bulging eyes and grey lumpy skin. While unattractive in appearance, they provide the bulk of the bureaucracy that keeps the vast and complex society of Majipoor operating. Some engage in mercantile activities, as well.
A four-armed, shaggy, tall and very strong race. They can be found as cargo-handlers, teamsters and sailing ship crew. A few Skandars take up juggling, and with four arms they are unparalleled at this art. Skandars are known to be obstinate and hot-headed.
Liimen are a three-eyed species characterized by their relatively lower level of intelligence. They primarily engage in menial tasks such as fishing, selling grilled meats, and carrying out janitorial duties within the society of Majipoor.
A mysterious tall folk with two small heads on a single neck. Through an unknown mechanism, both heads share a single consciousness. A few are great sorcerers or advisers to men of power in the government. Some Su-Suheris have psychic powers and are capable of seeing the future. They tend to be fairly aloof, and perhaps consider themselves better than the other races.
The Ghayrogs, a bipedal species with reptilian attributes such as forked tongues and serpentine black hair, are prominent inhabitants of Majipoor. The majority of their population resides in the crystalline city of Dulorn, but Ghayrogs can be encountered in various regions across the planet, with some even holding significant roles within the government. They tend to exhibit minimal emotional expression and require little to no sleep for the majority of the year.
Despite their scaly skin, the Ghayrogs are mammalian beings, distinguished by their intriguing reproductive process of laying eggs. This intriguing blend of reptilian and mammalian characteristics makes the Ghayrogs a unique species within the diverse tapestry of Majipoor.
Piurivar (also called Metamorphs or Shapeshifters)
The original inhabitants of Majipoor were the Shapeshifters, a race that initially resented the arrival of humans and engaged in a long-standing guerrilla conflict. This smouldering war persisted for centuries until Coronal Lord Stiamot took action, gathering and expelling the Metamorphs from Alhanroel, and confining them to a designated reservation on Zimroel. The Shapeshifters, characterized by bipedal forms, flat faces, and green/grey skin, possess a remarkable ability to mimic nearly any bipedal race, rendering themselves virtually indistinguishable from their chosen guise. This shape-shifting prowess greatly aided them in their struggles against early human colonists during Majipoor’s early history
Wyrms by Orson Scott Card
One of the central creatures in the novel is the Wyrm, a powerful and enigmatic being that can shape-shift and possesses psychic abilities. The Wyrms play a crucial role in the story as they interact with human characters and navigate complex political and social dynamics. Additionally, the novel explores other fantastical elements such as telepathic communication and genetic manipulation.
The book includes Geblings, Dwelfs & Gaunts,
Ribofunk by Paul Di Filippo
Ribofunk envisions a future where genetic information becomes a currency, and human DNA is both a commodity and a source of power. In these stories, Di Filippo examines the societal and cultural shifts that occur when genetic manipulation and biotechnology reshape humanity.