A little Bio-Diversity, Please!
A blogger’s plea for complicated ecosystems, climate zones, and cultures on hab worlds. A little Bio-Diversity, Please!
The word for today: Bio-Diversity
Bio-Diversity in Sci-Fi
I love Star Wars, but Lucas went off the rails when designing the backdrop for the central action in the original three films (now 4, 5 & 6). Not counting the mechanical planetoid of the Death Star, we get the desert planet Tatooine, the ice planet Hoth, the Cloud City of eternally overcast Bespin, and the forest moon of Endor. The only earth-like planet of the original trilogy, Alderaan, appears briefly in the cross-hairs of the Death Star before foppish Governor Wilhuff Tarkin blows it to smithereens. To mix in a little Trek lingo, was this a message? “No M-class planets need apply!”
Studies of habitability suggest no “higher” (i.e., sentient) life forms could originate on any of the planets Lucas allows to coexist with the humanoid Death Star makers. Desert worlds lack the basic life ingredient, water. Ice planets might have water (unless it’s frozen CO2), but eternal winters are simply too cold for anything but lichens or fungi. And life evolving on planets requiring floating Cloud Cities—really? That’s like Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969, hopping out of his spacecraft, and looking for the nearest Starbucks. (They weren’t founded until 1971. NASA still awaits the first Lunar drive-thru.) And although forest moons like Endor might evolve simple life and maybe animals, the habitat lacks seasonal variability, which challenges a developing species to increase its brain size and invent tools and technologies in other to survive. Ewoks used stone-age weapons. Effectively, yes. But still… you know… primitive.
Climate, Biology and Cultural Diversity
What can be said about climate and biology can be multiplied to the Nth degree about alien cultures. (I never understood the need for math-speak in that Nth business. Why not just say a helluva lot?) Let’s talk about why sci-fi aliens often sit on chairs, eat at tables, and have an alcoholic beverage after a hard day of planning to invade of humanity’s homeworld.
Look at the diversity of Earth cultures. (Caveat: Sweeping generalizations follow. Let’s stipulate that exceptions exist and continue, please.)
First example, bathroom facilities. In multiple Asian cultures, sit down toilets do not exist. People squat over floor-installed porcelain toilet bowls or some other aperture to do their business. They consider the Western habit of sitting on a toilet seat—especially one frequented by strangers—to be incredibly unsanitary, and they are right. I have seen Asians on US Military bases adapt to our sit-down latrines by mounting the toilet and squatting on the seat. For real.
In some Asian cultures people remove shoes at the door and sit on the floor. Mats or thick rugs are common. Low tables hold food and drink. Speaking of food, Sri Lankans eat with their fingers, even rice. (They got a spoon for me, because they are Buddhists and amazingly kindhearted.)
In my Series
House of the Silent Moons
An extreme example of cultural differences: Japanese traditionalists will sit seiza, like this excerpt from my work-in-progress, Star Lawyers Book 4 -House of the Silent Moons:
They slapped neural cuffs on Rodney and Suzie and led them at blaster-point onto the deck. After winding through corridors and up turbo-lifts, guards herded them into a suite marked 将軍. Not surprisingly to Suzie, those were the kanji for Shōgun. A fusuma, or sliding paper door, opened onto a large room in the traditional washitsu style. Straw composite tatami mats held low tables.
Hideki Tsuchiya sat at a table in the center of the room in the traditional seiza manner—legs folded under thighs, buttocks resting on the heels, ankles turned outward, hands folded modestly in his lap. Tsuchiya was flanked by four armed warriors, also resting at seiza, whose leather belts bore kinetic sidearms and traditional swords—long bladed katana and shorter wakizashi.
Tsuchiya chose only the long and short swords.
“Miss London, Lieutenant Rooney. Will you honor me with a moment of your time?” Tsuchiya said expressionlessly.
Rodney spoke first. “How about removing these shackles?”
Of course, I’m not suggesting this is how all Japanese live or sit to receive guests. They don’t wear swords or carry blasters, obviously. (It’s a novel, gimme a break!) However, the chasm between Asian and Western norms is deep and wide, even to the inexpressive remarks of their host, who does not want to lose face by showing emotion to an adversary.
If that kind of diversity exists on our home planet, what will it be like when we enter First Contact with a species like the blue Quirt-Thymeans in my novels, who eat six meals a day and fine you for skipping something trivial as Second Breakfast. Furthermore, QTs hold an annual ten-day religious festival of feasting and socializing, during which everybody is free to screw whomever he or she wants. (Yes, they are sexually compatible humanoids, albeit blue with slightly doggy-like ears.)
The Blue King Murders
Did you read that it’s a religious festival? “Impossible!” you say. “Religions are otherworldly and austere and favor sexual abstinence outside of marriage.” Ask your Hindu friends about the goddess Rati. Here’s an excerpt between J.B. Matthews and Parvati, the former holographic pleasure provider reprogrammed as the Patrick Henry’s Helmswoman, from Star Lawyers Book 3 – The Blue King Murders:
“This is so not like me. I was a Catholic monk, for God’s sake!” J.B. said.
“We have gods and goddess who exist to bring us sensuality. One is called Rati, the goddess of desire, lust, passion. And yes, love.”
J.B. shook his head. “I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“Are you still a monk?”
He smiled sheepishly. “No.”
“Good, because I am no longer a whore.”
“Of course not. I’m glad. Sorry.”
Parvati laughed sweetly. “Jeremiah, in some matters, you are so very shy. I find that alluring.”
“I have no idea why.”
A classic cultural disconnect, and sometimes the differences bring more than a blush. For example, fundamentalist Muslims allow no images of the One God, or any artistic portrayals of humans or birds or animals in their Mosques or wider communities. In 2001 the Taliban destroyed the world’s two largest standing Buddhas, great artistic treasures of humanity. One of them was 165 feet (50 meters) high. They were blown up because graven images are offensive to the Divine. Islamists also have strict, one might say medieval, attitudes about controlling women and shunning literature and music which hints at sexuality.
Contrast that with the world’s oldest living religion, Hinduism. The Hindus have temples featuring carved images of their many, many deities, sometimes illustrating sexual positions of the Kamasutra in stone on those houses of worship. Sexuality is a religious path of which the Divine approves.
Can you imagine a scene in which two person from these radically different cultures—perhaps a Pakistani Muslim from Karachi and Indian Hindu from Mumbai—meet and discuss life in general? It practically writes itself.
The point is that many sci-fi writers are good students of culture and bio-diversity, but all of us need to be. Much good reference material is available online. And if you want to get serious about learning how cultures work, download or buy the CD of the “Great Courses” lecture series by David Livermore, “Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are.” Believe me, Dr. Livermore never realized how far away that “wherever” could be.
Write on, trust your gifts, and let the muse infuse you.
14 August 2018
Jump Gate Omega (Star Lawyers Book 1) and Forbidden Sanctuary (Star Lawyers Book 2) and The Blue King Murders (Star Lawyers Book 3) are live. If you didn’t read it yet, the prequel to the series is also available and you can Download my free short story here!
You can also learn more about me in the about section of this website.