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Speculative Organs

Back to experiments in xenophysiology!

No one draws nostrils like Wayne Barlowe, though Phil Tippett is damn close with Jabba's weird noseholes.
No one draws nostrils like Wayne Barlowe, though Phil Tippett is damn close with Jabba’s weird noseholes.

I’ve got the body parts of at least three different creatures here. I started with the eye sketch first. The idea here is that this creature’s ancestors started out with a compound eye. They had, at the center of their eye, a separate structure, sensitive to infrared. Since then, the infrared sensor has evolved a set of three eyelids that can constrain light down to a pinhole to resolve the complex image with great facility, as well as developing sensitivity to colors toward red on one side and microwaves on the other. Meanwhile, the compound eyes give a great field of view, as well as depth perception, telling the creatures what’s going on all around it and where to point its complex, color-sensitive central eye.

Directly below the eye, you can see a nostril/blowhole. This is a feature of an air-breathing sea creature. The outer area is a sphincter that squeezes smaller when diving, while the flap holds holds closed with water pressure. For some reason, I imagine this creature with a gill system that extends its underwater time like the one possessed by all its ancestors, but air can hold so much more oxygen (or, I dunno, fluorine, or whatever absurdly-reactive gas these guys breathe) than water, that it has this evolutionary advantage over its fellow sea-dwellers by being able to gulp down huge quantities for chasing or fleeing. Maybe it even keeps the air as a reserve. I drew this sketch because nostrils are the best homage I can think of for Wayne Barlowe’s work.

The theme through the rest of this page is one that I come back to periodically, based on some fun speculation:

Over the next millionish years, humans, for whatever reason, become irrelevant to the biosphere of Earth. Maybe we went extinct, maybe we left, maybe our salient characteristics proved more trouble than they were worth and we’ve diverged into descendant primate species.

However, the benefits of social, constructive intelligence remain in the absence of humanity, and crows (common, smart, social, funny) found the benefit of, and started selecting for, social smarts.

Their ability to make and use tools (a capability they have in our time) was an important part of their development, as they learned to build shelters for themselves to expand their environment.

Eventually, the self-induced pressures of tool use favored the three major developments in their physiology: a jointed beak, a prehensile tongue, and eyes positioned far from the skull that enabled them to see what they were manipulating with their beak-fingers and tongue.

In the drawing above, sketching exploratorially as I was, I drew the eyes far too large to be practical for a flying animal (and, indeed, I’m assuming that these critters are flying). I’d assume the eyeballs themselves would, in fact, be much smaller. However, it’s given the head a shape that I really like, and it does two additional things:

  1. It gives canard wings to a bird. We haven’t had a four-winged dinosaurian for 100 million years.
  2. It gives us a mystery: no one knows why hammerhead sharks heads are that shape; or, more precisely, their weird heads do lots of things, because evolution doesn’t plan or design things to purpose.

I designed the tongue after parrot tongues. They’re fantastically delicate manipulators with multiple sections. The back, closest to the throat, is strong and covered in tough knobs. In the center is a smooth section that, in this case, acts like a carpal tunnel to connect tendons from the back to the two cilia-covered knobs in the front that are highly sensitive and, in the case of our corvosapien here, capable of changing shape to feel and manipulate fine objects.

I’ve been thinking about this corvosapien thing for a while. I think I’ll come back to it!

Do you like this speculative zoölogy stuff? I sure do. Help me make more!

Thanks to Sebastian Baker and John Templeton for batting these ideas around with me!

The Name of Bronze

About a year ago, I posted a roleplaying game based on my story, Lover of Jet & Gold about the Namedealers of the setting: those who speak the secret Language of Names to all the phenomena of the demon-haunted world in which they live. For the most part, they’re the “sorcerers” of the Sword & Sorcery setting.

Namedealers are like Mosheh, Thetis, and Merlin. But they’re also not all that far from Bugs Bunny and Cugel, all of whose power comes from their ability to perceive and tell truths, but whose weakness in overestimating their importance to rather more direct individuals at the wrong moment. In a recent game, the inestimable Quinn Murphy equated his namedealer to Wile E. Coyote, fleeing the consequence of each overreach by putting himself in a slightly more desperate debt.

It was, and I quote a player at PAX East 2015 here, “The most fun I’ve ever had being eaten by a crocodile.”*

Continue reading The Name of Bronze

The USN Orbital Interceptor IS-9 Raven (Crow Crap)

When the USSR launched its first piloted orbital nuclear warhead into orbit in 1959, the United States responded by electing Richard M. Nixon to his first term as President. Nixon buoyed by the fear of existential crisis, boosted the United States’ military space program to orbit and left President Goldwater with a legacy of programs he would need to meet the Soviets face-to-face on the Moon — and to contend for Mars.

It's literally the cheapest spacecraft the United States Department of the Navy could build.
The I-9, designed to be used by conscripted American pilots to intercept Soviet spacecraft. It’s intensely dangerous.

Now, in 1979, the night sky is filled with glittering necklaces of warheads, satellites, and orbital interceptors. Dangerous and unreliable, these craft are crewed by conscripted, coerced undesirables from both the Soviet Union and the United States.

The IS-9 Raven, known as the Crow Crap by those who have to handle it, is an orbital interceptor based on Boeing’s Dyna-Soar return vehicle. This production model is designed to destroy Soviet satellites and orbital interceptors. In practice, it’s also used to ferry American saboteurs to Soviet spacecraft.

But American and Soviet conscripts might find they have more in common with each other than with the nations of Earth that have ejected them from the cradle of humanity.

This is one of my early concept sketches for Fate Space. I’m having a ball working on these settings with the Evil Hatters and look forward to presenting you with the complete work! You’ll see more as the project takes shape!

A Thoughtful Herd

We stand now at an amazing moment in the history of our people. Just a 18 herds of migrations ago, our people were unable to build meaning with our hands, for we had neither the digits, nor the consciousness, to build. But here, now, all herds of the Southern Steppe share those genes, and the herds of the Northwest are adapting as well, with genes gained from when our migrations meet during rut. Those hatchlings without these genes, fail and die before reaching personhood; or, reaching personhood, fail to find carriers for their eggs. Just one herd of migrations ago, we would have left them to die of exposure, or be consumed by our old threat, the cleavers.

Continue reading A Thoughtful Herd

Depression and the Creative Professional

In March, 2014, I announced the launch of the Mobile Frame Zero 002: Intercept Orbit (originally, Alpha Bandit) Kickstarter. I had high hopes, as my three previous Kickstarters had gone well, succeeding with between 300% and 900% of my cash goal. Instead, the project wound up testing my limits as a creator and seriously, adversely affecting my mental health.

Continue reading Depression and the Creative Professional

Pris is More Cyborg than Woman

At the beginning of Blade Runner, Captain Bryant tells us that (editing errors aside) four replicants have escaped their restraints and have flown to Earth. The oldest of them is Roy Batty (incept date: January 8, 2016), followed closely by Pris (February 14, 2016). Of the replicants, they’re emotionally closest to each other; where Zhora and Leon seem to be living together as a matter of convenience, Roy and Pris seem to be traveling and living together because they like each other, they miss each other when they’re gone, and they share an objective. But Pris is different from Roy.

Continue reading Pris is More Cyborg than Woman

Repos of the 22nd Century

The promise of private spaceflight brings with it the conditions of the socioeconomic systems from which it stems. By the mid-22nd century, there are so many private space operations that the asteroid belt and many of the minor bodies of the solar system are crawling with mining operations. Their primary function is not to send their goods back planetside — such an endeavor requires more ∆V than it’s worth in most cases — but to supply other interplanetary operations.

Continue reading Repos of the 22nd Century