I love to watch the birds in my backyard. Stay with me for a second, here. I’m going somewhere with this. The stately crow couples pacing the grass, the flash and bravado of Papa cardinal protecting his family, the here-I-am-nope-gone-again flitting of wrens at their baths, the sudden breath-held silence as a red shouldered hawk settles atop the swing set. Birds, in all their abundance and variety, fascinate me. But there’s something more…
A shiver of delight runs through me every time I recall this astounding fact—my garden is overrun with dinosaurs. Perhaps one can’t say it’s proven beyond any doubt, but enough evidence now stares us in the face, (fossilized plumage on certain oviraptor species, similarities in skeletal structure, and so on) daring us to say otherwise. The dinosaurs did not suddenly vanish in one fell swoop. Some of them evolved into birds.
The fact that life sparked and caught on this planet, once a ball of molten rock and slag, is nothing short of astounding. That life, over Earth’s history, has taken such a multitude of forms, each building upon its predecessors in an ever-flowing symphony of DNA, is breathtaking. Very early on, I found a fascination in the patterns of biology. There is as much poetry in the evolution of bird and man as there is in any Stravinsky piece. The dinosaurs, now birds, share an important common factor with hominids: our history is driven by an amazing ability to adapt. We, like birds, occupy every possible niche in the planet’s ecosystems. With puffins and gyrfalcons, we’ve shared the frozen North. With roadrunners and burrow owls, we’ve stalked the deserts. We’ve fished in the sea like cormorants and paddled the marshes with the egrets.
The hominid’s greatest asset lies in the ability to adapt, that strange gift some humans have that allows them to embrace and absorb the new. This very ability, I’ve always thought, is what permits us to suspend disbelief regarding human exploration of space. Yes, our instincts say, yes, we could adapt to living in a self-contained space station. Yes, we could find a way to understand an alien culture. Yes, we could be inventive and resourceful enough to adapt to alien environments.
(I realize this becomes harder to imagine when you glance over at Uncle Ralph snoring on the sofa, beer can still clutched in his hand, but I refer to the human race as a whole. Certain individuals are unable to adapt to a change in dinnertimes, let alone planets. We must assume that spacefarers, by definition, would not include many of these.)
Adapt-or-die lies at the root of so many of my favorite SF stories (Dune, The Faded Sun, Ender’s Game, the Pern novels) and, not surprisingly, serves as the foundation for my own stories. The refugees who colonized Anchorage believed they found a perfect, Earth-class planet to settle. But alien biology took an unexpected toll. The humans had to find ways to become part of the planet’s ecology. Adapt or die. Like the dinosaurs perched in my pine trees. If my cats only knew…
Romenel: Voyage Into Twilight – Book Two
Romenel: Obligations of Blood – Book Three
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Sandra Stixrude: Cold Facts Meet Flights of Fancy
Sandra C. Stixrude is the author of the Anchorage Series. The third book, Romenel: Obligations of Blood, releases August 19, 2010 at Red Rose Publishing.
Voices out of the past reveal a terrible secret: the kresnas, devourers of life and sanity, were created by human scientists. Not only created, but used in terrible, torturous experiments that turned them against their creators.
Romenel's dilemmas pile one on the other until he's no longer able to see his way through them. How can he destroy all the hordes of kresnas at once and, knowing what he does, is it morally defensible to do so? And what other solution is there if humans are to survive? And what should he do about the beautiful warrior, Kyliki, since he has no place in her world and she has none in his?
And, hang it all, if he can resolve any of these things, what in blazes is he going to do about the mess of a succession war going on back home?