Depictions of Ecosystems and Life-forms in Science Fiction (Abstract)

Science fiction often features strange alien environments teeming with creatures that cross the boundaries of Earthly life. Even those stories taking place on Earth can include unknown life-forms, such as mixtures of organic and mechanical parts. However, these unusual ecosystems and species tend to be used merely as plot devices, and are rarely examined for their own sake. This project, inspired by my Science Fiction and the Human Condition seminar, will study how various authors have portrayed ecosystems and life-forms, and compare their creations to each other and to Earthly life.

Several aspects of the natural world will be scrutinized, including the complexity of alien ecosystems, the interspecific interactions within them, the life histories of each species, the extent to which Earthly theories of evolution apply to aliens, and whether the qualities required for an Earthly being to be “alive” apply elsewhere. In addition, I will investigate the capacity for mechanical or part-mechanical creatures to integrate into an ecosystem. In answering these questions, I will both learn what aspects of life and ecosystems are seen as important by the authors, and augment my understanding of Earthly life.


  1. sehartzell says:

    As a fellow science student I am very interested to see how your project unfolds! (Also, will you analyze my fictional ecosystem next semester?)