Final Summary Post- Sci Fi Ecosystems

Hello! This is my last blog entry, and in it I will summarize the trends and ideas I found in the books I read.
One widespread trend I noticed was that both young and adult forms of many alien species have important roles in the ecosystems, and the roles are often quite different. This is very true on Earth, and its presence in the books shows that many authors are well-versed in ecology. Dune, Grass, Speaker for the Dead, and Cycle of Fire all show this trend to some extent.
Another tendency I noticed (also present in Earthly ecosystems and again showing the environmental knowledge of modern authors) was for most, if not all, of the species mentioned to be involved in some way with each other. The interactions included in the books ran the gamut from parasitic and predatory to mutualistic, and many were described in loving detail which showed them to be as complex as Earthly interactions. Additionally, in the best cases these interactions did not remain static, but were shown as changing as conditions changed, which describes Earthly ones as well. However, in all cases, the interactions seemed to stay within the Earthly realm of possibility, which disappointed me. Perhaps I have not read enough material, but I was hoping for at least one truly weird interspecific interaction. As an added note, the earliest novels and short stories had noticeably simpler interactions, with many species almost living in a vacuum- therefore I think it’s likely that the growth of ecology as a distinct science is responsible for the change, since the early works were written before its emergence.
As for the species themselves, the books seemed to agree on one thing- carbon-based life-forms, except in the most extreme conditions, will be fairly similar in structure and mind. The only major exceptions were the weird spine-eyes of the Tenebrans in Close to Critical, which didn’t seem to match any eye design on Earth, the multi-individual minds of the Tines in A Fire Upon the Deep, and the sentient trees in both Speaker for the Dead and A Fire Upon the Deep. Even the developmental patterns described did not stray far from Earthly models (for example, many of the novels included up to five developmental stages, some of which ate each other- this occurs on Earth, although I’m not sure if any animals with five stages exist). One point of difference was the presence, in two books (Cycle of Fire and Speaker for the Dead) of species which contain the DNA or spores of another species. In the latter book, the two species have merged their DNA and merely have separate developmental stages now, while in the former, spores of the other species embedded in the flesh begin to grow whenever environmental conditions change. Nothing like that is present on Earth. Another point of difference is the long “hibernation” or stasis of organisms in Helliconia Spring, in which an organism survives for a couple thousand years without nourishment. Unfortunately, the author of that novel failed to give any ideas for how such a hibernation could occur. There are also a number of novels and short stories featuring organisms with characteristics of both plants and animals- perhaps the lack of such things on Earth made it an interesting topic for the authors.
While the appearance, life history, and interactions of species are well-described in most of the books I read, there are far fewer descriptions of possible evolutionary pathways for these organisms. Some of the most fascinating species (the sentient plants, the pack-minded dogs, the necrogenes on Helliconia Spring) have no explanation or even hint as to how the author thought they might have arisen. Even the other novels mostly avoid the topic of evolution, and reading between the lines only gives the impression that the authors think evolution on other planets would work like Earthly evolution does. There isn’t even any mention of a genetic material besides DNA.
Another widespread trend in the books is to portray an ecosystem as wholly shaped by environmental conditions, and at the mercy of natural forces. Only a few of the novels show environments unlike the more pleasant Earthly climes, and all of these stress the fragility of the ecosystems. The two Hal Clement novels, as well as Helliconia Spring, show whole ecosystems being destroyed or at least affected by harsh conditions. Dune also shows this, but depicts the ecosystem as being able to recover and change the physical forces of the environment as well.
A final trend is the ability of nanotechnologically created/altered organisms to outcompete “normal” organisms and control their environment. This is evident in both Prey and Blood Music (although Blood Music is about genetic engineering rather than nanotech, the resultant cells are altered technologically by man and do outcompete the rest of the world), as well as in The Diamond Age (a novel I read but didn’t write a blog entry about due to it not being particularly useful for my project- while the nanotech creations described in it are clearly able to diffuse into the natural environment and affect it, this is a tiny thread in a 400-some page book which hardly describes ecosystems or natural implications of nanotech at all, and is set on Earth to boot). Both the latter novel as well as Prey also portray nanotech “creatures” as able to reproduce and evolve in the wild. In Prey, the devices take on the niche of an apex predator, while in The Diamond Age they merely war among themselves.
I hope you enjoyed reading this!