Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cephalopods and the Forlani Universe

     One of our new UK friends, S. e. Murphy, recently asked on Facebook why we have cephalopods playing an important part in our Forlani novels.  First of all, the word cephalopod may seem strange, but they are creatures almost everyone is familiar with: octopi, cuttlefish, squids, and nautili.  As mollusks, they are a very ancient life form, having emerged and dominated the Earth's seas long before most life was crawling up on land.  Like the nautilus, ancient cephalopods had an external shell, which modern octopi and other members of the family have lost, although they still have a small internal remnant of the old shells.  Unlike the modern nautilus, ancient cephalopods, such as the ammonites in the picture, could be huge.  They were a dominant, alpha species in their watery environment and ruled the planetary seas.  Perhaps, if extinction events on Earth had happened differently, they might still be here today.

     Modern cephalopods often show extreme intelligence for such a "primitive" animal.  Octopi and others have well-developed senses and surprising problem-solving ability.  They can squeeze themselves through tiny holes to get to new places.  Moreover, they are skillful stalkers and hunters, able to outwit their prey.  Their color-changing powers, linked to a complex range of emotions, can be used to express messages to others of their kind or to camouflage themselves almost instantly against enemies.  Who knows whether, if environments on Earth had allowed them to continue developing over hundreds of millions of years after the great ammonites became extinct, octopus intelligence might not have developed far beyond our current human limits?

     In some ways, it might seem that cephalopods might be evolutionarily blocked by living in the sea, but there is absolutely no necessity for this.  Several years ago, we viewed a television program where scientists and artists proposed various types of amazing alien life that might exist in the cosmos, and one of them was a huge, intelligent, land-roving octopus.  Wait a minute, you might object, how could they come up on land?  It's true existing cephalopods don't have lungs, but consider whether they might be able to develop bladder-like organs that could store enough oxygenated water to allow them to start exploring the land.   After all, the opposite has happened in the case of our oceans' present intelligence champions, the marine mammals.   The ancestors of whales, dolphins, walruses, and other marine mammals were once four-footed, fur-bearing coastal mammals that ventured into the tides to search for their food, slowly and gradually developing the ability to live in the sea for long periods of time.  Need more proof?  Darwin discovered it in the Galopagos, where in relatively recent geological time, land-dwelling iguanas evolved to become comfortable in the sea and dependent on it for survival.  On another world, given time and luck, cephalopods could adapt to land, at least on a part-time basis.

    That is how we arrive at the Song Pai, the space-worthy cephalopods of the Forlani universe.   we postulate a world where cephalopods develop in size, intelligence, and power to an advanced point. Their planet, Song Pa, had an older, land-based dominant life form which unfortunately destroyed itself through reckless genetic engineering.   This left the stage open for the emergence of the cephalopods and their inheritance of the vacant lands that were still loaded with the technological lore of the Ancient Ones.  Earthly octopi are notoriously opportunistic, and the Song Pai are likewise. They master the engineering of their hapless forerunners and, like them, move on into space.

    Our Song Pai share many characteristics of existing terran octopi.  Above all, they are aggressive and competitive.  Think of them as viking squids.  Yet they are fiercely protective of the newly hatched.  The Song Pai life cycle has several stages, from cherished hatchling to dog-eat-dog adolescence through adult adaptation to a strict hierarchical order.  We also postulate that the Song Pai would face a problem common to all alpha species -- overpopulation.  Their solution is to restrict breeding so that only the bravest are allowed to reproduce, albeit posthumously!  By proving its valor in kamakazi-like space battles, a Song Pai warrior, its eggs and sperm cryogenically preserved on the home world, is given the honor of having them released in the hatcheries and passing on its genes. Life and death exist together in a unique set of priorities that make Song Pai a fascinating type of creature, capable of many, many types of actions and reactions

     The Song Pai are introduced in Life Sentence as allies and protectors of the female-dominated, quasi-marsupial Forlani.  The "squids" honor the Forlani because of their common devotion to generation and the ongoing life force.  Notably, they protect the Forlani from humans, who long to exploit them and their planet.  The human convict Klein, protagonist of the first volume, develops an irresistible urge for revenge against the haughty cephalopods because of a personal matter, and it is exacerbated by a period of slave-like labor in their service.  In the second novel, Spy Station, due out later this year, Song Pai reappear at a peace conference on Space Station Varess, where an assembly of aliens has been convened to prevent a war between Song Pai and a mysterious and powerful race called the Blynthians.  The Song Pai's aggressiveness threatens to make Entara's peace initiative fail. Even worse, a number of secret agents employed  by potential war profiteers stretches the alliance with the Forlani to the breaking point, but also leads to the discovery of new and unexpected qualities in the cephalopods.  Introduce yourself to them by getting Life Sentence on Amazon and stay tuned for the upcoming release of Spy Station.  Follow this blog to stay in the know.