Darkcargoites: David is exploring xenofiction. This is part one of a series to be continued in the following weeks.
How the Other Half Lives, Part 1: Birth
copyright David Belt 2013
I have recently delved into the exciting world of Xenofiction or stories told from the perspective of something other than human. I initially took this project on as a matter of curiosity, but the deeper I dug, the more challenging and more interesting the task became. Over the next several weeks, I will be detailing what I have learned on the subject, along with some examples of what to do and what not to do.
I want to take my readers on a complete journey from birth to eventuality of a completely non-humanoid species. So where to begin?
Birth seemed like a logical place to start, so I had to examine the birthing process. By limiting this precept to earthlike reproduction processes, there are four possibilities: live born, hatchling, seedling, or cellular division.
Live birth is very familiar as it is common to all mammals, however, it typically involves a lengthy gestation period and complicated delivery. To effectively integrate an alien live birth into a story would take a considerable amount of telling, largely involving the parent. (Note: I did not say “mother” for reasons to be described later.) With live birth, a writer is committing to a family story as the reader will be heavily invested the parent(s) well before the protagonist child is introduced. A solid example of this is found in Barry B. Longyear’s Enemy Mine, which focuses the first half of the novella on the pregnant Jeriba Shegan, before it gives birth to Zammis.
Live birth is a bonding process between parent and offspring to which readers can very easily relate. What you do not want to do is to cheat your readers of that experience. If you are going to commit to live birth, then commit to it fully and allow your readers the opportunity to bond with the offspring, as well.
Hatchling, or offspring hatched from an egg outside the parent’s body, is the next most familiar form of procreation as it is common to the majority of animals on earth. While gestation periods and parental involvement can very widely, one thing is common to all hatchling births. Parental involvement is not required at the time the offspring hatches. There are a great many fantasy tales that begin: “A boy finds a strange egg in the woods.”
Hatchlings provide the widest range of options regarding family involvement. One could have a single egg and parent, a single egg and multiple parents, multiple eggs and a single parent, or multiple eggs from multiple parents. For my project, I chose multiple eggs from multiple parents. The parents lay their eggs in a collective hatchery, and the hatchlings are cared for in a nursery-like environment by selected parental guardians. This has the effect of the hatchlings bonding with the guardian, rather than their natural parents.
Seedling is the common process by which plants on earth reproduce. Though this does not naturally exist in animal life as we know it, it has been used in literature, many times over. J. R. R. Tolken’s Ents of Fanghorn from The Lord of the Rings may be among the most well known examples of sentient plant life.
Seedling reproduction gives the writer all of the options of both live birth and hatchling, depending on the approach. The downside to this very alien method of reproduction is that the process must be very detailed in order for the reader to fully understand what is happening to the characters. One major pet peeve of mine that I strongly urge you to avoid is the rapid spontaneous generation of mass, prevalent in a large amount of anime style tentacle horror, in which huge creatures emerge from tiny seeds in moments. The Law of Conservation of Mass applies to living creatures too. In order for something to grow, it must absorb a sufficient quantity of matter, first. Don’t be hasty, little one.
Finally we have the most common method of procreation, cellular division. While on earth, this method of procreation only exists in simple life forms, cellular division does exist in on some level in every life form, therefore it is theoretically possible for a higher life form to reproduce by cellular division. Again, the Law of Conservation of mass must be applied. The movie Gremlins is a terrible example of a creature which reproduces by cellular division when it gets wet. While humorous, this is also completely ridiculous.
The Host by Stephanie Meyer, however, is a brilliant example of reproduction by cellular division. For starters, the Souls are a biologically simple life form, so the theory is much more practical. A large Mother Soul ends her life cycle by dividing into a number of smaller Souls.
Along with reproduction, we are, of course, left with questions on methods of procreation, which I won’t be covering here.
Now that our non-human children have been born, it is time for them to experience the world. Next week, I will delve into the variety of senses by which the world may be perceived.
Until then, good luck, good reading, and don’t feed them after midnight.