Thursday, 20 November 2008

Hothouse and Evolution

As Hothouse continues, Gren and his companions encounter more carnivorous plants but also some parasitic and symbiotic human -plant interactions. This book is bursting with original ideas and different ways of thinking about change or about the nature of humanity, consciousness, intelligence. At the same time it's a great action/survival/horror tale.

The symbiotic scenarios also reminded me of Stephen Baxter's novel Evolution. This follows the story of mankind and our biological ancestors from the eras of the dinosaurs onwards, each chapter telling the story of animals at a different evolutionary stage. This is extremely informative about evolutionary biology but is no dry textbook - in early chapters, gaps
in the fossil record allow Baxter to playfully include kilometer-wide pterodactyl "air whales" and some other surprises. Baxter follows the development of hominids and humans and is interested in the origins of human emotion, thought, behaviour and society rather than, say, the discovery of fire or the wheel. However the origins of painting, religion and sailing become part of the plot. Baxter also pulls no punches in documenting the destruction of the environment and the extinctions that have characterized all of human history, not just the modern era. The story extends through a near-future calamity into an eerie Hothouse-like scenario as the human era wanes.

I was struck by Baxter's description of the wide variety of human-like primates that lived side by side (although not necessarily in peace) until the emergence of humanity as the dominant species.

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