Speculative evolution, also called allobiology and speculative biology, is a genre of speculative fiction and an artistic movement, focused on hypothetical scenarios in the evolution of life. Works incorporating speculative evolution may have entirely conceptual species that evolve on a planet other than Earth, or they may be an alternate history focused on an alternate evolution of terrestrial life. With a strong connection to and basis in science, particularly biology, speculative evolution is often considered hard science fiction. Speculative biology and creature concepts are also a prevalent subject in concept art.
Basis in biology and paleontology
With its attention to evolutionary biology, speculative evolution shares with many science fiction subgenres a focus on scientific plausibility. Although the vertebrate paleontologist Darren Naish concedes that speculative evolution is full of "possibilities, crazy ideas, speculations, and things you wish you knew but never will", he suggests that "some of our speculations about animal evolution involve possibly useful and informative guesses and hypotheses... and some of these speculations are designed with real-world adaptations, processes and diversity in mind."
Speculative evolution, with its relation to hard science fiction, builds on our knowledge of the real world and uses evolutionary principles to possibly develop a genuine hypothesis about the future. In some cases, speculative evolution artists have conceived of the existence of a creature before it was discovered by paleontologists. An imaginary filter-feeding 'Ceticaris', conceived by artist John Meszaros, was published in All Yesterdays before the discovery of the first filter-feeding anomalocarid, Tamisiocaris — which was subsequently included in the clade Cetiocaridae. In addition, some of Dougal Dixon's speculative dinosaurs have predicted the paleobiologies of actual dinosaurs.
The art books All Yesterdays (2012) and All Your Yesterdays (2013) by John Conway, C.M. Kosemen and Darren Naish presented hypothetical forms of existing prehistoric creatures, applying speculative principles to paleoart in the style of Dougal Dixon.
Speculative evolution is often connected to the scientific fields of astrobiology and xenobiology. Speculative biology writings focusing on extraterrestrial life, like the blog Furahan Biology, use realistic scientific principles to describe the biomechanics of hypothetical alien life. However, speculative biology is not the same as xenobiology—it is a larger, distinct concept, which includes the alternate evolution of life in any scenario, terrestrial or extraterrestrial.
In 1930, Olaf Stapledon published a "future history", Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future, describing the history of humanity from the present onwards, across two billion years and eighteen human species, of which our own is the first. The book anticipates the science of genetic engineering, and is an early instance of the fictional group mind idea.
The German zoologist Gerolf Steiner described a fictitious order of mammals, Rhinogradentia, in his 1957 book Bau und Leben der Rhinogradentia. Translated into English as The Snouters: The Form and Life of the Rhinogrades, it described the evolution, biology, and behavior of the fictional rhinogrades.
The founder of the modern speculative evolution movement is the geologist Dougal Dixon, who imagined "zoologies of the future" in After Man (1981), The New Dinosaurs (1988), and Man After Man (1990). According to Dixon, whose works have heavily influenced later speculative evolution works, his original inspiration was The Time Machine (1895) by H. G. Wells. Wells envisioned giant crab-like creatures inhabiting a dying future Earth.
Kurt Vonnegut's 1985 novel Galápagos imagines the evolution of a small surviving group of humans into a sealion-like species. The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island (2005) explored the world of King Kong (2005) from a biological perspective, envisioning Skull Island as a surviving fragment of ancient Gondwana. Prehistoric creatures on a declining, eroding island evolved into "a menagerie of nightmares", a notable example of horror-themed speculative biology. The designers of the rebooted King Kong universe were inspired by Dougal Dixon's works.
Other speculative evolution books include Robert Forward's 1980 Dragon's Egg; and Wayne Barlowe's 1990 graphic novel Expedition. Expedition was written as a report of a visit to an alien biosphere in the 24th century. The book was heavily illustrated and attempted to describe a completely alien ecosystem as if it was real. Future evolution-focused works include Peter Ward's 2001 Future Evolution; Stephen Baxter's 2002 Evolution; Dougal Dixon's 1990 Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future, and C. M. Kosemen's 2008 All Tomorrows.
The Cryptozoologicon Volume I (2013) was a tongue-in-cheek combination of speculative biology and cryptozoology, using scientific scrutiny to analyze fictional creatures. It explored new directions on how to depict ancient animals with a particularly speculative nature.
Mock documentaries (also called mockumentaries, or docufiction) include the 1997 Natural History of an Alien; the 2002 The Future Is Wild; the 2004 The Last Dragon; and the 2005 Alien Planet, based on the graphic novel Expedition. The mock documentary style in Alien Planet was likely inspired by the Discovery Channel’s previous success with real documentaries such as Walking With Dinosaurs. A British-American production Extraterrestrial also attempted to describe speculative alien life in a scientific manner.
Use of the concept in other genres
Speculative evolution ideas are often used in science fiction works that do not strictly belong to the genre. The creatures in the 2005 film King Kong were fictitious descendants of real animals, with Skull Island being inhabited by dinosaurs and other prehistoric fauna. Inspired by Dougal Dixon's works, the designers imagined what 65 million years or more of isolated evolution might have done to dinosaurs.
The Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher invented a creature that was capable of rolling itself forward, which he named Pedalternorotandomovens centroculatus articulosus. He illustrated this creature in his 1951 lithograph Wentelteefje (also known by the English title Curl-up). He says this creature came into existence because of the absence in nature of wheel shaped, living creatures with the ability to roll themselves forward.
James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar constructed a fictional biosphere full of original, speculative alien species; a team of experts ensured that the lifeforms were scientifically plausible. The creatures of the movie took inspiration from Earth species as diverse as pterosaurs, microraptors, great white sharks, and panthers, and combined their traits to create an alien world.
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- Is this a portrait of a human 50 million years from now? - Kotaku
- Welcome to Snaiad, The World We Will Colonize - io9
- Life on Snaiad Translation of Snaiad project into Russian
- Silicon-based life
- The Ambarra project
- The Neocene project (English version), list of parts in Russian
- Project Nereus - alien world.
- Speculative Dinosaur Project Translation of Spec project into Russian
- Life on Snaiad
- Serina: A Natural History of the World of Birds