Saturday, March 8, 2014

Chad Oliver on animals: the only known life in the universe

Chad Oliver's "King of the Hill" is set in a near future in which Earth's environment has been almost completely destroyed.  Desperate to find a new place to live, humanity sends out probes, establish deep-space telescopes, scour the universe looking for other planets that could support life.  They find "only barren rocks at the end of the road."
From this, he had drawn a characteristically modest conclusion.

Man, he decided, was alone in the accessible universe. [...]

The plain truth was that it was earth that was unique and alone.  Earth had produced life.  Not just self-styled Number One, not just Superprimate.  No.  He was a late arrival, the final guest.

("All these goodies just for me!")

Alone?  Man?

Well, not quite.

There were a million different species of insects.  (Get the spray-gun, Henry.)  Twenty thousand kinds of fish.  (I got one, I got one!)  Nine thousand types of birds.  (You can still see a stuffed owl in a museum.)  Fifteen thousand species of mammals.  (You take this arrow, see, and fit the string into the notch...)

Alone?  Sure, except for the kangaroos and bandicoots, shrews and skunks, bats and elephants, armadillos and rabbits, pigs and foxes, racoons and whales, beavers and lions, moose and mice, oryx and otter and opossum--

Oh well, them.


They too had come from the earth.  Incredible, each of them.  Important?  Only if you happened to think that the only known life in the universe was important.
What a great way to pump non-anthropocentric environmentalist intuitions. Loads of people are interested in extra-terrestrial life, and few of those are interested because they want to eat it, or use it to fuel their cars. There must be something important about life other than what it can do for us, yes?

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