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Evolution’s Monsters

December 28, 2009 1 comment

To a writer, their dreamworld is often very important.  This is no less true for me, dreams occasionally informing me as to what direction my words will take; and lately there has been a recurring theme of sorts.

At first polar bears took centre stage.  In one dream they were being interviewed on TV about climate chaos and one bear turned to the camera and announced to the human world, ‘If you don’t sort this out, we’ll sort you out.’  I have no idea how they’re going to sort us out, but that’s what they said.

Yet it is the Ravenous Ocean series of dreams I’ve really noted recently.  One was where dolphins were reacting to the planet’s biggest threat – us – by abducting, and presumably drowning, humans by pulling them off the decks of ships into the water.  My last dream in this series was showing a monstrous fish, capable of not only slicing through entire shoals of tuna but also tuna nets, with its eyes set on the bigger prey of humans at some point.  I was somewhat gratified the night after having this dream to see a documentary about giant catfish in the Amazon devouring, or attempting to devour, unwary fishermen.  Dreams are rarely so prophetic.

John Lilly, who conducted fascinating research in the 1960s on the auditory world of dolphins and other sea mammals, was once asked rather facetiously by a reporter, ‘What do killer whales think of us?’, to which Lilly wittily replied, ‘They call us the killer ape’.  In ‘Omni’ we’re not planning on having a lot of monsters.  This may seem unusual for a science fiction comic – though Pramada has labelled what we’re doing as an ‘anti-comic’ as we seem intent on doing the opposite things from most comics – but for me Lilly hit on a truth, that is it is usually humans who act contrary to their nature, who do in fact behave monstrously.

I thought one of the interesting aspects of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ was that there was an overall acceptance of the monsters themselves.  Glory, for instance, may have wreaked death and havoc all around her, but in the end she just wanted to go home; it was natural for her, a monster, to use violence to achieve that aim.  As another example, I recall, and I’m (mis)quoting from memory, the following dialogue:

Spike:  It’s not as if I’m a monster.

Xander:  Yes, you are.  You’re a vampire.  They make monster movies about you.

Spike:  Well, okay, you’ve got me there.

In contrast, when Faith the Vampire Slayer starts to murder indiscriminately, a severe jolt can be felt by the viewer.  Even more disturbing is the character Warren, whose misogyny is so slight and subtle at first, it is barely detectable; till it develops to horrific proportions and we realise the full monstrosity of the man.  It is interesting that in the eighth series – in comic form – he has literally become a monster.  Faith and Warren unsettle us so because they are just that much closer to us, to our dark sides.  We recognise them in us, even if we don’t want to admit it.

Returning to our world, there are a number of big cats roaming the countryside in England – and they’re breeding.  Officially this is not happening, but I and others have caught sight of panthers, cougars, leopards and others of that ilk particularly in the South-West.  The prevailing theory is that some were released from private zoos in the 1970s, and they’ve adapted to the landscape and the climate.  Assuming this is true, and they are breeding – two pumas were seen doing the deed on a public footpath in Devon – a new species is evolving in the British Isles.  But, in keeping with the ‘humans are the monsters’ theme, one reason the presence of these big cats is kept quiet is that farmers found they caused far less trouble than the investigators the government would send down to check out what was happening.  As one farmer put it, ‘A panther will only take a sheep on occasion, and that’s an end to it – the government creates chaos that goes on for months.’  In response to the ‘Beast of Exmoor’, for example, the army were called in, they shot a few stray dogs, and claimed the job was done, which it wasn’t.  The livestock killings continued as before, and everything went back to normal.  Now the landscape simply sports an extra inhabitant, pretty much accepted for what it is.

Whether in dreamscape, fiction or this world, and whether considering humans or animals, the prevailing theme is of monsters evolving simply through survival of the fittest – a monster gets to the top of the ladder, obviously, by being bigger and meaner than those around.  However, the landscape is not necessarily bleak even in Darwinian terms for even gentleness and beauty prove advantageous.  The brilliant Jared Diamond in ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee’ shows how not only do we share our darker traits – such as genocide – with our chimp cousins, but also our better aspects, such as artistic skill.  Sorry, Leonardo, but you too are simply advertising your genes to the opposite sex.

Also, it is now understood that apparent selflessness is serving the selfish genes in our nearest and dearest – we may sacrifice ourselves so that those most like us, i.e. carrying our DNA, can live.

I take some comfort in that even in the limited Darwinian context of cut-throat competition and survival, monsters do not necessarily have the final say.  Indeed, love, truth and beauty have more than a fighting chance.

‘You have to decide whether this project is useful or beautiful,’ I said once to a student.  ‘Ahh,’ she replied wisely, ‘but being beautiful is useful.’

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Update – December 2009

December 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Not a lot of you have been visiting here the last weeks, which is just as well as I haven’t been writing anything.  I’ve been working on a new post for a while, but am currently on the road and don’t get the hours in front of a screen that I need to do anything substantial, but I will get there, promise.  Added to the sense of tardiness, my co-conspirators on Omni are all over the planet right now with Pramada himself gone AWOL, not answering emails or anything.  Not to worry, he does go walkabout on a global and cosmic scale now and again, and will return.

As for me, I am currently in the beautiful English county of Cornwall, where it’s very cold and very beautiful, the sea moods inescapable and very inspiring.  This ties in with the much-delayed new post, which I’ll get back to ASAP.

See you onshore soon.

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