Sunday, May 31, 2009

Alien race: the Hexans

Since science fiction is supposed to be one of my interests (and if you saw my library, you'd agree), it occurred to me that I should post something science-fiction-y.

This is the write-up on one of the alien races I've come up with, the Hexans.

A Hexan has six limbs, three arms, three legs, evenly spaced around the generally disk-shaped body. Each limb has 6 tentacles at the end. On the legs, they're short (functionally toes) and can be used to grip on smooth/slippery surfaces. On the arms, the tentacles are generally between 30 to 40 cm long (functionally fingers). Both “toes” and “fingers” are claw-tipped: short, blunt claws on the toes and longer, sharper claws on the fingers.

The limbs have three joints: shoulder/hip, elbow/knee and wrist/ankle, but the entire limb is flexible, to a degree. Each arm or leg can be bent to about 60 degrees, but doing so is a slow and uncomfortable process. Left alone, a bent limb will return to normal, unless damaged, and a hexan is generally incapable of bending a limb without external force – i.e. a hexan can bend his/her arm by using his/her other two arms, legs, or bracing it in something and pushing or pulling on it, but can not bend that arm otherwise. Of course, the shoulder, elbow and wrist do move normally.

arms are generally from 90 to 120 cm long, though shorter and longer variations are known. Each arm angles down from the main body for 30 to 40 cm before turning back up. At the end of the arm are what may as well be called hands: they're at the end of the arm and boast 6 tentacles that fill the function of fingers. The fingers average 30 to 40 cm in length, evenly spaced around the “palm” of the hand and tipped with a short, sharp claw.

legs are generally from 60 to 90 cm long, although, like the arms, variations in length are common. In contrast with the arms, the legs angle up from the body before bending back down. The foot is a muscular disk, centered on the “ankle” with the toe tentacles evenly spaced around it. The toe tentacles average from 10 to 15 cm, although here, again, variations are common, and each toe is tipped with a short, blunt claw.

a hexan has 6 eyes, all located on the primary (first) joint of each limb, each on a 7 to 10 cm stalk. The eyes located on the “elbows” look down, while the eyes located on the “knees” look up. Between limb movement and mobility of the eye stalks, a hexan has effective 360 degree vision, above, below and around, making them very hard to sneak up on.

Hexans have a breathing slit on either side of each limb, for a total of 12. Generally, they breath in around the legs and out around the arms.

The hexan diet is omnivorous, tending toward carnivorous where possible in the majority of the population. Vegetarian hexans are known, generally in one of the religious orders.

The mouth is located on top of the body, centrally located, matched with a cloaca/anus on the center bottom of the body.

In pre-tool times, hexans preyed upon small animals that they could ingest whole, larger animals that had been killed and partially eaten by other animals and plants. With the invention of the knife, hexans were able to kill and eat larger animals, as well as portion larger plants.

Certain ancestral forms had venom glands in the hands and feet. These are still present in moder-day hexans, but are vestigal/non-working in over 99% of the population.

hexans have two genders: hermaphroditic breeders and neuter. Gender balance is usually close to 2:1 breeders:neuters. Neuters are generally larger and stronger than breeders, and tend to live longer, barring accident, disease or violence.

Breeding takes place between two breeders, following which the breeders and their offspring are tended by a neuter. The act of breeding involves two breeders joining belly to belly and grasping hands/feet. Certain glands in the hands and feet are activated, exchanging genetic material with the clasped hand/foot. The actual exchange/mating period is usually less than an hour, after which both hexans will curl up and fall asleep for the next several days.
After the exchange of genetic material, the hands and feet swell up, then after about two days, fall off the arms/legs. Over the course of the next week or so, they change into small hexans – infants for all intents and purposes. They are unintelligent and must be tended by the neuter gender – the nanny – to keep them from eating each other or, in some cases, their parents.

The parents will wake up in about a week or so, gaunt, ravenous and missing their hands and feet. New hands and feet will regrow over the course of the next few months, until three or four months later they're fully grown and the hexan parents are ready to return to whatever work they do.

Meanwhile, the nanny is tending to both the parents, as well as all 12 of their offspring. Losses from cannibalism are not uncommon, often reaching 50% or more. Out of the original 12 children, an average of 3 or 4 make it to adult-hood. The hexans are generally not bothered by loses of 75% or more. Among other reasons, hexans don't gain sentience until shortly before adult-hood, so child-rearing among hexans is more like ranching small, dangerous carnivores than raising human children.

After some thought, I realize that a three-legged critter isn't that stable. To walk, at least one leg has to move. As soon as a leg comes off the ground, the Hexan will fall over. I see a couple different choices here.

1: Hexans have more than six limbs. Six legs, and either three or six arms. Of course, then they're Nonans or Dodecans, which doesn't trip off the tongue quite so easily.

2: Hexans still only have six limbs, but each limb works as both a leg and an arm. If the limb comes down to a "foot" instead of an elbow, then comes back up to a "hand," it'd work, but I think then that it'd be awfully awkward for them to use their hands for anything delicate while walking.

3: Hexans have six general-purpose limbs, usable as feet or hands, as needed. Need to walk? Walk on your hands/feet. Need to manipulate something? Use your hands/feet.

4: I have considered an aquatic/semi-aquatic or arboreal life-style for the Hexans. In either environment, the hands/feet/arms/legs problem becomes a lot less problematic.

I also need to work on Hexan culture & society, technology and their relationships with other races, if any.

Blithering fuckwits on NPR

As you probably know if you're reading this, I'm an over-the-road truck driver. Last week, on Tuesday, the 25th, I was driving across South Dakota. While I drive, I listen to NPR when I can. There were three things I heard that really pissed me off.

First, I caught part of Talk of the Nation, coming in on the end of the bit about the California Supreme Court (I think it was that court) upholding Proposition 8. They were interviewing a pastor about his take. I caught the tail end of his interview, and this phrase of his really irked me. To paraphrase his words, "A lot of people call me a bigot, but I'm not, because many people have shared the same beliefs for the last 5,000 years."

So, in effect, he's saying bigotry is sanctified if it's believed in long enough. I guess he must also believe in slavery and the chattel status of women, among other things, since people have also believed these things for thousands of years.

Second, someone called in immediately afterward, and asked (again, paraphrased), "I don't see why gays can't be happy with civil unions. It's the same thing, so why get so upset about it?"

I can also see him 40 years ago, saying, "I don't see why those damn uppity niggers can't be happy with their own water fountains, bus seats and schools. They're the same things, so why get so upset about it?"

Third, the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor (I think that's how her name's spelled) to the Supreme Court. They were interviewing, if I recall correctly, a liberal and a conservative blogger, and the conservative started off with something along the lines of "All right-thinking people..."

Full stop, right there. "All right-thinking people"? Here's what that boils down to:

It means, "I'm right and you're wrong."

It means that there is no room for debate, no room for consideration, no room for compromise.

It means that the only thing we will accept is total, complete acquiescence to our demands, because our demands are right, and you's are wrong.

It means that we're absolutely and completely close-minded.

It means we're bigots.

It also means that there is no point in talking with anyone who uses the phrase "all right-thinking people"

In short, "all right-thinking people" don't think.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ideology Over Humanity

There's something that's been bugging me for years, and I've just now figured out what it is.

There was a story that I read some years back, by Spider Robinson -- one of his Callahan's Saloon stories. In it, someone from a mirror-universe version of Callahan's made a device, a portal, that let them cross back and forth. It wasn't a Star-Trek-style, everyone is evil mirror universe, but a physical mirror universe: bodies are mirrored left-to-right and molecules are also mirrored left-to-right.

Among other things, they find that the nastiest, most disgusting booze on Earth is very, very good for the mirror people, and their nasty booze is like ambrosia to our heroes. They're thinking about opening a business between universes, trading rotgut for mirror-rotgut, and the like. They also figure that they can trade food: our food would be filling to them, but not nutritious, and more important, no calories. Vice versa, of course: their food would taste good, but not make people fat. They don't mention, though, why booze is improved in taste and quality in mirror universes, but food isn't, but that's beside the point.

In the end, they destroy the portal, because massive trading of mirror-food would let people lose weight, but just because they were eating indigestible food. It was better that they lose weight by will-power -- diet and exercise -- than by just eating calorie-free food.
That has always bugged me, and it dawned on me this morning what the problem is. It's ideology. It's okay for people to lose weight -- in fact, it's a damn good thing. But in this story, since they wouldn't be losing it the right way, it was bad, and the protagonists were justified in destroying the portal.

In short, the triumph of ideology over humanity.

And it's not just in literature. Here's a couple of examples from real life.

Virtually everyone agrees that there are too many teen, single and unwanted pregnancies, and that reducing the number of them would be good. And, good news, we have ways to reduce them. It's called sex education and birth control. But, this is where ideology again rears it's ugly head. Some people, especially the religious, have determined that the only way that they will tolerate reducing teen, single and unwanted pregnancies is by their framework: abstinence and no pre-marital sex. They refuse to contemplate anything else. Sex-ed and birth control send the wrong message. The triumph of ideology over humanity.

There are too many diseases among drug-users, mostly caused by dirty needles. Studies have proven, real-life programs have proven, that clean needle exchanges reduce diseases among drug-users by well over 90%. Read that again: 90% reduction of disease among drug-users, by setting up clean needle exchanges. So, what's the problem? Some people, oddly enough, mostly the same religious people from the last example, won't allow it. It doesn't fit their religion or worldview. It's better to let drug-users get sick, become a drain on the already-strained health system and die, than to hand out free needles. It sends the wrong message after all. Again, the triumph of ideology over humanity.

In my foolish optimism, I had thought that a black minister who is also a civil rights activist, would realize that gay marriage is a civil right. However, after the elections last year, when California passed Proposition Eight, the gay marriage ban, this black minister, this civil rights activist, said he didn't see that gays and their problems were in any way similar to the history of blacks and their problems. I guess being part of a minority that is hated and despised, and has to live in fear of having their civil rights removed and being taunted, tormented, beaten and killed for being part of that minority isn't something he could possibly understand. After all, it's not part of his ideology.

It happens over and over again, all over the world. There are real problems, with real solutions, that people refuse to accept, because the solutions doesn't match their ideology. The ideology can be religious, political, economic, but, in the minds of some people, it trumps everything, even reality.