Science fiction and the marine world come together, thanks to Peggy Kolm, who covers this and other biology-related topics in science fiction for her blog, Biology in Science Fiction, a site that discusses everything from engineering to cloning to mutants throughout science fiction books, movies, and tv shows.
The Reef Tank has offered Peggy a place to explore the marine world within a science fiction realm and Peggy accepted. Here's this month's result!
"I can't put it into words. It has something to do with the idea that the sea is still, well, strong. Perhaps it can take revenge? No, that's too simple. I don't know. I have only a feeling that our ordinary ideas of what may be coming on us may be-or-not deep, or broad enough. I put this poorly. But perhaps the sea, or nature, will not die passively at our hands . . . perhaps death itself may turn or return in horrible life upon us, besides the more mechanical dooms . . . "
~"Beyond the Dead Reef" by James Tiptree, Jr.
It's common in science fiction stories to depict scientific breakthroughs and new technologies providing humans greater control over nature and their own biology. But that's not always the case - sometimes nature wakes up and strikes back. And when it's the ocean, the results can be terrifying.
Of course great monsters from the deep attacking humans are a science fiction B-movie staple. In the 1950s and 1960s monsters like Godzilla were created - or awakened - by nuclear explosions. It's only in more recent years that pollution and environmental disturbances are the cause. For example there is the Japanese sea monster Dagahra, who was awakened by a sudden increase in ocean pollution levels, who made his first appearance in 1996 in Rebirth of Mothra II. Or closer to home (at least for me) is the 1998 SciFi movie Shark Swarm, in which pollutants, pesticides and other nasty chemicals have turned sharks into bloodthirsty swarming killers off the coast of California (watch the trailer). And sometimes the problem is scientific hubris rather than pollution, such as in the the movie Deep Blue Sea, in which sharks genetically engineered with larger brains grow unexpectedly large and aggressive.
When it comes to written science fiction, however, the monsters can be more exotic and interesting. In Tiptree's "Beyond the Dead Reef" (quoted above) garbage on the ocean floor takes on the appearance - from a distance - of a beautiful woman, and nearly lures a diver to his doom. In Peter Watt's Rifter's trilogy, microorganisms native to deep sea hydrothermal vents are carried onto land and wreak havoc in the human population. And in Cory Doctorow's "I, Row-Boat" a coral reef gains sentience and wants the divers - humans intelligences in mechanical shells - to stay away.
That's one of the things I love about science fiction, that anything can happen. Who knows what will emerge from the depths?
A Read Read "I, Row-Boat" by Cory Doctorow. (The title is a play on "I, Robot" and there are plenty of Asimov references for classic SF-lovers.)