Horseshoe Crabs

January 7, 2010

I like to say that human beings are hardier than cockroaches when I hear people shouting about threats to our survival, but I don’t wear a cockroach pin on my lapel – I were a trilobite.  Depending on where you get your info, these critters have evolved little in the last 225 or 450 million years.  In any event, they are clearly a stable and successful species!

Or are they?  Have they met their match?  A commenter on another blog has pointed out that they are considered endangered in the USA at least, because they are commonly used as bait.  Moreover, there is this from wiki:

Every year approximately 10% of the horseshoe crab breeding population dies when rough surf flips the creatures onto their backs, a position from which they often cannot right themselves. In response, the ERDG launched a “Just Flip ‘Em” campaign, in the hopes that beachgoers will simply turn the crabs back over.

Pretty darn pathetic, if you ask me!  How are they ever going to make it to that point, millions of years in the future, described by H.G. Wells in The Time Machine excerpt here.  (I just always assumed they were trilobites!)

Looking round me again, I saw that, quite near, what I had taken to be a reddish mass of rock was moving slowly towards me. Then I saw the thing was really a monstrous crab-like creature… Its back was corrugated and ornamented with ungainly bosses, and a greenish incrustation blotched it here and there. I could see the many palps of its complicated mouth flickering and feeling as it moved.

‘As I stared at this sinister apparition crawling towards me, I felt a tickling on my cheek as though a fly had lighted there. I tried to brush it away with my hand, but in a moment it returned, and almost immediately came another by my ear. I struck at this, and caught something threadlike. It was drawn swiftly out of my hand. With a frightful qualm, I turned, and I saw that I had grasped the antenna of another monster crab that stood just behind me. Its evil eyes were wriggling on their stalks, its mouth was all alive with appetite, and its vast ungainly claws, smeared with an algal slime, were descending upon me. In a moment my hand was on the lever, and I had placed a month between myself and these monsters. But I was still on the same beach, and I saw them distinctly now as soon as I stopped. Dozens of them seemed to be crawling here and there, in the sombre light, among the foliated sheets of intense green.

‘I cannot convey the sense of abominable desolation that hung over the world. The red eastern sky, the northward blackness, the salt Dead Sea, the stony beach crawling with these foul, slow-stirring monsters, the uniform poisonous-looking green of the lichenous plants, the thin air that hurts one’s lungs: all contributed to an appalling effect. I moved on a hundred years, and there was the same red sun—a little larger, a little duller—the same dying sea, the same chill air, and the same crowd of earthy crustacea creeping in and out among the green weed and the red rocks. And in the westward sky, I saw a curved pale line like a vast new moon.

‘So I travelled, stopping ever and again, in great strides of a thousand years or more, drawn on by the mystery of the earth’s fate, watching with a strange fascination the sun grow larger and duller in the westward sky, and the life of the old earth ebb away. At last, more than thirty million years hence, the huge red-hot dome of the sun had come to obscure nearly a tenth part of the darkling heavens. Then I stopped once more, for the crawling multitude of crabs had disappeared, and the red beach, save for its livid green liverworts and lichens, seemed lifeless.

Just sayin’…

December 29, 2009

You can click on the images to enlarge them…

Shelly’s Last Man

January 23, 2008


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly was the daughter of the woman who wrote the first major works in support of equal rights for women. She was a member of “The Elect,” the self-styled group of romantic exiles from philistine England, including her doomed husband, Percy Shelly, and Byron. She wrote what could be called the Ur-novel of science fiction, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. I recently found that she wrote another novel, the ancestor of all those end-of-the-world scenarios we see so much of these days, The Last Man. Think of “The Omega Man,” “The Road,” “On the Beach,” multiple episodes of “The Twilight Zone,” and “The Outer Limits” – she started the ball rolling.

Well, hers wasn’t absolutely the first apocalyptic fantasy: that appears to be Omegarus and Syderia by Jean Baptiste Francois Xa De Grainville, written in 1805, but it is pretty close. It’s a strange novel, filled with overblown romantic prose, describing the sublimest horror imaginable – the end of the human race, destroyed by plague. The book takes place in 2092, and the first half of it is a political drama, a roman a clef with a Shellyian and Byronic character bookending the narrator, Lionel Verney. This first part is extremely tedious at times, not the least because the nature of society and technology in 2092 is presented as nearly the same as 1822, except that England has eliminated its monarchy and become a contentious republic. Then the plague starts spreading.

It takes a couple of years, but the entire globe is depopulated. Nature, the soothing mother of the Romantic creed is now the indifferent slayer of the multitudes. Man’s reason (and the Enlightenment) are for naught: libraries go moldering as dogs roam their aisles, Rome is a deserted stage set for the “last drama,” and the Swiss Alps, where the last 1500 people go to seek respite from the plague, are an archetypal environment of the sublime in which    the miserable demise of humanity’s remnant can be run out. Nothing matters, all is nullity.

Some try to avoid the crushing weight of this conclusion by following a false prophet, a man who declares that those who believe in him shall not die (those who do die are secretly disposed of to keep up the ruse) and who wages war on the other survivors who will not subscribe to his unreason. The straggling remainder of humanity moves about, housing itself in abandoned palaces, eating the stores of food in the cities, while the climate, even the stars, seem to be going haywire, with enormous sea surges reports of strange events in the sky.

If you have an interest in romantic literature, the history of science fiction, or want to see how a critical mind dealt with her disillusionment about ideas, politics, and nature, not to mention trying to work out her grief at losing her husband and several of her children (can we even imagine the regularity of infant and child mortality with which people then had to deal?), you may enjoy this book.