Dougal Dixon "Man after man. An anthropology of the future" 500 years hence
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500 YEARS HENCE

GRAM THE ENGINEERED PLAINS-DWELLER


Gram stands shivering on the dusty plain, not shivering with cold but with apprehension. The spiky grass round about is familiar enough; he has been brought up on a diet of it since he was born, ten years ago. During that ten years, though, all the grass he knew had been grown in the habitat module. He was brought up and cosseted by Family, a group of creatures that saw to his every need and trained him for life outside.
Only in the last two years did he realize that he was not like the people of Family. He was not encased in metallic outer skins, he did not glide along the floor and cables and tubes did not spiral out of him, connecting him to glass and plastic devices – and his face! The faces were the only parts of Family that he could see directly, and his was nothing like theirs.
Now he is on his own and he knows it. Family cannot live out here, on the grassy plains, so they are all congregated together in the flying machine behind him. All this landscape before him is to be his.
Delicately he steps away from the flying module. Beneath his tapering foot the fibrous soil feels strange – not quite like the soil in the habitat. He can feel the eyes of Family on him, as he wades into the sharp waving grass, scanning him closely, as he knew they would. Not only are they watching him directly, but the little instruments that are strapped to various parts of his body are sending back signals, telling them how he is performing.
He knows what he is supposed to do; he has been trained for long enough. As in the habitat, he reaches with his long arm and long hand and grasps a bunch of grass. The calloused cutting edge of his hand shears through the stems and leaves with a twisting motion, and he thrusts the bunch into his mouth and begins chewing. His big teeth grind into the stringy plant material, crushing it to a pulp and disrupting the fibres. He can feel the toughness, and knows that the wear on his teeth will be immense. He also knows that once a tooth is worn out another one will grow to replace it, and this will happen for the rest of his life, another thing that makes him different from the members of Family. He swallows the wad of grass, and down it tumbles into his voluminous stomach where it is met by specially-engineered bacteria that complete the digestion.
He scythes off another handful and eats it. This is working all right, he thinks, and hopes that Family think so too. He looks up to the horizon, a vast distance away. So this is to be his new home.
With sudden joy, Gram bounds away towards a clump of low bushes. He could be happy here, no matter what Family think. Suddenly he does not care what Family think: this is not their world – it is his.
Then in a first and final gesture of defiance he rips off the instruments that are strapped to his body and flings them away into the dusty grass.

 

Harsh sunlight beats down on the plains-dweller’s dark skin as he runs effortlessly through the dusty grasslands. Vegetation is tough and will also be sparse during the seasons of drought.

500 YEARS HENCE

PLAINS-DWELLER

Homo campis fabricatus

A human engineered to live on open grasslands needs the adaptations of a grass-eating mammal. For the plains-dweller these include massive teeth that are replaced if they wear out chewing tough silica-rich grasses and, more importantly, a specialized stomach within the bloated abdomen containing engineered bacteria that can break down cellulose – a substance not normally digestible by the human frame. Cutting edges on the hands help to scythe the thick grass while the long legs enable the creature to move swiftly over the open landscape.

 

His legs are long and slim, like those of earlier veldt-running animals. Speed is essential when you live in the open. Besides adding to the plains-dweller’s swiftness, the long developed feet enable him to see over tall grass.

Blade-like callouses provide the plains-dweller with some degree of protection, as well as cutting through tough stems.

The dark skin and mane of hair across the shoulders and running dozen the back protects the grassland-dweller from ceaseless sunlight. The long feet have become an extension of the legs, adding to his speed.

KULE TAARAN AND THE ENGINEERED FOREST-DWELLER


Kule Taaran looks down at the huge oval shadow of the flyer falling on the top of the tropical rainclouds, surrounded by a rainbow ring of spectral colours. As the vessel descends, the clouds clear away below it and the vast stretch of green forest reaches out as an unbroken carpet with dark rivers winding across it. The flyer’s shadow on the treetops is now fuzzy and unclear, but soon it comes into focus and the edges become sharper as it descends. Now individual trees can be seen, and with an uneven crunch the vast vessel settles amongst the broken branches and boughs.
Kule Taaran looks around him at the rainforest. It is not as it once was. A few centuries ago the first rainforest was all destroyed, as a burgeoning population of humans spread into it and removed it, clearing it away to make room for them to grow food. It was a disaster, not only removing the entire forest and its animal life from the face of the Earth but also producing subtle changes to the climate the world over. Such problems are all past now that there are more efficient ways of producing food. The forests have returned, but not in their old state. The forest soil which had taken millions of years to build up was nearly all washed away in the bad times, so the trees that have repopulated the area are not the magnificent trees of old. They are scrubby and hardy, adapted to find a root-hold in what soil there is left; but the hot climate and the constant rain has made them grow prolifically.
No big animals exist, though. With the great trees of old went the monkeys, apes, jaguars, parrots, toucans, tapirs, squirrels, opossums, okapis and bongos. There are plenty of small things – insects, spiders, millipedes, lizards, snakes and many of the smaller birds – but the bigger mammals and birds have gone for ever.
Now, however, they are to be replaced. In the module behind Kule Taaran is the prototype of the new forest creature. Mankind has civilized himself into a synthetic corner: he cannot survive without the full power of engineering science and medical technology. He has turned his back on the natural systems of evolution and ecology that brought him into being in the first place. Now, as the technological systems are beginning to fail more and more frequently, it is time to look back to the natural environments.

500 YEARS HENCE

FOREST-DWELLER

Homo silvis fabricatus

There is plenty to eat in tropical habitats. The climate is stable and seasons do not regulate the food supply. Like earlier animals that lived there, a human being engineered to live in the abundant rainforest needs only the ability to climb to feed itself. Cunning and intelligence are not necessary – though an instinct for survival is. A level of intelligence will redevelop in Homo silvis fabricatus over the coming millions of years, as evolution takes place, but not as much as in species faced with more challenging environments.

Ape-like arms and long fingers allow the forest-dweller to swing in the canopy of the trees; while its strong prehensile toes can grip the branches tightly. A heavy jaw is adapted to cracking nuts.

 

Although intelligence has been suppressed in the engineering, natural curiosity still comes to the surface.

The Andlas were overlooked for so long. Once despised because of their unsophistication, but tolerated because of their versatility and ability to keep the machines working, they are now recognized as the gene pool for the future of mankind. It is so obvious. Mankind was in a shambles because it had turned its back on the natural process of evolution. The Andlas, however, after the great schism of humanity brought about by the overpopulation and famine disasters of a few centuries ago, had fallen off the hurtling escalator of technological complexity. They represented the part of humanity that had been thrown to the wild and denied the advantages of the constantly-improving technology and culture. These unfortunate creatures lived as best they could, and suffered terribly from diseases and accidents. It was these that reinstated the process of natural selection, and as an ironic result the surviving members became fitter and healthier, generation by generation. It eventually became obvious to the mainstream of technological man, however much his soul rebelled against it, however much his ego denied it, that here lay the purest essence of humanity now surviving.
This is the basis for the humanity of the future. From now on man should not use his science to change the environment to suit himself; rather he should use it to change himself to suit his environment. By his own technological application he can catch up with the thousands of years of evolutionary change that he has forfeited. It is now possible to breed and genetically manipulate new creatures that do not need a technological civilization. Out there, in the tropical jungle, the grasslands, the deciduous woodlands, the coniferous forests and the tundra, are supplies of food growing wild. All the necessities for life are there. If the human body can be regarded as a machine, like a life-support cradle, then the carbohydrates produced in the leaves and tubers can be used as the body’s fuel. The proteins in the growing shoots and in the insects can be used as building materials. The vitamins in all living things can be used for lubrication, and the water that is found everywhere can be used for cooling and cleaning. All this goodness was once harvested by a vast range of big animals. There are none left now, and all the food is there for the taking.
Kule Taaran looks at the creature in the transportation module. Strange that this should represent mankind of the future – it looks so much like mankind of the past. The prehensile feet are there, with the big toe modified as a thumb, for climbing and grasping branches. The long apelike arms with the long fingers will also help it to move about in the treetop canopy. The head seems to be very heavy about the jaw, to accommodate the huge nut-cracking teeth.
The genetically-engineered beings that have been developed for the other vacant habitats seem to be working well, according to the reports. Now they must see how the tropical forest version performs.
The naked form of Pann, sitting amongst the bars and perches of his module, seems ready for his great adventure. He exchanges a few words with Kule Taaran, who then opens the access of the module. Pann leaps from the vessel and into the swaying wispy branches of the nearest bush. He hangs there for a moment while he looks around at the infinite vistas of his new home. Then, with a final wave to those who had nurtured and developed him, he jumps to the nearest tree, shins up the trunk and is lost to sight amongst the branches.
Kule Taaran turns away from the window and back to his console. Physically the new creatures seem to work well; the next stage is to see if they breed true.

KNUT THE ENGINEERED TUNDRA-DWELLER


Mosses, lichens, heathers, coarse grasses – very meagre fare. Yet such a diet used to support very large animals like reindeer, musk ox and mammoth. So there is no reason to suppose that a suitably-engineered human could not subsist on such a diet.
Knut has been raised on it for a decade, but that was in the safety of a living module. The cold-weather plants were brought in regularly by flying machine, and the chill conditions were maintained artificially. All this time, Family have been outside in the warm and looking in.
Now the situation is reversed. The Family members, in their cradles, with all their delicate life-supports, are keeping warm in the modules of the flying machine, while Knut it outside, standing in the crisply-frosted grass of the tundra wilderness, beneath the vast cold grey and white sky. This is what he was brought up for, to take his place in nature.
Centuries ago there were herds of big animals here, which moved north and south as the seasons changed, wintering in the deep forests to the south and spending the summer on these wild plains. In those days, he was told, there were fierce hunting animals as well – animals that would harry and kill the gentle plant-eaters. Now there are none of those left either, and the whole landscape is his.
He looks down at the coarse little plants at his feet; they look the same as those he has been eating all his life. With the ice-hook developed from the nail on his big toe, he scrapes up a patch of moss, then he goes down onto his furry knees and scoops it up with his spade-like hand. Yes, it tastes just the same. He will survive here.
The whiteness that has been building up at one side of the sky descends. Chill flakes of snow begin to swirl past him, settling on his fine-curled fur over the layers of fat. In reaction he rolls up the ruff of fat around his neck and his face disappears into it. From the direction of the great flying ship behind him he can hear the clang and hiss of hatches and accesses closing and sealing. This is too much for Family. There is a sudden blast of warm air as the great vessel leaves the ground. They are going back to the cities where it is warm. Knut is left here, where he belongs.
Yet too much harsh weather will kill him, and the brief northern summer is over. He knows what he must do. As the sudden flurry of snow passes, he brings his face out from the folds of fat and turns it towards the south where away yonder are the huge coniferous forests and winter shelter. Like the great herds of grazing animals before him, he moves southwards with the season.
Yet, unlike the animals of the vast seething herds, he is alone - the only one of his kind - but this does not worry him. If he survives, and he has every intention of doing so, then the experiment will be a success. Others like him will be produced and together they will repopulate the chill northern wastes of the planet.

RELIA HOOLANN AND CULTURED CRADLES


This is not the way. Taking Andlas and changing them into wild animals is not the way. Mankind’s fate does not lie with these low creatures, but with those who have sustained the technological advances over the centuries. If mankind’s future is not one of technological progress, then what is it?
Relia Hoolann and her team have worked for decades on the problem, learning from the genetic experiments of centuries, and at last she has the potential for success. For long enough it has been possible to grow synthetic kidneys, livers, lungs and many other organs. It was the connective tissues and the locomotor systems that were elusive.
It is hundreds of years since a child was born that was free of genetic defects, and able to live without a vast technological back-up (apart from the Andlas, that is; but they do not count). A newborn child must be analysed and diagnosed immediately in order to find out what it needs and to manufacture a cradle for it that contains the mechanical or synthetic equivalents of those organs that are defective – a very clumsy process.
Now it may well be possible for the mechanical parts of the cradle to be dispensed with altogether, so that the whole cradle is grown as a biological unit. What is more, these cultured cradles may well be able to breed, and to reproduce themselves.
This does not spell the end of mechanical technology, however. The process will be very energy-consuming, and the solar-power plants and the ocean-current energy units will be as important as they ever were, not to mention the food carbohydrate and protein factories that will still be required.
This is going to be the saving of the human species, thinks Relia Hoolann. The cultured cradles will be much safer and much more reliable. The fall in population that has been documented over the last few centuries will at last be reversed, now that there is a reliable technology to sustain it.
The first cultured cradle will have to be huge, as there is no way of generating synthetic organs that are as compact and neat as the real thing. In nature most organs have more than one function: you can use your mouth for eating, breathing or talking and your fingers for feeling or handling. The synthetic organs that have been developed can only perform one operation at a time. After all, evolution took 3500 million years to produce natural organs, but humans have only been dabbling with the process for a few hundred.

500 YEARS HENCE

FIFFE FLORIA

Homo sapiens sapiens

In isolated communities across the Earth, groups of humans have consciously returned to the old land-based ways of living – farming, fishing and gathering. Descended from those who survived centuries of poverty and savagery while squatting in the city ruins, and now abandoned by those who can use their technology to escape, the farmers have proved particularly healthy and adaptable. Now that the population of Earth has fallen to a low and realistic level, the survivors can husband the limited food resources of the planet at a sustainable rate.

Subsistence farming can be harsh and demanding but combined with simple gathering and fishing, it enables small autonomous groups to live in precarious balance with nature.

FIFFE FLORIA AND THE HITEK


Fiffe Floria looks up contemptuously at the ugly unnatural form of the flying ship as it moves silently, blindly overhead and disappears beyond the tall trees to the east. She cannot regard the Hitek, the beings inside it, as human. How can you be human if your life is sustained by mechanical contrivances, and you have to eat food that is made by a machine?
With a dismissive sneer she pulls the coarse veil over her face and tucks it into the fibre belt of her tunic. Then she removes the lid from her beehive and waits for her swarm to settle in the smoke from her torch before inspecting the combs. Good. They are filling up nicely, and it will soon be time for the harvest. There seems to be nothing untoward in the hive: no thieving by wasps, no break-ins by mice or rats, no sign that the queen is going to decamp and take half the workforce with her – but it is really past the season for that now. Yes, the harvest is going to be good this year.
Fiffe closes up the hive once more and turns back down the slope towards the settlement. They have been lucky this season. The patch of growing crops is beautifully healthy and the smoke house is full of fish caught in the stream earlier in the summer. Further down the slope lie the overgrown hulks of the great buildings. Once these were completely submerged in the ocean, but now, year after year, the sea retreats further and exposes more of them. This is probably something to do with the climate becoming gentler and cooler. Centuries ago when the world was teeming with people this used to be a great city. It must have been a terrible time, with everybody living on top of everybody else, and no room to expand and breathe.
It may still be like that in the cities of the Hitek. The people in the old cities suffered from lack of food and land, what there was being poisoned. Then the air got too warm, the sea rose and the cities drowned. Deny nature and that is what happens, and it will happen to the Hitek as well.
Her man, Hamstrom, is playing with little Harla on the beaten earth outside their hut, and the beautiful smell of cooking fish is wafting out of the curtained doorway. Harla is their fourth child, and the only one to have lived. They know that she will survive and thrive. The settlement consists of about 100 people, which is just enough for their crop land and their fishing stream to support. If they used the ancient form of measurement they would say that they occupied 50 square kilometres, or a region that was a little less than 5 miles square. Over the hill to the north there is a similar settlement, and to the south another.
To think that the Hitek believe them to be inferior, just because they have not become so inbred and decadent that they need mechanical devices to keep them alive. You cannot live in a natural world by turning your back on nature, regarding it as an inconvenience to be overcome, a hazard to be avoided, an irritation to be shielded against. If that is what they wanted, they should all have gone to the stars on the colony ships of centuries ago. The time will come when they will see that the future does not belong to them, with their artificial systems, but to those who can live in balance with nature.

CARAHUDRU AND THE WOODLAND-DWELLER


This is the one that is going to cause the problems, Carahudru sees that. It has few adaptations, but looks little like its ancestral Andla. It is covered by a fine furry pelt, so that it need never manufacture clothing. The arms are longer, the fingers are more delicate, and the teeth are stronger. What is more the feet are prehensile, with the big toe developed into a thumb to help the creature to climb trees. Deprived of the support of the big toe, it can no longer stand upright, and its position at rest is a four-footed crouch. It is like an animal, but there is no avoiding that. The traditional human frame is totally unsuited for anything but a cultured civilization, so if mankind must live from the fruits of nature without resorting to culture and civilization it is going to have to abandon any traditional view of beauty and elegance. It is going to have to return to the beast.

500 YEARS HENCE

TEMPERATE WOODLAND-DWELLER

Homo virgultis fabricatus

A human-based creature engineered to survive and flourish in a temperate forest without the back-up of civilization would need to be omnivorous. Forests are less abundant than jungle. To reach the full range of foodstuffs available, homo virgultis fabricatus has to be extremely nimble, and be able to live both at ground level in the undergrowth and high in the tree-tops. Arms and legs are of similar length and long, but agile, climbing fingers increase its range. A covering of fine hair keeps the woodland-dweller warm in the temperate conditions.

The omnivorous diet is reflected in the dentition, with heavy crushing back teeth for nuts, and delicate front teeth for catching insects. Its diet is close to that of early man; as is its evolutionary potential.

Long prehensile toes and fingers can grip rough bark. Lack of a supporting big toe means that the forest-dweller walks crouched but climbs with ease. It is the least specialized, and therefore, most adaptable of the engineered species.

It is inside the head, however, in the brain, where the most fundamental difference of this creature lies.
What makes a human being? That is the solid residue to which the argument condenses. Are we more human than the Andlas because we make greater use of technology, and they just live in the wild and grow their own food? Are the Andlas more human because they are healthier and look more like our ancestors? If the latter is the case then we could argue that the more primitive the being is then the more human it is.
In that event the specimen before him must be the most human of all. Long arms and prehensile feet will allow it to live both in the deciduous forest trees and on the ground. There is a lack of specialization in the shape, simply because there are so many different food supplies in a deciduous forest that it would not be practical to adapt this creature to exploit any one in particular. However, all this food is not necessarily palatable. Many plant-produced substances are poisonous to the human metabolism, and diseases may abound that have not been anticipated. The engineers have done their best and built in systems that could combat most of the known natural poisons, so whatever has been overlooked will have to be regarded as part of natural selection. As a result, they have engineered a generalized hunter-grazer-browser-insectivorous scavenger.
They also engineered it with low intelligence. If it is to be surrounded by food, the argument went, then it will only need enough intelligence to allow it to find it. An intelligent creature may cause trouble, may feel resentment at being experimented upon, envy at not being able to live in the cities, rebellion against those that engineered it. What is more it may try to better itself, and build its own civilization - and civilization does not now seem to mean a long-lasting and successful species.
In the back of Carahudru’s mind is a lurking misgiving. Throughout evolutionary time, the unspecialized creatures proved to be the most adaptable. The new world that is being engineered now is supposed to be balanced, with an engineered creature installed in each environment. If one in particular evolves to encroach on another’s environment, what will the long-term result be? It may even be that intelligence will re-evolve by itself.
That is for the future, though. Carahudru throws open the door and his creature steps gingerly out into the bracken and brambles of the deciduous woodland. Immediately it feels at home. Into the thicket it runs, having totally forgotten Carahudru in the flying vessel. Carahudru catches a last glimpse of the sunlight casting a dappled pattern on its back before it disappears into the warm greenery.


CONTENTS

FOREWORD by Brian Aldiss 8
INTRODUCTION – EVOLUTION AND MAN 11
Genetic engineering 12
   

PART ONE:

 
IN THE BEGINNING 16
The Human Story So Far 16
8 MILLION YEARS AGO
16
3 MILLION YEARS AGO
16
2.5 MILLION YEARS AGO
16
1.5 MILLION YEARS AGO
17
500,000 YEARS AGO
17
15,000 YEARS AGO
17
5000 YEARS AGO
18
2000 YEARS AGO
18
1000 YEARS AGO
18
500 YEARS AGO
19
100 YEARS AGO 19
   

PART TWO:

 
MAN AFTER MAN 22
200 YEARS HENCE
Piccarblick the aquamorph
22
Cralym the vacuumorph
24
Jimez Smoot the space traveller
25
Kyshu Kristaan the squatty 29
300 YEARS HENCE
Haron Solto and his mechanical cradle
31
Greerath Hulm and the future
34
Hueh Chuum and his love
35
Aquatics 36
500 YEARS HENCE
Gram the engineered plains-dweller
37
Kule Taaran and the engineered forest-dweller
40
Knut the engineered tundra-dweller
42
Relia Hoolann and cultured cradles
43
Fiffe Floria and the Hitek
43
Carahudru and the woodland-dweller 48
1000 YEARS HENCE
Klimasen and the beginning of change
48
The end of Yamo
49
Weather patterns and the Tics
49
Plains-dwellers
52
Hoot, the temperate woodland-dweller
52
The end of Durian Skeel
53
Aquas 54
2000 YEARS HENCE
Rumm the forest-dweller
56
Larn the plains-dweller
58
Coom’s new friend
60
Yerok and the Tool 61
5000 YEARS HENCE
Trancer’s escape
62
Snatch and the tundra-dweller
63
Hrusha’s memory
64
Tropical tree-dwellers 66
10,000 YEARS HENCE
Symbionts
67
Hibernators
69
Leader of the clan
70
Disappearance of the plains
71
Cave-dwellers 71
50,000 YEARS HENCE
Families of plains-dwellers
72
The advancing desert
73
Islanders
74
Schools of aquatics
75
Melting ice 76
500,000 YEARS HENCE
Strings of socials
78
Boatbuilders 83
1 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Hunters and carriers
87
Aquatic harvesters 90
2 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Travellers
93
Hivers 96
3 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Fish-eaters
101
Tree-dwellers
106
Antmen
107
Desert-runners
108
Slothmen and spiketooths 111
5 MILLION YEARS HENCE
Moving stars 115
Builders 116
Emptiness 123
In the end is the beginning ... 123
   
Further Reading 124
   
Index