Clever Crops in Science Fiction

The weeping, speaking timber in Virgil and Dante counsel that the thought of communication with vegetation is of nice antiquity, however solely within the sense of transmigration of human souls into vegetation; the topic is just not but actual plant intelligence in its personal proper.

Then comes the transitional instance within the early a part of William Hope Hodgson’s The Boats of the Glen Carrig (1907). Within the chapter ‘The Land of Lonesomeness’ we’re taken to an island in which there’s a wailing throughout the evening, and evil timber are vulnerable to wrap their branches around the unwary traveller. The narrative means that human souls are by some means sucked into the timber after which beckon for extra to affix them. The sense of horror is peculiar and highly effective. The ambiance is that of supernatural worry, however the work can marginally rely as science fiction.

Then comes the good age of journal science fiction, and all kinds of portrayals of clever vegetation blossom out into the literature.

Murray Leinster’s ‘Proxima Centauri’, courting from the early years of pulp SF, depicts malevolent space-travelling vegetation attacking human explorers. A extra refined strategy comes from the planet-wide vegetable intelligence within the 1931 story ‘Seedling of Mars’ by Clark Ashton Smith, the place humanity is subjugated by the promise of Utopia. Raymond Z Gallun, one other classic Thirties author, produced a extra evocative variation on this theme in ‘Seeds of the Nightfall’, the place this time humanity is gassed to peaceable loss of life by an alien vegetable invader within the far future. On this final story, the reader is made to really feel that the elimination of the final degenerate people isn’t any nice loss to the world.

As a change from these threats, in Clifford D Simak’s All Flesh is Grass (1965) we truly enounter a benevolent (although considerably ruthless) clever life in plant type, although the shape it takes is that of a planetwide organic laptop that works by way of photosynthesis, and is just outwardly just like the flora we all know. All Flesh is Grass is one among Simak’s finest novels, a pleasure to learn. Proclaiming the brotherhood of all species in his mild, humane, inimitable model, there may be however nothing gentle or flabby about it, and it incorporates loads of pleasure, menace and that impingement of an odd cosmos upon odd life, which is the hallmark of a sure subgenre of science fiction – what one may name the small-town cataclysm.

What of plant civilization thought-about in itself, with out regard to its impingement upon humanity? For this it’s important to go to Olaf Stapledon, to the 8 pages in Star Maker (1937) by which he narrates the rise and fall of the ‘plant males’ of a small, scorching, energy-rich world. The story of the beings he describes is dominated by the strain between their energetic night-time and their contemplative day-time natures. The steadiness is ultimately misplaced, and first one, then the opposite nature predominates, resulting in the doom of the plant males and their world. In 40 years of studying science fiction I’ve by no means come throughout something remotely comparable in depth to those 8 pages, so far as the theme of plant intelligence is anxious. It’s a parable of common relevance to all cultures, within the stress it lays on the important significance of constancy to at least one’s pure origins.

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