Saturday, 12 July 2014

An Inhabited Mirkheim!

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, 3 Dec 2013.

In Poul Anderson's and Gordon R Dickson's Hoka (New York, 1985), a nearby supernova blew away the atmosphere of a superjovian planet and covered its solidified core with heavy elements, including radioactives. This is familiar Anderson territory, a cosmic accident with an unlikely but nevertheless possible outcome.

It is also the planet Mirkheim revisited but with one big difference: life, taking energy from local radioactive material "...rather than the feeble red sun." (p. 174) Animals eat isotopes concentrated by plants. A Brobingnagian (for such is the human name of the planet) does not oxidize organic materials, " most creatures in known space..." (ibid.), but fissions nuclei and is correspondingly strong.

His internal processes produce little radiation which is, in any case, absorbed by his stomach but he must take precautions when disposing of body wastes. Brobdingnagians, evolved on an airless planet, have neither nose nor ears and instead communicate by transmitting and receiving vibrations through the ground via tympani on their meter-long feet. The large round head and body are covered by blue fur and the brown eyes are bone dry.

How much of this is serious scientific speculation and how much is comical exaggeration in keeping with the comedy of the rest of the Hoka series? 

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