Predators resembling mantis shrimps, insect-like life forms whose wings are placed in a radial design, and covers of books that do not exist...
You might think that this is the Furaha site I am talking about, and indeed it could be. But the same characteristics also describe another speculative playing field, and that is "Henders Island".
'Fragment' is a novel by Warren Fahy that came out last year. I have never discussed any of the large number of interesting life forms in written science fiction before; the reason is simply that I have a strong predilection for visual matters. 'Fragment' is accompanied by a website with quite a bit of visual material. Some of the images there are printed in the book as well.
I will not describe the story in any detail; if you like an adventure story along the lines of Crichton's 'Jurassic Park', you will like this book as well. The story begins with a camera crew stumbling upon an unexplored island. 'Unexplored' means except for a captain Henders a few centuries ago, who noted its existence. The island is the remnant of a former continent, where life went through its own evolutionary process regardless of mainstream evolution. You might think that that is what islands are for, in fact. The Galapagos islands, definitely a breeding ground for somewhat original shapes, are 5-10 million years old, and Madagascar, the home of lemurs and some of the oddest trees in existence, has been isolated for some 100 million years (or so Wikipedia says). It makes sense to think that longer isolation allows further separation between island and mainland life forms, giving rise to the dictum that 'weirdness waxes with time'. Well, Henders Island has been isolated since the Precambrian...
The resulting life forms cannot even be categorised in modern terms. Above is a Henders rat attacking a poor mongoose, let loose by scientists to see how well 'normal' animals fare against Henderian ones (the Henderian ones kill them in minutes). This 'rat' has a ringlike internal skeleton that seems to have developed from a crustacean (?) exoskeleton. They have fur, give birth to live young, have blue blood, have interesting eyes (mantis shrimps again), a second brain with its own eyes on its back. One of their 9 limbs is really a tail; the first two pairs of limbs are adapted to catch prey ('hypercentaurism').
This is a Henders wasp, one of the radially symmetrical flying life forms. It seems to have five wings, which means it will not be easy to develop a wing 'gait' that does not produce a wobble in flight. The wings stick out but do not seem to move to and fro as frantically as you might expect. They are quite a bit like my tetropters; that's convergent speculation, all over again. Previous posts on tetropters started here and continued here, here and here. (By the way, I have solved the major hurdles of producing smooth tetropter flight animations, but there is still quite a bit to do.)
Life on Henders Island is so extremely aggressive and efficacious in eating anything anywhere anytime that the rest of the Earth had better watch out. Step on land and you will be stung, bitten into or simply turned into shish kebab in a few minutes. You cannot even trust the 'plants'! Interestingly, the book contains discussions between the protagonists whether or not an ecosystem can flourish without any clear distinction between herbivores and carnivores. I suppose I am one of the doubters: if anything that can be eaten will be eaten in a matter of minutes, you wonder how anything can live long enough to grow large. And there are large animals; above is a spigre with a human for scale. Large animals may be fairly immune to attacks from animals half their size, but they are not so to insect-sized or smaller animals.
Small Henderian animals are certainly dangerous; above is a disk ant, a radially symmetrical animal, like a spidrid, but much nastier. Disk ants carry their own young that carry their own young etc, so there is a cascade of nastiness. The book describes how they bore their way into flesh and open a leg to the bone in a matter of seconds; a bit too quick, I thought: movement takes time, certainly on a miniature scale. But what keeps them from devouring a spigre? I do like the disk ant's movement: it can walk as any decent radial animal should, but can switch to rolling on one side. Likely? Probably not. Fun? Definitely!
Reading the book gave me a distinct feeling that the author had a film in mind, and indeed Mr Fahy wrote me that a film is 'definitely now in the works'. I suppose that that is why so much visual material has been developed. Because I like to credit the artists where possible, I asked him for their names, and here they are: Daren Bader, Steven Olds, Ron Lemon and Michael Limber.
I guess we now wait for the sequel and for the film. I do hope that the movie makers will pay more attention to how animals move than the designers of Avatar did. If you read 'Fragment', it is clear that the author likes his creations and thought a lot about their biology; that's a very good starting point.