Monday, January 18, 2010

Octavia E. Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy

I love this book. Octavia E. Butler is my new favorite fiction writer. (Read excerpts on amazon, wikipedia entry...) A question posed by Xenogenesis trilogy (now titled Lilith's Brood) is: Would you give up physical aspects of what you identify as being human if it makes you stronger (healthier), more intelligent (e.g. less violent as a society), and better-looking (I'm throwing this last factor in because it is the main reason for Lilith not wanting to trade genes with the non-human species).

In the novel, a non-human species has arrived on earth, after humans have almost destroyed themselves and the Earth, to rescue humans and trade genes. This species has a third gender, the ooloi, who have the ability to manipulate genetics, and are biological traders, driven to share genes with other intelligent species, changing both parties: "We do what you would call genetic engineering. We know you had begun to do it yourselves a little, but it's foreign to you. We do it naturally. We must do it. It renews us, enables us to survive as an evolving species instead of specializing ourselves into extinction or stagnation. ... It is part of our reproduction, but it's much more deliberate than what any mated pair of humans have managed so far. ... We acquire new life--seek it, investigate it, manipulate it, sort it, use it. We carry the drive to do this in a minuscule cell within a cell, a tiny organelle within every cell of our bodies. ... Because of that organelle, the ooloi can perceive DNA and manipulate it precisely." (Chapter 4, Book 1—Dawn)


Bdelloid rotifers reproduce asexually, with genetic variation introduced by scavenging DNA.
The New Mexico whiptail lizard is an all-female species whose offspring gets genetic duplicates of its mother but is not a clone (parthenogenesis reproduction), its genetic information conserved by gene duplication.
Fantastic Planet (animated film)

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