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Taking down the Tiger

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Taking down the Tiger

Postby churchill » Sat Jun 16, 2007 2:14 am

I like to postulate about the future without getting too way out. For me, any story, however gripping, loses impact if I feel that "this thing just couldn't happen". Thus aliens and green goo are out of my compass. Here's a part 1 of a short story which I am sure will not please fans of magic, outer galaxies or Martian strangers in the night. But for those who incline towards the hard science genre, my question is: Will the reader lose interest because (amongsts other things) the setting is just too impossible?

Taking down the Tiger (part 1)

As the gap closed, the herd leader turned to face the threat. The rhino tried to bring it’s small eyes to bear, but the process seemed to be prevented by the ponderous weight of it’s gigantic horn. In any event, rhino’s had poor sight, and the scent coming from the man’s seldom washed shirt gave a better sense of direction. It started a charge toward the open vehicle, and this sudden new aggression caused the driver to brake to a screeching halt.

The rifle swung up until the cross hairs settled on a spot just below the rhino’s shoulder. The Texan’s heartbeat accelerated as his finger tightened on the trigger. The single shot was right on target and the massive animal buckled at the knee. It’s horn plugged into the orange sand, already being re-coloured dark red by pumping blood, and the frame dropped like a dead-weight...”

With the trophy loaded, the dented jeep bumped across the parched African plain, raising in it’s wake a pall of reddish dust. The driver’s sharp eye gleamed from a wizened face as he glanced in the rear view mirror at the source of his extensive reward, that small group of rhino. But whether rhino’s would always continue to reward him didn’t enter his head.

******************************************

Three hundred and twenty seven years later Leon brought his vehicle to a stop and donned his anti-calamity suit. He thought about dinner the previous evening. “Aren’t these sprouts delicious” Gail had enthused “I picked them not an hour ago – I do so love fresh vegetables!“ His lack of comment spurred her on. “You must admit, a veggie stir-fry is a real treat”

He felt he must say something for fear of his silence being interpreted as disagreement. “Yeah, yeah, I hear you…but a good chunk of meat is what really hits the spot”.

She stood up and started to clear the table. “That’s all very well” she threw over her shoulder, “but you know you can get all the nutrition you need from what’s in our garden”. He had skipped a remark about omega 3’s and left it at that.

He climbed out of his vehicle, reloaded his weapon and prepared to enter the water. Leon had brushed his wife’s carping aside, but he knew in his heart of hearts that there was something else that stirred his exposing himself to extreme danger. “What the hell do women know – a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do” he thought as he tensed for an encounter with the quarry he'd been frequency-tracking for the past ten days.

At times like this, the apex of the hunt, his adrenaline high gave him the sensation many men had sought during the hunting times of old. Ah, the time of hunting and gathering - what a pity the era had to end. But then perhaps animals were not meant to be on this earth once Man had reached this high stage of development. But this still left some quandaries. What would it be like to see a real live deer? And how to satiate humanity’s need for excitement? The rush in the face of danger seemed to be one of life’s permanent needs - it wouldn’t just go away that easily. Had war, he mused, just been an attempt to create mass adrenaline rushes?

His thoughts drifted to a book he'd read about the sea in the 20th century.
The life that came out of the pictures seemed so peaceful and orderly - families on beaches and children playing happily in the water, wearing no protective clothing. It all seemed so unreal. After all, if Man had taken a greater interest in how the future would be affected by his actions, he might have behaved differently. Perhaps our thoughts about things to come are concerned more with how we would like things to turn out, rather than with accurate predictions.

Such had been exploding Man's effect on the world that all life save his own had been wiped from the lands surface. Every water course had become polluted by the aftermath of eight billion people, causing the decline and fall of every terrestrial species, save the one that could create pure water synthetically. Even wild plants, as though protesting against a long hard winter, refused to foliate and whole species of vegetation had died out.

The man sat down to don his SAFE's - swim-aid-foot-extenders and pondered the clumsy name for such a simple and essential tool to his survival. 'Frogfeet', he thought 'must have been meaningful during the days when there were frogs around, but a useful nomenclature in today's world? ' He raised an interesting point - do metaphors lose their impact on human memory because of changing circumstance, or will too many cooks always spoil the broth? A difficult call when the change has been slight, but here things had moved on in gigantic leaps.

Coastal waters had become a murky soup of algal blooms, drowning or suffocating most of their former inhabitants. Algae drew the major part of the oxygen in this part of the ocean and
fish died in their trillions. Almost every aquatic living thing from plankton to the whale was shocked into a new adaptation – a barrier that very few species were able to cross.

Hake cod and bass had flown to the deep, there to be turned into an endangered species by massive deep-sea trawler-ships. In quieter moments, Leon wished that he could do battle with a barracuda - catching one of them might have been more fun-sport than the work he was now embarking on. For only sharks could survive in this salty coastal goo, and with life in the ocean down to a bare minimum, they camped at every river estuary, awaiting floating carcasses of large mammals.

But even these ceased to appear and in their desperate search for protein the sharks now preyed on Man whenever he sought to enter the ocean. The juxtaposition of Man and shark became the new balance of nature.

Leon slopped into the sea-stew, enjoying the squelch between his toes. The moon had risen and it beamed across the choppy sea. He spat into his mask, rinsed it in the thick briny water, then donned it, before launching himself into a smooth crawl.

In times gone by, a shark hunt had been a relatively straightforward activity. The predatory fish had had a weakness for attacks on flailing decoys at the water’s surface. The hunter had merely to splash around, mimicking a fish in distress; then move aside at the moment of intended impact from below, and blow away the shark’s head as it broke surface. But now Darwin’s law had prevailed - the only sharks to survive the struggle with Man had been those with genes that reserved their attack for some depth below the surface.

Seventy metres from the beach, Leon turned through three hundred and sixty degrees, searching for the tell-tail fin. He picked up no such helpful sign, and dived to a depth of 10 meters, immediately adjusting to the loss of vision. He switched on his powerful infra-red light to get some small use of his eyes, then cast around for any sign of activity.

He didn't have long to wait.
Last edited by churchill on Tue Jun 19, 2007 2:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby RHFay » Sat Jun 16, 2007 9:06 am

Hi Churchill!

I like the general premise of your story, with the changes that man makes to the environment making changes to the world, including the names of man's devices. I also really like the juxtaposition of the rhino hunt and the shark hunt of the future.

However, the biologist in me (I was a biology major and a biology lab tech) has a hard time suspending disbelief regarding the details of your premise. Unless the algae went through an extreme mutation, they wouldn't necessarily take oxygen from the oceans, they would release oxygen into the oceans. Although all plants do take oxygen as well as produce it; they tend to produce more than they take. Otherwise, we would never have had oxygen in our atmosphere. Algae are green plants (well, some algae anyway); they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. It would be an extreme mutation to reverse this process. (Algal blooms do cause other problems, and the increase of bacteria due to pollution can deplete the oxygen in water.)

Also, predators and prey live in a delicate balance. Many sharks are already threatened because of overhunting, and even perhaps because of overfishing of their prey. If other fish species disappeared, the sharks that preyed on them would also disappear. That's how nature usually works, and it would take a huge change in the operations of nature for this to change. I just find too many of the details too hard to believe, based on what I know about biology.

Yes, occasionally introduced predators wipe out a species unfamiliar with predation, like the lighthouse keeper's cats wiping out the wrens on a certain island. However, these are exceptions to the rule. It only happens under very unique circumstances.

In almost every natural system, the predators and prey are in a balance. The lions on the Serengeti never wipe out the zebra and wildebeest. Their numbers are always much lower than the number of their prey. This is true in almost every predator-prey relationship, although the numbers of cold-blooded predators to their prey is higher than warm-blooded predators. Perhaps the sharks could survive as scavengers, but it is highly unlikely that they would wipe out all other fish species. Nature doesn't really work that way.

Some of this goes back to what I said in another thread about research. If you are trying to write a story that involves biological/ecological relationships, you had better do some reading about the subject.

One suggestion regarding structure; you may want to insert some asterisk between the "prologue" about the rhino hunt and the shark hunt three hundred and twenty seven years later. It's usually standard procedure to use asterisk when you have such a large break in time.

One idea regarding plot; why a rhino hunt in the first part? Just a suggestion; why not a tiger hunt? Then there would seem to be even more of a connection.

I hope my comments didn't sound too harsh; I'm only trying to help you improve your craft. Sometimes it's easier to write about aliens and green goo, because you can draw right from your imagination. When you're writing more "realistic futuristic" stories, you have to be careful about the details. I would suggest not going too far from current knowledge. Extrapolate on current knowledge about nature, instead of creating whole new rules for nature to follow.

Cheers!
"I'm going to do what the warriors of old did. I'm going to recite poetry!" Andrew of Armar.
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Poisonous algae in China...

Postby RHFay » Sun Jun 17, 2007 12:07 pm

Hey Churchill!

Here's an interesting news article about poisonous blue-green algae running rampant in China due to pollution. With a slight tweaking to your details, something like this could certainly work in your story:

AFP wrote:Toxic algae pose new health scare in China

BEIJING (AFP) - Two of China's biggest lakes are under renewed attack from toxic algae that destroy plant and fish life and threaten humans in the country's latest pollution scare, state media reported on Sunday.

New satellite pictures of eastern China show the blue-green foul-smelling algae spreading in Taihu and Chaohu lakes, the Workers Daily newspaper said.

The toxic algae scare in Lake Taihu has already triggered government panic and forced residents of nearby Wuxi city in Jiangsu province to turn off contaminated tapwater supplies.

Scientists said that algae was still infecting Lake Taihu and had spread to Chaohu Lake in neighbouring Anhui province, where 40 square kilometres (15 square miles) of its surface were covered by the green slime, the newspaper said.

Local government officials were monitoring water quality "by the hour" in the lake, Zhang Bangguo, Anhui province Environmental Protection Agency chief engineer was quoted as saying, describing the situation as "grave."

Last Tuesday the algae scare in Lake Taihu triggered a demand for action from Premier Wen Jiabao, who was quoted in the media as describing it as a pollution "wake-up call."

More than 70 percent of China's waterways and 90 percent of its underground water are contaminated by pollution, according to government figures.

This month, authorities ordered towns around Taihu to shut down all polluting factories and meet new water emission standards by the end of June 2008.


With a slight adjustment to your details, an extrapolation on this sort of information could work. Make the algae poison the fish instead of suffocate the fish.

Now, silt and sludge from pollution can suffocate fish. Sewage can cause an upsurge in bacterial growth, which can deplete the oxygen.

It's just a suggestion.

Cheers!
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microbes caused oxygen depletion in Biosphere 2...

Postby RHFay » Sun Jun 17, 2007 12:33 pm

Hey Churchill!

In case this might help, I found this information about the oxygen depletion that occured during the Biosphere 2 experiment. I found this on Wikipedia, and although I don't usually use Wikipedia as a sole reference, it matches what I remember reading about the unplanned-for depletion of oygen.

Wikipedia wrote:Many suspected the drop in oxygen was due to microbes in the soil. The agricultural, savanna and rain forest sections had all been infused with microbes in order to encourage plant growth. In addition, the overall quantity of carbon installed in the soil at the beginning of the experiment was too high. It was now felt that these microbes were consuming too much oxygen, converting the carbon in the soil into carbon dioxide and removing the oxygen from the air.

One problem critics of this theory have cited was that microbes breathing that much oxygen would also be creating a massive amount of carbon dioxide. So the jump in CO2 would have been greater than what was actually detected in the atmosphere readings. Further investigation revealed that the concrete at the base of the facility had been absorbing much of this carbon dioxide as it cured. This effect absorbed a large portion of the carbon dioxide being produced by the microbes which in turn had been depleting the facility's oxygen supply.

According to the general biology textbook "Biology" by Neil Campbell and Jane Reece, Biosphere 2 suffered also from CO2 levels that "fluctuated wildly" and that most of the vertebrate species and all of the pollinating insects died. There were even great numbers of cockroaches and other pests to contend with. Ants were not deliberately introduced into the habitat, but the local tramp species did very well in the structure.


Perhaps it could be massive bacterial growth that depletes the oxygen in the oceans in your story? It could even be in conjunction with a bloom of toxic algae. Again, this is just a suggestion, but when you are dealing with the possible future instead of future fantasy, you should probably try and use current knowledge as a basis.

Cheers!
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Postby Ariel » Sun Jun 24, 2007 6:12 pm

Churchill, I really got into this story of yours! :D
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