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Monday, July 12, 2010

Sustainable Extra-Solar Living

A few weeks back we set the definitions for an ecosystem. Now it's time to look at some of the elements that you need to make a self-sustained society, city, or planet.

Keep in mind that this is for writing purposes. As the author, you're creating these elements. You can base them off of Earth equivalents (or use Earth as your stand-by planet), or you can invent your own. At no point in the story do you need to bring these elements into the story line or conversation, but they can make good plot points.

The Big Four: Earth, Air, Water, and Sun

Why you need these: To sustain human life off of planet Earth you need air to breath, water to drink, a source of energy and heat, and a solid mass for growing things on.

Possible Plot Points: Because the lack of any of these elements presents an immediate, life threatening, situation for your characters. Situations where you can use these to build a plot include terraforming gone wrong, natural disasters, attacks on a space station, or crash landing on an inhospitable planet.

Why you need these: In a word - Oxygen. Plants are the fabulous filters that turn the air you excrete (CO2) to the air you need (O2). They are also the basic form of food for most ecosystems (well, plants and algae and fungi- let's not get too technical here). Whether you want food, filters, or building material, plants have you covered.

Possible Plot Points: Crop failure and lack of oxygen is always a good source of conflict for a book. Carnivorous plants, bio-by-products, wild fires, and fungal plagues are also fun. Go wild, start an interplanetary incident because the ambassador had the wrong color flowers in his room and was terribly insulted. ;o) Plants are always good for a laugh.

Small Animals

Why you need these: Insects and other small creatures don't get a whole lot of press time. The average person can't tell you what the importance of a copepod is. Yet there would be massive complaints if the little things in life weren't around. Small animals act as pollinators, transporters, and basic food for everything else in the ecosystem. If you want your characters to grow food, they need to figure out the pollination. It's either the birds and the bees, or a camel-hair paint brush.

Possible Plot Points: Unlike the other factors on this list problems usually arise when you have an over abundance of small animals. Think a plague of locusts. Raspberry Crazy Ants chew on electronics, which could present a small problem if they got loose on a space ship. Hamsters loose in deep space could cause a problem. And larger predators might choose to hunt humans if their main food source dwindled.

TOMORROW: Biomass Majority, Apex Predators, Rare Species


  1. Oh! I love this kind of stuff. I also like taking things like plants and trying to figure out an alternatives for them in a given eco-system. More and more we learn that life, in some form or another, can live in ways we never thought was possible, so creating alien species takes on a whole different glow! I love worldbuilding. :D

  2. I love the articles you're doing. Very informative from both a science fiction and a fantasy perspective.