Awful Symmetry 4: Case Study and Homework

This is the first chapter of a short introduction to speculative biology. It was seen first by subscribers, so, you know…subscribe.



My first real book (non self published, printed paper more than 10 pages) was Petrolea, a novella about an ecosystem of self reproducing robots. I thought about how these robots might grow and reproduce, and my friend C. M. Kosemen gave me some ideas about what sort of ecology they might build, but the book didn’t really get going until I asked myself what might happen when these machine animals encountered humans.


Human technology (land rovers, space suits, shovels) are made of the same basic elements as Petrolean mechanoids, and so are prone to everything from being dissembled by bacteria- or ant-like scavenger robots to being hunted cross-country by orca-sized flying predators.

But at the same time, humans are exploiting the Petrolean ecosystem for ourselves. The mechanoid food chain starts with “plants” that extract energy from wind and geothermal power and store it in the form of gasoline. All that tidily-packaged fuel is tempting to human industries, and since the mechanoids live on a distant, uninhabitable moon, there’s no reason to worry about environmental damage.

Or is there? I delved into ecological and economic philosophy and got some arguments (pragmatic, aesthetic, utilitarian, moral, Kantian, and even religious) to put into the mouths of Petrolea’s characters. That created personality and plot, as well as making the interactions between humans and mechanoids more interesting.

Plus they helped me figure out the ending.


Assignment: answer these question:

  1. Why might an alien organism attack a human?
  2. Why might that same organism protect a human?
  3. What sort of environment produced an organism that behaves this way?
  4. What organisms inhabit the trophic levels above and below that organism?


Now that you’ve answered those questions, write a scene where a monster attacks our main character, but that character is smart enough to trigger the monster’s protective instincts and turn it from a threat to a guardian.

That’s it for chapter 1 of Awful Symmetry. I have ideas for more, but I need to know if there’s interest. Is there interest? Do you have interest? If so, tell me in the comments and tell me you want to read more. I’d also like to see people’s answers to those questions above.

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