Using the Program Guide of the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin, Ireland in August 2019 (to which I will be unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. The link is provided below where this appeared on page 4…
So long, and thanks for all the fish
Like the dolphins of Hitchhiker’s Guide, nonhuman life can communicate with humans in numerous ways including non-verbal interactions, signaling, and even parasitism. Panelists from diverse fields of research discuss the oddness of life and the strange ways the natural world talks to us.
Dr Claire McCague: Canadian writer, scientist and musician
Lionel Davoust: writer; previously a marine biologist; develops the world of Évanégyre,; composer; hosts Procrastination, a podcast about the craft of storytelling
Linnea Sternefält: studies nanoengineering; planetarium docent; produces videos, podcasts about SF/F films
Becky Chambers: SF author; nominated for the Hugo Award; Clarke Award, and Women's Prize for Fiction
I confess that “non-human life can communicate...including…parasitism.” was what caught my eye.
At first, the obvious examples leaped to mind: Heinlein’s THE PUPPET MASTERS. But there have been others as well, the aliens from the ALIEN franchise are another one that sticks out. Dean Ing’s series “Anasazi” in ANALOG (July, 1980) novel about the “users” is another one that caught me up in a weird world of biology. I’d just graduated from college with a biology education degree (which proved to be useless except for being a substitute teacher. Once I added a Earth science portion to it, I got a job…) For other “parasite alien” tropes, read through this: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PuppeteerParasite
I get that dogs (we had two until recently, only one now); cats (three); horses; and various other pets of various species, have been trained or bred to respond and communicate with Humans. You could probably even consider plants as communicating with us. I’m certain the “rotting meat” plant (carrion flowers – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrion_flower communicates clearly that it “wants” nothing to do with Humanity; is that what they’re looking at here? Or is it only “intelligent” communication; in which case, what is the largest most intelligent parasite on Earth? While the malaria parasite seems to be noted as “super smart” (https://blogs.unimelb.edu.au/sciencecommunication/2012/10/21/a-super-smart-parasite/) , apparently lots of parasites control our minds: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/there-are-hundreds-examples-mind-controlling-parasites-180950312/.
Having suffered through malaria, reading about the HOW was distinctly creepy.
So…what might happen? Would we ever “meet a parasitical alien”? Seems to me unlikely. If parasites evolve on a planet, then they’re going to have hosts that evolved on the same planet, so making the leap between their evolved host on (say) Ceti Alpha V (Star Trek: Wrath of Khan) to Human ears…unlikely. Dramatically gross, but unlikely.
The aliens from ALIEN are likewise suspect. How is it that they can infect Humans – they have ACID for blood, for heaven’s sake! What would they possibly get from a Human? Our blood is iron-based with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. For “blood” to be able to eat through armored plating, (speculation here: https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/x2pud/can_an_acid_be_as_corrosive_as_the_alien_blood_in/) it would need to be (and then looking it up and finding that HF’s pH = 3.27) some pretty powerful stuff. Certainly making contact with Humans disastrous for us if not for them. This would seem to indicate that alien parasites would probably not bother with us.
Of course, people will argue the point, which is fine. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just unlikely that parasites that evolve on one world will vault into space on their hosts and find Humans palatable – or even usable.
What MIGHT happen is that Humans mess with the genetics of the host of lifeforms that already “occupy us” and somehow create an intelligent form that would not only take over Humans, but would do so with maleficent intent…