October 2, 2020

Symbiote City

        I have completed a new block print inspired by the idea of life on Venus, and I wanted to share some of the thought behind the design.  If you really want the full story, you should review the earlier post on Life on Venus, which lays out the scientific background, and why I began thinking about jellyfish.  So, I was imagining creatures evolved from jellyfish-like organisms, floating around in the cloud deck of Venus’s atmosphere.  I had a lot of fun carving the thick, swirling clouds representing the atmosphere, and I picked my weird color combination because I thought it evoked muggy, poisonous gases.  The ink colors are actually black and yellow.  One of the weird quirks about mixing pigments is that while you mix black with colors to get dark blue, dark red, dark green, dark purple, you never really get “dark yellow.”  It just ends up looking green instead.  So that’s how I depicted the atmosphere of Venus.
        The creatures, however, are less straightforward, and they illustrate an interesting point about creating strange new things.  The seed of my idea was that all Venusian life would be evolved from medusae.  (That’s the scientific word for jellyfish.)  Presumably these creatures have had as long to evolve as, say, the first things to crawl out of the oceans on Earth.  They could therefore be as diverse as all vertebrates, from snakes to hummingbirds to fish to giraffes to frogs to whales to ostriches to dachshunds to turtles to humans.  If I were writing a sci fi novel about life on Venus, I could depict all manner of creatures, as wide a diversity as I could imagine.  In one little illustration, however, I can’t.  Why not?  Because the idea behind the picture was that life on Venus evolved from jellyfish, and if I depicted creatures diverse enough not to look like jellyfish, no one would any longer be able to recognize the idea.  If I were capable of greater detail and precision in my carving, I’m sure I could have stretched the bounds a little further while including more subtle clues about my creatures’ origins.  However,  in the end, with the limits of my ability, I couldn’t really get wildly creative without losing the focus.
        I was taken with the idea of creatures evolving symbiotically, and imagined that very large medusae could house smaller ones.  With no solid surface land in the cloud deck, these huge ones would be floating islands, providing both a ground to build on and a protective dome inside which other organisms could thrive.  The symbiotic smaller medusae have four tentacles more like an octopus, with which they are capable of manipulating their world with great dexterity.  Likewise, there's no reason that intelligent, dextrous jellyfish should, when building towns, come up with anything even remotely like human towns.  Yet I've made mine look fairly humanoid so that my humanoid viewers can recognize it as a town.
        Then there’s another little type of jellyfish inside the dome, and I picture these perhaps processing the chemicals in the atmosphere in a way that makes them useful so that the dome dwellers have domesticated them.  Perhaps there are also species that are kept as pets.  To the lower right a flock of them is fleeing to the safety of the island dome’s tentacles, pursued by a large predatory medusa.  To the left and in the upper right corner are a couple of other species.  The fact is, though, that they all look a lot like basic Earth jellyfish, and not nearly as wild and alien as they could actually be in real life, if real life actually evolved on Venus.  I alluded to this before in my discussion of the poem Jabberwocky, because nonsense and sci fi/fantasy both have to balance the known with the unknown, the strange with the relatable, and the wildest stretches of the imagination with the intelligibility of the story to be told.  This piece is not intended to be a great flight of world-building bravura, but is rather a just-for-fun whimsy.

[Picture: Symbiote City (Venusian Medusae), rubber block print by AEGN, 2020;
the carved block, photo by AEGN, 2020.] 

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