Thursday, April 13, 2017

Writing "Wild" Sex

Three books about animal mating and reproduction recommended as sources of inspiration for writers who invent alien species:

WILD SEX: WAY BEYOND THE BIRDS AND THE BEES (1991), by naturalist Susan Windybank. Each chapter covers a different theme, such as "Group Sex," "Mating Calls," "Promiscuity," "Strange Sex Organs," etc. Except in the chapter devoted solely to birds, the author leaps from species to species in almost a stream-of-consciousness style and spends anywhere from a paragraph to a page or two on each. The reader can discover all sorts of intriguing body structures and behaviors for further exploration elsewhere. The book has a glossary, an index, and a short bibliography. WILD SEX is a fun read if you don't mind the pervasive, often too-cutesy anthropomorphizing of its animal subjects.

At the opposite extreme stands BIOLOGICAL EXUBERANCE: ANIMAL HOMOSEXUALITY AND NATURAL DIVERSITY (1999), by biologist and cognitive scientist Bruce Bagemihl, the most technical of the three. Directed at both academic and non-academic readers, this monumental text (over 700 pages counting footnotes, index, and credits) explores alternative mating activities among a wide range of animals, focusing mainly on birds and mammals. These fascinating analyses of animal behavior are backed up by statistics and careful explanations of the limits of zoological observation. The first half of the book gives an overview of the field, with many specific examples. Bagemihl tackles problems such as defining homosexuality, transvestism, and transsexuality among animals and the hazards of equating these phenomena with human behavior. The second half, "A Wondrous Bestiary," organized by categories (e.g., primates, marine mammals, hoofed mammals, etc.) under the two classes of birds and mammals, devotes about three pages to each creature. Individual bibliographic lists appear at the ends of these reference items. If you want to construct a rigorous scientific and statistical background for the sexual biology of your aliens, consult this work.

DR. TATIANA'S SEX ADVICE TO ALL CREATION (2002), by evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson (which I may have mentioned in the past). The most entertaining of the batch, this book is structured as "advice to the lovelorn" replies to letters from various animals and even a few non-animals such as slime molds (which may have about 500 sexes—not that all 500 have to unite to reproduce, but the organism can have that many distinct kinds of gametes). It's divided into three parts, "Let Slip the Whores of War," "The Evolution of Depravity," and "Are Men Necessary?" Dr. Tatiana explores the sex lives of all kinds of creatures from microbes to arthropods to mammals and most classes in between. The answers to the letters are long and detailed, using each creature's question as a springboard to discuss a variety of organisms that use similar strategies. She even explores the most deviant sexual pattern, strict monogamy, and the question of why purely asexual reproduction is so rare. Footnotes and an extensive bibliography provide supporting material to verify the seemingly bizarre facts. In my opinion, this would be the most useful research source for non-specialists seeking a wide—and wild—overview of reproductive biology in all its variations.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

No comments:

Post a Comment