Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hallelujah: Snaiad is Back!

Giant herbivorous gekkotans on a riverbank ambushed by mega-amphisbaenian: a scene from the Squamozoic
For some enthusiasts of  the evolution and taxonomy of life (such as myself), there is an allure to creating one's own fictitious lineages of life. It is a useless exercise, perhaps, but one that emerges from a deep wonder at the biological profusion in which we live. This experimentation is dubbed speculative evolution, and it can take three primary forms: first, the creation of a biota of a fictitious insular ecological realm that exists on Earth in the here and now—be it an archipelago (Gerolf Steiner's Form and Life of the Rhinogrades), island (Warren Fahy's Fragment) or isolated cave system (Pandemonium, Fahy's less estimable sequel to Fragment); speculation on the appearance of the entire Terran biosphere in the future (Dougal Dixon's After Man) or in a scenario where the evolutionary dice of Earth had rolled differently (the Speculative Dinosaur Project and Darren Naish's "Squamozoic" concept: see his illustration above); and, thirdly, attempts at plausibly conceived alien biospheres: the best of these last include Wayne Barlowe's Expedition and the website "Snaiad: Life on Another World", founded by C. M. Kosemen.

With Snaiad, Kosemen (under the nom de plume Nemo Ramjet) has crowdsourced the task of formulating the biodiversity of an alien world; but it is the attention to taxonomy and physiology imbued by the original author (a paleoartist of great vision) that makes the website's content unique. Rather than creating organisms and then hypothesizing their phyletic relations, he sketches cladograms first (see left) and then populates them with fictitious taxa: this results in a convincingly thought-out fiction. 

A few turtiform species (illustrated by Kosemen)
To provide many specifics on Snaiadi life would steal Kosemen's fire, so to speak, so let's just say that the best overall aspect of the project is its tendency to strike a balance between scientific realism and unconventionality: that is, the life forms are suitably dissimilar to what we are familiar with, yet are developed in a consistent and sensible manner. One (small) downside to the website is that the only taxa that have been covered in detail on the website are those that together comprise the rough Snaiadi analog to tetrapods; but considering the meticulous care with which these organisms are shaped, it is an understandable (and excusable) defect.    

The site had been taken offline in 2010 for revision, and I had almost given up hope of ever glimpsing the denizens of Snaiad again. But no longer: I have just made the discovery that the site is once again available (since July of this year).

Was it worth the four-year wait? Yes.