Saturday, March 16, 2013

Breaking a Few Eggs

Why would a novelist have to research anything at all? They are just making up a story, right?

Yes, novelists are just making up a story. It should be a plausible story, though. Also, novelists would prefer not to look like complete fools.

For instance, when writing a scene about welding with an oxy-acetylene unit, you want to make sure the welder uses a striker to light the torch, not the tip of his cigarette, unless you’re trying to make a point about the welder’s inexperience, stupidity or devil-may-care attitude. If you’re writing a period novel you won’t want someone working on a PC in 1975.

A science fiction writer is seemingly free to invent whatever warp drive she wants to, without explaining how it works. I’ve used wormholes as time tunnels myself without fear of being called out by physicists, because no one knows that they could not be used in that way.

It gets trickier when you’re writing about biology. True, there could be extraterrestrial forms of life that would baffle a biologist. But if you’re writing about something common to Earth biology, you’d better have a plausible explanation for deviations.

That’s why I’ve been researching eggs. Laying eggs is part of a common method of reproduction on Earth, as it will be on the world in my novel. They are key to an important misunderstanding of reproduction my characters hold. That misunderstanding runs parallel to the metaphysical misapprehension that forms their basic world view.

The eggs in my novel have to grow. Eggs on Earth, once laid, seem never to do that (please correct me if you know better). Once an egg leaves its mother it already has all the energy it needs stored up inside itself to take its occupant to hatching.

There would be evolutionary advantages for an egg and its occupant to grow after it leaves the mother. Chief among those would be that a hatchling could reach a much larger size without trauma to the mother. The disadvantage would be a long period of somehow nourishing a growing egg outside of a body. Also, such an egg would be fragile and exposed for a long time.

Providing some kind of medium in which an egg could grow doesn’t give me a lot of difficulty. I have settled on that. I’m working now on the shell. Is it simply leathery as it grows, absorbing nutrients through its surface? Does it then harden for hatching? My original vision was that the eggs end up with a hard shell, but I’m not certain why they would do that at the end of growth. Perhaps as a signal that they are ready to hatch. Maybe to protect some late-stage vulnerability.

I’m also toying with the idea of something like molting. That is, a soft inner shell grows along with its contents, forcing a harder exterior shell to shatter and sluff off. The inner shell would continue to expand a bit, then harden. The process would repeat until the egg was ready to hatch. This gives me the hard shell I’d like to have, but it seems evolutionarily inefficient.

Cook up some thoughts for me, please. You may have to break some eggs along the way.

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