Mark A. Carter

CENTIPEDES: Homo sapiens,
hubris, and outer space

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter gives his two cents worth about centipedes, human hubris, space exploration, and alien domains.

Here's a thought: I watched a centipede running furiously across the tiled floor of my dining room today. It was oblivious, in its little arthropod ganglia that serves as a primitive brain, that I was watching it. Its eye spots could not see me watching it, and could only discern the terminator between light and dark when the creature encountered it.

And I thought perhaps there is a parallel there between his exploits and the imagined and perhaps even factual exploits of human beings as we venture further into space and begin to explore and to colonize other worlds in our galaxy.

The romance of the moment held me as I thought how brave the centipede was to venture straight across the center of my dining room floor in broad daylight instead of scurrying across in the dark dead of night and keeping to the wallboards where it was safe. And I thought, very similar to the dialogue that Shakespeare wrote for Miranda when she first encountered the wondrous creatures called men on Prospero's Island in The Tempest,

"O brave new world that has such people in't!"

Then Donna, who was preparing our noon time salads in advance at the nearby kitchen counter spotted movement on the dining room floor in the corner of her eye. She turned her head to look right at the damned bug. She identified it as a centipede. And without a second thought, she pulled off some paper towel, wetted it, and plunged the full force of a god down upon the scurrying creature.


Centipedes have a tough exoskeleton.
 Copyright © U. Nebraska Dept. of Entomology.

Despite its armored exoskeleton, the miniscule arthropod was no match for Donna. It's quite pathetic really how the legs of a centipede will go on walking even though they have been disembodied.

Nevertheless, I continued my thoughts of humans going out into the galaxy and considered the fact that we may be squashed by some alien race also. Why? The answer could be as simple as territoriality. Like the bug, we may inadvertently journey into another creature's domain. And if it is that creature's protocol to destroy anything encroaching into its space, we are goners. Another reason for our demise in such circumstances could be our hubris. It was damn cocky of the centipede to journey across the center of the dining room floor in the daylight. And the third reason might be complacency. It may have journeyed across the dining room floor in the daylight many times before and not been noticed. But today, the jig was up. And Donna punched its number.

It reminded me of the hubris of a local skunk who had been terrorizing our neighborhood for the entire hot summer. Every night the skunk would fart its noxious gas and we would be forced to slam shut our windows. I watched the skunk one morning in the yard next door threatening the orange cat whose territory it had invaded, although if they could talk they might argue the point. When the cat approached, the skunk turned, showed the feline its rear end, and stomped its feet in warning, as if to say, come closer and you're going to get it. And I'm sure that is how the skunk met its fate. It met up with a transport truck in the dead of night in front of my residence. And being cocky as all get out, it turned its back on the truck and stomped its feet to warn the approaching adversary that it would fart unless the creature backed off. But you can't stop a truckload of whisky headed for the Macdonald-Cartier Freeway with a threat. Oops.

flying saucer, Klaatu, and Gort
from Day the Earth Stood Still
© 1951 20th Century Fox
So, we humans should think long and hard before we venture into space let alone into our system, and beyond. Some might argue that, like The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951, directed by Robert Wise and written by Edmund H. North based on the 1940 Science Fiction short story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates, we have already been warned. Can anyone explain why the US space program has been cancelled and, in fact, has devolved? Right. Sure. You bet. The answer might well be that we are not wanted there. We will probably discover the hard way, if we haven't already, that we are not the toughest guys on the block. And the mores that we hold dear in the depths of our delusion of civility will probably not be shared by the creatures that we encounter. And our bravery, creative endeavor, exploits, and intelligence will amount to nothing, if we encounter an alien that simply feels that we have encroached into its space, and its basic policy is to exterminate all trespassers. "Exterminate." And avoid the Daleks. Big Oops ...

But we will always have our Science Fiction. As I wrote in 1981: "Science Fiction is predictive." As sad as it seems to me now, Homo sapiens is destined to go into space despite our so-called wisdom, and to get the crap kicked out of us. Why didn't Gort get the crap kicked out of him by the US Army when he stood outside his flying saucer? Answer: he was equipped with an exoskeleton just like a centipede. There was also that death ray. Anyway, an exoskelton is a good idea and is essentially what a spacesuit is. But Gort also had some extra protection. And we would do well to emulate it. So, based on Gort's apparel, and the censorship of the day, here is my advice: wear a cup.

Read: Infection, delusion, and alien invasion
Aliens and Angels
Bible Aliens
Bug-eyed Monsters
Cloudcuckooland, Inferno, and Nineteen Eighty-Four
Rectal Probe
Red-eyed Tree Frogs

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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