Kage Baker observed a lot. People-watching was her favourite sport. Being naturally shy, and possessed of the quiet camouflage skills of a doe, she spent a great deal of her time out in public being both invisible and watchful.
It’s a requisite skill for writers, really. For the same reason, Kage subscribed to certain fairly esoteric magazines, and checked daily on some unusual websites. Some of them, like the continuing history of Cliff House in San Francisco, she checked for love and heart’s ease. Others, like old maps and archeology and ancient technologies, she sought consciously in her research.
There were things in which she was not interested, though, that nonetheless regularly yielded nuggets of gold for her story research. Those she farmed out to me. From time to time I came up with some new headline or unobserved topic that gave Kage an idea, or amplified one she was already contemplating. I kept her abreast of the advances (and retreats) in rocket engineering, telescope development, stellar phenomenon and weird biology; I was her private clip service for those things she knew she might need to see, but was simply not fond of studying.
For one thing, mathematics panicked Kage – the heritage of a miserable time in grammar school, where the one thing she couldn’t do was understand numbers. For another, she didn’t like gore. Or violence. Or bones. She could write about all these things with enormous skill, but she really disliked reading about or looking at them. Engineering up to the level of steam fascinated her; after that, it bored her. She needed it explained to her not because she didn’t understand it – but because she needed to find a way to relate to it at all. Translation was my job.
And she just didn’t have the physical time to spend on everything she needed to do. The saying is, that there are only 24 hours in a day – but Kage maintained that was merely a consensus opinion, agreed to so society would not collapse. There were more hours than that in her own system, and even then, they weren’t enough.
As it happens, I am interested in extinction. Especially mass extinction – it’s an interest that seems to me to be a natural companion to an interest in evolution. Kage was pretty much repulsed by the idea of mass extinctions, but she did listen when I talked about it, in hopes of isolating an idea; extinctions are certainly in the job description of the Operatives! She eventually got interested in the topic, especially since the present time seems headed for another mass extinction at a high speed …
Thus it was that we came to believe that the human race was responsible for the disappearance of the mega-mammals. Giant animals largely died out when the dinosaurs did: most of the giants then were dinosaurs. When mammals took over, they were small. But they eventually produced their own giants in nearly every family. Giant bears, sloths, cattle, beavers, armadillos, dogs, cats, shrews, deer, squirrels, apes, lemurs. Sea cows and otters and dolphins and whales, and only the whales have survived as giants. What happened to all of them?
As it turns out, we actually know what happened to the giant lemurs and sea cows: they lived on islands, and so it took longer for humans to find them and their demise occurred in modern history: passing sailors ate them. And there is a strong indication that hungry, hungry humans are also what happened to the continental mega-fauna – everything from armadillos the size of Volkswagons, to cows 8 feet high at the shoulder, to enormous carnivorous kangeroos. Lots of biologists hold to this theory now ( and, of course, lots do not. Loudly …) but Kage and I also reached the conclusion on our own while studying the American mega-fauna in particular.
Everywhere the mega-mammals lived, they stopped doing so when human beings hove on the horizon. The one exception is Africa, where the giant mammals evolved with human beings: it’s taken much longer for elephants and rhinos and giraffes and hippos to become endangered by Homo sapiens. (Giant crocodilians in Africa are, in fact, holding their own; but that’s a different story … ) In Asia, in Europe, in North and South America – humans appeared and mega-mammals vanished. We ate ’em.
And we continue to eat entire species right off the face of the earth. Not just mammals, but reptiles, amphibians, birds and even insects have ended their existence on a butcher’s slab. Every year for at least the last decade, some species either unknown or thought already gone is found neatly gutted in local markets – usually in Asia and Africa. We may never know if some of them are, indeed, extinct or just hiding: because all we have of the single specimen located are stripped bones and photos.
Right now, in Africa and Asia, all eight species of pangolins are being eaten into extinction. They are weird little mammals, scaled like a dragon or a pair of Renaissance gauntlets; they’re quite cute, rare, and very edible. The people who eat them are poor, and many: they don’t believe the story that they will ever run out of pangolins, and even if they did – what’s that to a hungry child of your own?
But also right now, in Florida, lion fish are devastating the coastal ecosystem. They’re invasive fish tank escapees native to the Southern Hemisphere – they have poisonous spines, and no natural enemies here anyway. However, they themselves are NOT poisonous – in fact, they’re both edible and delicious. And the only thing that seems capable of preventing them from devastating the coast of Florida is for human Floridians to do what they do best and EAT the suckers!
There’s a small campaign urging this patriotic piscicide, but in the meantime the lionfish are spreading. And the pangolins are diminishing. Can we get some priorities straightened out here and please devour the right animals? Fisheries are collapsing everywhere; here’s one we can eat without moral misgivings!
I bet there are other animals upon which we could work our special Homo sapiens voodoo. Can’t Australia export rabbit fur and meat? It’s damned useful and delicious, and usually expensive. Can’t we develop fishing industries from the invasive alien fish and molluscs we’ve scattered everywhere? Zebra mussels aren’t very big, but they’d work in chowder and bouillabaisse. Hell, even cane toads could be used in mulch – and Australia needs mulch, most of her earth is desert.
Eating things seems to be one of our super powers, and there are 7 freaking billion of us . If we could just concentrate on getting the invasive protein to the hungry, we could finally do some good with our appetites and numbers.
Just a little suggestion, Dear Readers, from me and Kage. And the pangolins.