Monday, August 29, 2011

The Unghat

I had planned on writing a blog entry for each day I was in Reno for WorldCon.  Unfortunately, my laptop suffered some hard drive problems and I was unable to use it for a couple of days.  A shout out of thanks to the crew at the Apple Store in Reno for getting it up and running again.  
What I've decided to do instead is write some blogs based on some of my experiences there.  This one is the first.
The most fun panel I attended at Renovation was one on Stellar Evolution & Alien Design.  It was part of the Teaching Science Fiction track, a series of panels directed primarily to teachers showing them how they could use science fiction in the class room to teach a variety of subjects, or how they could teach science fiction itself as a form of literature.  The first half of the panel gave a very comprehensive yet easy to understand explanation about how stars evolved from their birth from cold, molecular clouds to their deaths, which depended on their mass.  They demonstrated a card game to help teach the concepts.  The card game was given out to the teachers at the panel, but could also be obtained through the Chandra X-ray observatory website:  
The second half of the panel was entitled Alien Design.  For this portion we were paired off with another panelist and were asked to design an alien based on the parameters given to us for the planet it came from.  The parameters were: 
  • Day time temperatures reaching 150 degrees fahrenheit.  
  • Night time temperatures reaching minus 35 degrees fahrenheit.
  • Average wind speeds of 150 miles per hour.  
  • Extremely arid climate most of the time, but punctuated with relatively brief time periods of heavy rains and flooding.  
  • Gravity that was 75% of Earth's.  
Our instructions were to design an alien that was lived on such a world.  We would use the supplied arts and crafts supplies to build a model of our creature, which we would present to the other panel attendees, giving our justification for our design based on the parameters given to us.  There were no restrictions as to the size, sentience, or intelligence of the creature.  My partner and I came up with the "Unghat."  

The name sort of popped out of my mouth when one of the instructors asked me what was.  
To escape the extreme temperatures and dryness the unghat buries itself beneath the hard-packed clay soil of the planet where it estivates ('estivation' is similar to 'hibernation' except it's done to escape heat instead of cold).  
The unghat's body will dry out until it is only slightly more moist than the surrounding soil.  In preparation for the seasonal rains and flooding, it grows umbilical cord like structures from its back.  These tubes allow the waters to reach the unghat and revitalize its body once the flooding begins.  It will then use its paddle-like limbs to dig its way from its burrow.  
The unghat has two folding membranes, similar to bat wings, on either side of its body.  These function more like sails than wings.  The unghat will spread them out and lift them above the water's surface, using the high winds to push itself against the flooding waters in its search for food and potential mates.  

Because the time of the floods is relatively short, and the area of the unghat's native territory so large, the number of encounters between members of the species is relatively low.  In order to maximize the chance for mating, the unghat is hermaphroditic, each individual having both male and female sex organs.  When two individuals meet they engage in ritual combat, using the antennae like structures on its head to grapple with each other.  The winner of these combats will take on the role of the male and deposit its sperm into the loser's, now female, body.  The female will carry the fertilized eggs inside her carapace until they are ready to hatch.  An individual unghat can carry several different clutches of eggs inside its shell, each from a different mating.  Just before the end of the wet season, the pregnant unghat will dig shallow burrows for each clutch of eggs it is carrying.  It will then dig a deep burrow for itself just before the ground hardens for it to await the next coming of the rains.  

Please feel free to comment on my creation, especially if you see some point I may have overlooked.  I'm going to write the unghat as soon as I come up with an appropriate story for it.  

My story, Shadow Angel, can be found in the most recent issue of Asimov's Science Fiction, which should be in your local bookstore or newsstand.  I'd be pleased if you gave it a read and tell me what you think of it.  If I meet you in person, and you want me to, I'm more than willing to autograph it for you.  


Blogger Cereal Box Reader said...

Congrats on the sale to Asimov's. I think I would have loved the alien creation workshop....

September 3, 2011 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...


The workshop was the most fun panel at the convention. I'd like to do something like that on a regular basis.

September 3, 2011 at 11:49 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home