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Literature: Expedition
aka: Alien Planet

Expedition — Being an Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV by Wayne Barlowe in 1990, is a illustrated Speculative Documentary about an expedition to the fictitious planet "Darwin IV" and it's life forms. It was adapted into a TV movie called Alien Planet by the Discovery Channel in 2005, featuring guest appearances by Stephen Hawking, George Lucas, Michio Kaku and Jack Horner.

The author's website for the book can be found here. And the Discovery Channel's website for the movie here.


The book and film provide examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: The Yma are absent in Alien Planet.
  • A Head at Each End: Littralopes have a head-like tail and a tail-like head. Given that nothing on Darwin IV has any eyes or mouths, this trick works just fine.
    • The Symet too, a bipedal herds-dweller that does the same trick.
  • Adaptational Badass: The Littoralopes gain some cool-looking black armor for Alien Planet.
  • After the End: Darwin IV itself, possibly. There are many indications from the drones' observations that, as beautiful and unspoiled as the planet is, its biosphere is a mere shadow of its former self. Apparently, Darwin is currently in the process of recovering from a mass-extinction event of uncertain origin sometime in the recent (as in a couple million years) evolutionary past that was so horrific it not only wiped out most of the planet's lifeforms but also radically altered the composition of its atmosphere and oceans, possibly similar to prehistoric Earth's "Oxygen Catastrophe" or, more ominously, the current runaway Greenhouse Effect.
  • Aliens Never Invented the Wheel: On Darwin neither jawbones nor eyeballs ever evolved, not that this hinders the aliens much.
  • Alien Sea: The Amoebic Sea. It's purple, gelatinous, slimy...and alive! What's a more alien sea than a Texas-sized living blob that sends out tentacles to ensnare unfortunate critters near its shore?
  • Alien Blood: In Alien Planet, when a Skewer impales a Littoralope, the blood that squirts out is purple.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: In Alien Planet, a probe is saved by an Eosapien from a Skewer.
    • The food chain on Darwin IV is mighty bizarre. The top land predator, the Arrowtongue, is the Darwin equivalent of a T. Rex yet itself is preyed on by the flying Skewer, a winged beast that hunts practically everything else. And just when you thought that nothing could prey on such a fierce predator...it itself is caught by the sessile Butchertree!
  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: The Eosapiens may be sentinent, but their level of technology is limited to sticks and clubs. They also end up smashing the two probes, not out of hostility, but because they mistook the camera as an attack.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted with many fauna, possessing a phallus so prominent it resembles a second tail.
  • Artistic License-Biology: Some of the creatures appear to be inspired by man-made Earth machines. For example, the Skewer's gas pods and birdlike shape evoke a World War II jet fighter, and the Gyrosprinter's leg arrangement, flat seat-like tail and handlebar-like halteres bear more than a passing resemblance to a motorcycle.
  • Author Avatar: Expedition is written in the first-person perspective of a scientist in the far future named...Wayne Barlowe. As in, you know, the author.
  • Ascended Extra: Electrophytes and Prongheads are barely mentioned in Expedition, but in Alien Planet they manage to score a full creature feature.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: By humanity or in Alien Planet human-built AI drones.
  • Binary Suns: An aspect of the Darwin system, a dim red giant and a much smaller but brighter white dwarf. The term "sunslight" is used to remind us.
  • Bioluminescence is Cool: Many species have this. Which is odd, since no eyes ever evolved on the planet, so light is pointless. However, the bio-luminescence may just be a side effect rather than purpose.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Plenty bizarre, but recognizable. Some, however, are odd halfway critters neither flora nor fauna.
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: All sorts. There's the Rimerunner, a vaguely-kangaroo-like creature that hops on one leg, the Skewer, which flies by gas turbines on its wings, the Tundra Plower, which drags its face along the ice, the Gyrosprinter, a horse-like creature with a single front leg and a single hind leg, and the Forest Slider, which is born a quadruped but loses its hind legs when its hind skid replaces them.
  • Bizarre Alien Senses: Sonar seems to be the primary sensory input for Darwin IV species. Retconned in Alien Planet, where the Eosapiens are able to "see" projected images by the probes.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: Mostly averted as the Darwinian creatures are mostly hemaphroditic.
    • The Sac-back is an exception, having male and female forms. While the male waddles about on three limbs, the female is an immobile, sessile creature buried underground, requiring feedings from her mobile mate as she is unable to move around.
  • Butt Monkey: In a world of amazing, strange of frightening creatures, there's the Bladderhorn, a big, blue beast with balloon-like antlers and a comically flatulent call. It serves rather as comic relief in all the weirdness going on.
  • Cool Starship: The Von Braun from Alien Planet.
  • Crapsack World: Earth, but the Yma are helping to fix it.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The Gyrosprinter looks feeble as it awkwardly hobbles along on its mismatched legs, but should danger threaten, it bursts forward with the speed of a cheetah and the manuverability of a mountain bike.
    • Bladderhorns look more like ill-designed rubber toys than extraterrestrial creatures, but their inflatable antlers and beeping roars belie their aggressive, territorial natures, especially against rival Bladderhorns, with whom they engage fierce headbutting duels with.
  • Deus ex Machina: The Skewers, Barlowe even calls them that here
  • Demoted to Extra: The Littoralopes get such a treatment in Alien Planet, which even ignores their double-head trick and never explains them in detail.
    • Of the over 50 creatures in Expedition, only a handful make it into Alien Planet.
  • Eat The Camera: An Emperor Sea Strider, with mouths on its feet, swallows Ike's camera by stepping on it.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: T. Rex-like Arrowtongues and sauropod-like Grovebacks.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Names like Arrowtongue, Groveback, Daggerwrist, Rayback, and Gyrosprinter.
  • Expy: Considering Wayne Barlowe was a co-designer in Pacific Rim, it's really no big surprise that one Kaiju in the film, named Mutavore, shares features of some creatures found in the book, the Keeled Slider being an uncanny look-alike.
  • Explosive Breeder: Prismalopes are abundant, fast-breeding omnivores that are practically Darwin IV's rodents.
  • Eyeless Face: No eyes ever evolved on Darwin IV, as sonar and radar are the primary senses evolved on the planet.
    • Some creatures, though, have eye-like holes in their skeletal faces, and the Groveback's breathing organs resemble eyes.
    • The Rimerunner has a single, undeveloped eye on a head appendage, meaning that either eyes have gone extinct on the planet, or sight has just begun to evolve.
  • Gigantic Adults Tiny Babies: While the adult Sea Strider towers hundreds of feet high, its offspring are tiny, buglike buzzing flyers no bigger than Earth's pigeons.
  • Giant Flyer: The immense Ebony Blisterwing, with a wingspan of over 200 feet.
  • Handicapped Badass: The Gyrosprinter resembles an equine build but has its front legs and hind legs fused together, leaving it with a single forelimb and a single hindlimb, which raises balance issues. Fortunately they evolved balance-aid halteres, allowing them to continue careening along the Darwinian plains despite what would normally be a fatally deleterious disablity.
  • Humans Need Aliens: The aliens called Yma are there to protect humanity from itself. We'd destroyed the environment almost beyond repair before they showed up, and they're helping us put the world back together.
  • Human Aliens: Averted. Aside from dexterous hands, the Eosapiens (Darwin IV's only sentinent species) have nothing in common with us Earthlings.
  • Kaiju: The Emperor Sea Strider is estimated in Expedition to be 620 feet tall, as tall as London's BT Tower. That is, by Toho standards, three Godzillas standing on each others' shoulders! Given that Darwin IV has much less gravity, the Sea Strider has less issues with size constraint(and can support such a mass, considering it literally eats its enviroment.). The beast is also less dense than earth creatures, making it lighter.
    • The Amoebic Sea itself, a massive gelatinous single organism covering one-tenth of the planet's surface.
    • The 5-story high Groveback also counts.
  • Killer Rabbit: Beach Quills may initially appear to be a harmless patch of plants, but they are deadly enough to bring down something the size of a Groveback.
  • Irony: The Jetdarters have no wings but can fly. However, Stripewings, with disproportionally large wings, are flightless.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Despite their odd forms of locomotion, some creatures, such as Skewers and Gyrosprinters, are capable of high speeds.
  • Living Gasbag: Eosapiens, Rugose Floaters, Skewers, and many fliers on Darwin IV.
  • Losing Your Head: Apparently a part of the life cycle of the Mummy-nest Flyer, whose head detaches from its body and flies about, using its still-living body as a home, that is, it camps out inside its former torso's cavity.
  • Mix-and-Match Critter: The Groveback has the head of a planarian, the mouth of a basking shark, the carapace of a crab, the porous tissue of a sea sponge, the front legs of an elephant and a rudder-shaped rear skid.
    • Daggerwrists have the projectile jaw of a damselfly nymph, a bird-like beaked head, the arms of a praying mantis, the gliding "wings" of a flying squirrel and the quills of a porcupine.
  • Planimal: Grovebacks, large, dinosaur-like creatures with trees sprouting on their backs (Torterra, anyone?). There is also the Butchertree, a carnivorous creature that outwardly resembles a plant.
  • Not So Different: The probes and the Eosapiens both have large sacs of gas comprising their body, tentacle-like arms sprouting beneath those, and a long, flat tail jutting outwards.
    • This may actually have been the probes' downfall as the Eosapiens might have mistaken them for their own kind and freaked out at the disk resembling a weapon, like how you might react to what appears to be a human pointing something you'd mistake for a gun at you.
  • No Mouth: Jaws never evolved on the planet, so most creatures have spearlike proboscises, long flexible tongues, or suckerlike mouths, generally on odd places.
    • Grovebacks, though, have a wide gaping mouth used in filter-feeding and the Forest Gulper is the only true jawed creature.
    • The Daggerwrist also has a projectile appendage on its chest that is usually tucked under the head, giving the illusion of a jaw.
  • Numbered Homeworld: Darwin IV.
  • One-Gender Race: All creatures (except the Sac-Back) are hermaphroditic, and mating impregnates both partners. Strangely, Unths have mating duels and rutting-like behavior.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Ike meant no harm to the Eosapiens, all he wanted was to speak with them. The Eosapiens themselves were also only curious about the strange new being, but unfortunately, a misunderstanding had them thinking the camera disk was a weapon, causing them to attack Ike.
  • Pokémon Speak: Unths are named for the sounds they make through their side-holes when they take a step.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Ike is more cautious, Leo is a daring explorer.
  • Raptor Attack: The pack-hunting Prongheads, frequently compared to the prehistoric dromeosaurs.
    • Some (thankfully feathered) Velociraptors appear briefly in a scene in Alien Planet depicting the Gyrosprinter.
  • Shout-Out: Alien Planet
  • Speculative Documentary
  • Starfish Aliens: Most of the species presented. Though granted, they typically evoke an earth animal in niche and design.
    • An animal on Darwin IV may be an Earth creature's equivalent in terms of ecology, but looks nothing like it (the Sea Strider is supposed to be the Darwinian equivalent of a whale.)
    • A lot though, are so bizarre,and truly surreal enough to put Salvador Dali to shame, one doesn't think "That's a really weird creature," but "What the *&#! am I looking at? Is this even supposed to be alive?" The Sea Strider in particular looks utterly abstract.
  • Stock Sound Effect: The Prongheads make sounds similar to some monsters from the video game Silent Hill.
    • The Unth's honking call sounds similar to Jurassic Park's velociraptors.
  • Surveillance Drone: in Alien Planet, three named after famous people.
  • Vader Breath: In Alien Planet, the Sea Strider's roar sounds like echoing deep breaths.
  • Visual Pun: The Gyrosprinter has one foot in front of the other.
    • The Groveback not only has a grove of trees on its back, but its rear skid leaves a deep groove on the ground at its back.
    • Eosapien means "dawn thinker", due to Barlowe encountering them at dawn, and that they are "dawning" on sapience.
  • Viewers Are Goldfish: Alien Planet, a lot.
    • After live commentators mention the name Arrowtongue, the narrator announces, "Scientists may call this creature... the Arrowtongue."
    • Every creature feature ends with "on Darwin IV" as if the audience was likely to forget the planet's name.
  • Who Needs Their Whole Body?: The Sliders and the Groveback are born with hind legs, but as the rear skid hardens and matures, the rear limbs shrivel up and eventually drop off.

The ExilesLiterature of the 1990sThe Extra Man
The ExpanseScience Fiction LiteratureThe Eye of the Heron

alternative title(s): Alien Planet
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