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Literature / After Man: A Zoology of the Future

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A 1981 book written by Scottish geologist and biologist wannabe Dougal Dixon, which presented his hypothesis on how the fauna and geography of Earth could change 50 million years from now. Nowadays it's very outdated in terms of biology, geology and many other sciences. For its time, however, it was just about the only text that took the idea of future evolution seriously. Outlandish as they can be, the imagined animals were treated with utmost respect and painted as if they were real. It set the stage for the popular topic of speculative biology.

The book is given an extensive review, with emphasis on creature design and how well the imagined animals hold up twenty-odd years later, here (part one, part two).

There's also an obscure Japanese cartoon episode and television documentary based on it, which, sadly, was never exported elsewhere.


This book provides examples of:

  • Ascended to Carnivorism: The horrane and the raboon are top predators descended from monkeys. Likewise the predator rats fill the same niche as present-day canines.
  • Australian Wildlife: Australia has collided with Southeast Asia & become a rainforest continent. Among others, there's the giantala, a giant lumbering kangaroo, the posset, a "marsupial pig" of sorts, and the slobber, an Eyeless Face creature that catches insects with its salivation.
  • Backup Bluff: Threatened by birds, the Terratail rodent ducks behind a branch, hisses, and sticks its long tail (which resembles a snake) in its predators' faces.
  • Bat Out of Hell: There's a newly formed Pacific archipelago inhabited by various strange species of flightless bats. Probably the least scientifically plausible of the creatures presented (there could be flightless bats, but it'd be unlikely they'd produce forms like the nightstalker). That said, at least they inspired Primeval's "Future Predator" and Subulba from Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. The New Zealand Lesser Short-Tailed Bat does crawl around to hunt (though it's perfectly capable of flying as well).
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  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: The night stalkers walk on their forelimbs, using their hind legs to subdue prey.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The Matriarch Tinamou (female is similar to an adult turkey; male lives as a wren-like symbiont that rides around on her back), the predatory Bardelot (male looks like a polar bear, female is a huge, badass saber-toothed beast) and the Common Pine Chuck (female resembles living songbird, male has a massive beak for crushing seeds & nuts) are the three weirdest examples.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Using taxonomic orders developed by pre-20th century humans to describe animals from 50 million years after man's extinction results in something like this. For example the wakka (ratite-like bipedal grazer), desert leaper (resembling a dromedary but with kangaroo-like hopping motion), and bardelot (polar bear analogue with sabretoothed females) are all classed as rodents even though they're very different from each other and don't always have what we identify as rodent features.
  • Chest Monster: The oakleaf toad lures in prey with its worm-like tongue, while both a bird and a bat mimic flowers to attract insects.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Monkeys and apes still enjoy success in the tree tops, and have also become the top predators of the African grasslands. Ironically, grassland predators is also where humanity got its start.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: Giant, marine descendants of modern penguins took over the place of whales. Anatomically speaking, there are a couple of problems (namely, the flexibility of the spine and the vivipary thing), but otherwise these birds are probably among the most accurate creatures from the book. Which is really saying something.
  • Eyeless Face: The truteal, purrip bat, and slobber.
  • Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: The book lives and breathes this trope, with so many examples that they have their own page. The text Lampshades these as examples of convergent evolution.
  • Feathered Fiend: There are several predatory birds, only one of which seems to be related to any modern birds of prey.
  • Living Ship: In a land-going variant, one of the antelope species has a double-ridged back lined with long fur. Insect-eating birds nest in the groove between the ridges, giving their young a free ride along with the antelope herds, while the antelope gets a reliable tick-removal service and is warned of predators by the birds' alarm-calls.
  • Maniac Monkeys: The cheetah-like Horrane and the theropod-like Raboons.
    • While not true predators, the Khiffah sometimes leads a foe into a trap, and then eats it.
    • The swimming monkey is a hunter, albeit of fish rather than mammals.
  • Messy Pig: Various species and even entirely new families of herbivores evolve from them. Most are pretty believable.
  • Noun Verber: Many of the animal names follow this trope.
  • Panthera Awesome: The striger, the last of the felines, and the first predator in Earth's history to develop adaptations specifically for preying on monkeys and apes.
  • Portmanteau: Some of the animals are named like this, such as the rabbuck (a lagomorph that's taken over the deer ecological niche: rabbit + buck), and the shrock (a large, black-and-white striped insectivore-descendant: shrew + brock). We also have the Flunkey (flying + monkey), Porpin (porpoise + penguin), Tapimus (Tapirus + Mus, the scientific names of tapirs and mice), and don't forget the Raboons, which are raptor baboons.
  • Punny Name:
    • Many animal names are some kind of wordplay, most of them being Portmanteaus (see aboves).
    • The islands of Batavia are named after the hisoric capital of the Dutch East Indies, but the name also refers to the fact that it's inhabited by bat-descendants.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Rodents are, in fact, the dominant predators of the new world (despite many other more plausible candidates, like shrews & other (former) insectivorans). Some weird things like the aquatic, hippo-like Mudgulper or the kangaroo-like desert leaper are present as well.
    • Rodents in South America didn't turn predatory since carnivorans still survived there, but did evolve into larger forms like the tapimus, strick, and wakka.
  • Shout Out:
    • The Oakleaf Toad comes from the genus Grima and has a tongue that looks like an earthworm. This is almost certainly a reference to Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings
    • The ghole might well have been named in reference to H. P. Lovecraft's ghouls and dholes, all three being bone-gnawers.
    • Land shark!
  • Shown Their Work: Some of the ideas in the book are not actually as absurd as they seem:
    • The Common Pine Chuck has insectivore females and seed-eating males. The idea of male and female birds evolving different diets is not unheard of: the now extinct huia bird of New Zealand had males with short crow-like beaks used to eat seeds and insects, while the female had a thin, curved beak to probe for nectar or wood-boring grubs.
    • While unlikely to evolve into forms like the horrane and raboon, monkeys and apes do hunt large prey on occasion and have a significant amount of meat in their diet, particularly chimps which are known to hunt and eat smaller species of monkeys.
  • Speculative Biology: One of the earliest and most famous works in the genre.
  • Spiritual Successor : The 2003 TV series (and companion book) The Future Is Wild, produced by Animal Planet, takes one step further and shows three different future eras of life on Earth : 5 million AD, 100 million AD and 200 million AD.
  • The Symbiote: The trovamp, a small blood-sucking mammal.
  • Time Passes Montage: The illustrations of savannah predators include three similar views of the same dead gigantelope, being fed upon in turn by horranes, raboons and gholes, until nothing is left but bones.
  • Toothy Bird: Not exactly "toothy", but there's a kingfisher descendant with tooth-like serrations on the beak.
  • Unspecified Apocalypse: The book doesn't go into detail about how humans went extinct.
  • Walk on Water: The mosquito larva-eating pfrit, a mammal so lightweight it can scamper across ponds like an insect.
  • You Dirty Rat!: The rats have become the Earth's principal predator group, taking over the place of the carnivorans.
  • Zeerust: Several creature designs are quite dated.

Alternative Title(s): After Man


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