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Literature / Expedition

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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 its 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 is here.


The book and film provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: The Littoralopes gain some cool-looking black armor for Alien Planet.
    • The Amoebic Sea is portrayed as an active predator that hunts flyers, such as the young of the Emperor Sea Strider. In the book, it was perfectly defenseless and is essentially a feast for all the animals that live at its shore.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Expedition's storyline regarding Gaia's Lament and the Yma giving humanity interstellar travel is adapted out in Alien Planet in favour of Earth scientists merely discovering Darwin IV and sending probes to explore it.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Alien Planet changes and re-works quite a number of details:
    • The book describes the Emperor Sea Strider as being 600 feet in height, but the documentary scales it down to a more realistic 80 feet (it's still described as being the biggest creature on Darwin IV AND Earth).
    • Prongheads are just depicted in a single picture in the book, but the documentary goes as far as to portray their predatory behaviors hunting Gyrosprinters, as well as their social behavior in packs.
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    • Littoralopes are shown as having black armor in the documentary: they just had pale, leathery skin in the book.
    • The plants growing on the Groveback are depicted in the book as commensals, dying once the Groveback begins to move again. The documentary on the other hand adds a symbiotic relationship instead, with the plants providing the Groveback with sugars, who trade them water in return.
    • The Amoebic Sea is portrayed as an active predator in the documentary. In the book, it was mostly inert and defenseless even as many shorline creatures feed on its gelatinous matrix.
    • Electrophytes are expanded on, describing their electrical shocks as a means to hunt Jetdarters.
    • The Eosapiens are redesigned quite a bit: notably, their hands are more tentacle-like in the documentary, they wield spears instead of clubs, and they are portrayed as far more hostile and aggressive.
  • Adapted Out: Of the over 50 creatures in Expedition, only a handful make it into Alien Planet. The Yma are also not featured.
  • Adorkable: The three probes, which have surprisingly expressive faces. It doesn't hurt they were programmed with the curiosity of 5 year olds.
  • 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 - in fact, all surface water is gone; this catastrophe led to the evolution of the Amoebic Sea, as organisms banded together to trap what water was left. It's possibly similar to prehistoric Earth's "Oxygen Catastrophe" or, more ominously, the current runaway Greenhouse Effect.
  • 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.
  • Alien Blood: In Alien Planet, when a Skewer impales a Littoralope, the blood that squirts out is purple.
  • 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? (Only in the documentary though, it's mostly inert and defenseless in the original book.)
  • Aliens Never Invented the Wheel: On Darwin neither jawbones nor eyeballs ever evolved, not that this hinders the aliens much.
  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: The Eosapiens may be sentient, 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.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: In Alien Planet, a probe is saved by an Eosapien from a Skewer.
    • Eosapiens, in a rather...unsettling parallel to us humans, are able to hunt predators like Arrowtongues and Raybacks, seemingly for sport.
    • 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 itself is caught by the sessile Butchertree!
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted with many fauna, possessing a phallus so prominent it resembles a second tail.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • One notable criticism of Darwin IV is the seeming lack of relationships between animals: in fact, the only attempt at classification the book gives them is based on their number of legs, which make about as much sense as saying humans are birds because they're both bipedal. Compare and contrast with Snaiad, which portrays a basic body plan for all the large fauna and classifies them based on morphological similarities with clearly-defined relationships between its species.
    • 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.
  • Ascended Extra: Electrophytes and Prongheads are barely mentioned in Expedition, but in Alien Planet they manage to score a full creature feature.
  • 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.
  • 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 visible light is pointless. However, the bio-luminescence may just be a side effect of generating heat for thermographic signaling.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Plenty bizarre, but recognizable. Some, however, are odd halfway critters neither flora nor fauna.
  • Bizarre Alien Limbs: The Emperor Sea Strider's legs are where its mouths are.
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: All sorts. There's the Rimerunner, a vaguely kangaroo-like creature that hops on one leg, the Skewer, which flies with jets of gas generated in its stomach, the Tundra Plow, 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, with thermographic sense as the closest they come to "vision". Retconned in Alien Planet, where the Eosapiens are able to "see" projected images by the probes; possibly they were detecting the slight heat generated by the light beams.
  • 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.
  • Body Horror: Earth's remaining fauna are subject to this due to environmental pollution. A picture of malformed earth cows is shown at the beginning of the book, with no eyes, ears, horns, or even anything that could be recognized as a face.
  • 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.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The Von Braun probes look identical except for being colored red, blue and yellow.
  • Cool Starship: The Von Braun from Alien Planet.
  • Crapsack World: Earth, but the Yma are helping to fix it.
  • Creator's Pet: In-Universe. Check out the Expedition badge - an Emperor Sea Strider is emblazoned on 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.
  • Death by a Thousand Cuts: Beach Quills attack this way, propelling themselves in huge numbers at whatever happens to get too close, piercing into them and delivering fatal doses of neurotoxin. This allows them to bring down creatures as large as the Groveback.
  • 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.
  • Deus ex Machina: The Skewers, Barlowe even calls them that here. In this case it's less in the sense of "resolves plot elements" and more in the sense of Death from Above.
  • The Dreaded: The Eosapiens are not only intelligent but extremely powerful. They are capable of dispatching even the most dangerous of the planet's creatures with only the assistance of crude clubs and spears. Little wonder that almost every animal on the planet flees immediately upon so much as catching a glimpse of one, even the ones that regarded the probes with indifference or aggression. Even the titanic Sea Striders seem to be rattled by their presence.
  • Eat the Camera: An Emperor Sea Strider, with mouths on its feet, swallows Ike's camera by stepping on it.
  • Elephant Graveyard: The imagery of such an idea is depicted in this illustration of some animals grazing in the shade of a Sea Strider's skull.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: T. Rex-like Arrowtongues, Raptor-like Daggerwrists, and sauropod-like Grovebacks.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Names like Arrowtongue, Groveback, Daggerwrist, Rayback, and Gyrosprinter.
  • Explosive Breeder: Prismalopes are abundant, fast-breeding omnivores that are practically Darwin IV's rodents.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Eye Pop: The rimrunner does this with its single primitive eye (see below).
  • Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: Darwin IV's fauna has a number of species resembling either extant or extinct Earth species. Gyrosprinters are fast, antelope-like herbivores, unths are large tusked arctic beasts similarly to mammoths, prismalopes are the equivalents of rabbits, arrowtongues are large predators resembling a Tyrannosaurus rex, prongheads are pack-hunters similarly to wolves while physically resembling velociraptors, etc.
  • Genius Bruiser: The Eosapiens, compared to the rest of Darwin IV's life forms. Unlike humans, they are not only the most intelligent of the planet's life forms but also one of the most powerful. Their strength is such that they can easily rip the limbs off of the other creatures, and throw their spears with such force that they tend to go clean through their target and keep flying.
  • Genius Loci: The Amoebic Sea. Downplayed in that it is not sapient, but is nonetheless a superorganism effectively acting as a place.
  • Giant Flyer: The immense Ebony Blisterwing, with a wingspan of over 1,000 feet.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Human Aliens: Averted. Aside from dexterous hands, the Eosapiens (Darwin IV's only sentient species) have nothing in common with us Earthlings.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The Yma.
  • 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.
  • Irony: The Jetdarters have no wings but can fly. However, Stripewings, with disproportionally large wings, are flightless.
  • Kaiju:
    • The Emperor Sea Strider is estimated in Expedition to be 620 feet tall, as tall as London's BT Towernote . That is, by Toho standards, three Godzillas standing on each others' shoulders! The book actually goes into a lot of detail about how the creature is able to exist at such a size without collapsing under its own weight— it lives on the Amoebic Sea, a gelatinous surface which can absorb the pressure of its footsteps, and which it also eats, meaning that finding enough food to support its size is not a problem. It also has to move constantly, or else it will sink into the Amoebic Sea.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Raptor Attack: The pack-hunting Prongheads, frequently compared to the prehistoric dromeosaurs. The Daggerwrist also looks and acts a lot like a Jurassic Park-style "Velociraptor".
    • Some (thankfully feathered) Velociraptors appear briefly in a scene in Alien Planet depicting the Gyrosprinter.
  • Red Shirt: The probe Balboa, whose only role in Alien Planet was to show how easily things can go wrong on missions like this. It was not nicknamed, never called by its full name (Vasco Nunez de Balboa) once, and was even colored red.
  • Sensory Tentacles: The gyrosprinter has these sticking out on either side of its torso - they're actually extremely sensitive balance organs, like the human inner ear.
  • Shout-Out: Alien Planet: A lot of the names: The Von Braun, Isaac Newton ("Ike"), & Leonardo da Vinci ("Leo"), even the planet is "Darwin IV".
  • 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.
  • Tripod Terror: The Prismalopes are three-legged and in fact do look quite a bit like the Martian tripods, though ultimately subverted as they're small, harmless creatures.
    • Certain animals, such as the Keeled Slider and the Groveback, have two front legs and a skid-like rear limb, making a tripod of sorts. Again, not particularly a cause of terror, unless you're an unlucky Arrowtongue that gets too close in the way of its rear skid.
  • Too Many Mouths: The Sea Striders have mouths in the bottoms of their feet, allowing them to gulp down mouthfuls of the Amoebic Sea just by walking about.
  • 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 Mummy-nest Flyer takes this to an extreme. When it matures, it sheds the lower half its body, consumes it from the inside out, and uses it as a nest.

Alternative Title(s): Alien Planet


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