What exotic creatures does tomorrow hold? Dougal Dixon's classic work of speculative anthropology blends science and fantasy in a stunning zoology of the future.
All the large predators and most of the large herbivores died out with
*homo sapiens*. More resilient creatures expanded into new
ecological niches. Rats formed the basis of the primary predator
group, resulting in forms much like wolves, bears, and saber-toothed
cats, with little resemblance to modern rats except in dentition.
Rabbits and other small plant eaters form the major herbivore group,
resulting in forms somewhat like present-day llamas.
My favorite, however, is the Vortex. The whales, not surprisingly,
went the way of humanity, and the penguin's descendants moved into the
vacuum. The Vortex is the Dixonian equivalent of a baleen whale: 12
meters (40 feet) long, with a beak modified to act as a strainer.
The illustrations are good, but the text is little dry. It doesn't
matter, it's too much fun to page through this book and marvel at
Dixon's brilliant imagination. It's a flight of fantasy, to be sure,
but one with a detailed flight plan. Very much recommended if you
have a little imagination. [Minor update of review from 1989.]
I love the drawings, particular of naked Sandsharks that look like something from the spice worms of Dune, Striger cats that have prehensile tails and grasping paws, Predator Rats, Swimming Monkeys, the penguin become 12 meter whale-like plankton-eating Vortex, Slobbers who catch insects with their slobber, and look like a marsupial bundle of moss, and bipedal walking screaming 1.5m tall bats, the Night Stalkers. Some of these ideas may sound outlandish- a good number of them certainly are. But the best part is Dixon gives solid evolutionary theory for how each would evolve, dictated by a changing environment and the raw material of previous genetic code. So we get classic island giganticism and the freedom of evolution on islands. We get the foreseeable continual development of symbiosis between antelopes and tick birds, such that now the tick birds nest in a special dorsal cleft on the antelope. And those animals that are the most successful today, such as the rodents, insectivores, and lagomorphs (especially rats and rabbits) are the ones with the greatest opportunity for diversity in the future.
I would highly recommend this book for any student of evolution. It's not fact; it's simply based on sound theory. It's the best kind of science fiction, as it all could happen. It's certainly fiction, but more than fiction, as it will help you contemplate the foundational truths of evolution.
Now, to comment on some of the animals depicted within its pages.
---In the future, I might want to get reincarnated as a Rabbuck. These tall giraffe/deer/rabbit cross-looking things are cool, especially the Arctic one, which looks like some kind of llama mixed with a sheepdog and an Afghan hound.
---The Falanx is a brutal predator with the legs of a hound dog and the body of a very large weasel.
---The reedstilt, seen on the cover, is one fantastically imagined animal: using its thin legs to stand in the water and fish, it catches prey by pretending its legs are simply reeds. An interesting body with many extra neck vertebrae make this one of my favorites in the book.
---Hornheads are moose/mammoth looking creatures with large bony growths on their heads.
---The pamthret looks like a pine marten or some other creature from that family, mixed with a lion.
---The chiselhead is a bizarre squirrel with enormous teeth and jaws.
The Truteal is an extremely cute little teal thing. A blind, nocturnal animal might not sound too adorable, but it is.
---My favorite animal in "After Man" is the Shurrack, which strikes me as a cheetah crossed with a Scottish Deerhound. Its thin legs, long striped tail, leopard pattern, and short, bristly grey coat give it a super-cool look. Reincarnate me as a Shurrack, if you please!
---But *whatever* you do, don't bring me back as a Desert Leaper! These kangaroos look disgusting both when their bodies are bloated with fat, and then when it fluctuates and they become emaciated, with wrinkly folds of skin all over...and they do NOT look like cute little Shar Peis or Sphynx cats!
---Horranes are weird; they have the head of a gorilla on the tiger-striped body of a cheetah. Try to imagine this. *nuumm*
---The Striger looks like something out of T.S. Eliot's Book of Practical Cats.
---Khiffahs look like the Warner Brother's interpretation of the Tasmanian Devil with blue chests.
---Okay, NEVER EVER EVER do I wish to reincarnate as a Slobber! This aptly named "sloth of the future" is truly a vile imaginary creature.
---The Gurrath is another cheetah-looking thing, but it's not the coolest form the cheetah will take on in the future (go Shurrack! That honor rests with you, buddy!)
---Wakkas look like two-legged giraffes. They also remind me of something out of a Salvador Dali painting.
---The Flooer disguises itself as a flower but is still ugly with those beady little eyes and teeth. On the other hand, the Night Stalker is just plain hideous, looking like a monstrous explosion of other random animal parts thrown together. With a face not even a mother could love and a pair of "legs" that look like arms, this has more of a Pokemon appearance than anything else in "After Man."
---If I get reincarnated as every other animal in this book, please let there be one that I NEVER become, and I must save this for last because it is so revolting. The poor, miserable creature that is (or will be, rather) the Cleft Back Antelope is truly something to pity. First of all, their vertebrae have large "clefts" that grow upwards and form a "nest" along their backs for birds to lay eggs in. If I were a Cleft Back Antelope, I'd say, "Forget you, birds!" and shake the eggs from my back, then try to remove those ugly protrusions. Symbiosis, whatever. It's just too unsightly. But that's not even so bad when you consider this: They grow warts on their bodies that ooze pus. Flies lay their eggs in the pus. The baby birds hatch on the backs and eat the fly eggs. Can you imagine all this happening on the poor Antelope?!
"After Man" is a great book.