I, for One, Welcome Our New…

I’d just like to say that, when you read Annalee Newitz writing

“If trends continue, cephalopods may be among the species who are poised to survive a mass extinction in the oceans, leading to a future marine ecosystem ruled by tentacles.”

—or Cory Doctorow warning that—

“To imagine the ocean of the future: picture a writhing mass of unkillable tentacles, forever.”

—or even Doubleday et al (whose research inspired the preceding dire warnings) opining more calmly that—

From Doubleday et al 2016.

From Doubleday et al 2016.

“…the proliferation of cephalopod populations has been driven by large-scale processes that are common across a broad range of marine environments and facilitated by biological characteristics common to all cephalopods. … anthropogenic climate change, especially ocean warming, [is] a plausible driver of the observed increase. … Further, it has been hypothesised that the global depletion of fish stocks, together with the potential release of cephalopods from predation and competition pressure, could be driving the growth in cephalopod populations.”

I’d just like to point out that I called it twelve years ago, in βehemoth:

I'm actually much greyer now. And bearded.

Note the t-shirt.

To Clarke this is the scariest part of the ocean, the half-lit midwater depths where real squid roam: boneless tentacled monsters thirty meters long, their brains as cold and quick as superconductors. They’re twice as large as they used to be, she’s been told. Five times more abundant. Apparently it all comes down to better day care. Architeuthis larvae grow faster in the warming seas, their numbers unconstrained by predators long since fished out of existence.

Now.  Aren’t you ashamed none of you read the damn book?

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday June 02 2016at 07:06 am , filed under biology, marine, rifters . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

35 Responses to “I, for One, Welcome Our New…”

  1. I’m actually okay with this. Cephalopods are pretty crafty, and should they survive and prosper in the changing climates that bodes for something interesting. Perhaps in some far off future, they may gain further intelligence and start a different sort of civilization. I’m fascinated by their communication alone, with colors and patterns. I’d like to go diving someday and see some cuttlefish. I hear their rather curious with divers. Have you ever had the chance to interact with any cephalopods? What was your experience?

  2. B-but I _did_ read the book!

  3. The shitty thing is, we (well, I) did read the book, but unfortunately had to resort to piracy to do so, because, if I may quote Book Depository: “Behemoth B-Max By (author) Peter Watts – Currently unavailable”.

  4. It’s not piracy; it’s available on the author’s site.

    This post leaves me a little happier about the doom of the world. I’ve been feeling down about our oceans due to expecting that we’d end up with nothing but jellyfish. jellyfish are not as exciting as this.

  5. I read the whole trilogy in a few days. And, um, temporarily tanked my grades. >.>

  6. I read the book. I even giggled at the joke about “Archie Toothis”. Turns out the Meltdown Madonna had a sense of humor after all.

  7. I’m not sure which is scarier, that Stross’ dismal economic predictions keep coming true, or that your dismal ecological predictions keep coming true

  8. So we have a Vorlon outpost expanding on our back yard?!

  9. What species tend to do unusually well because of the presence of humans? Cockroaches, mice, raccoons, seagulls, bed-bugs, anything else?

    (I’m excluding domesticated species, because they’re obvious. It’s a great time to be a gene for large-grained seeds in wheat.)

  10. @Johan Larson
    Some species of gecko are human commensals and do well where there’s human beings. The brown tree snake Boiga irregularis has also increased its range by hitch-hiking in human-transported cargo.

    Actually it might be a good idea to separate species which tend to get transported by human beings into new areas, where they can proliferate (think zebra mussels) and species which invade new geographical areas with human beings, but only tend to do well in human-disturbed habitats.

    Honeybees have done tremendously well in the presence of humans. At least until lately. They probably fall into both classes, as they can go wild and thrive.

  11. Johan Larson,

    Coyotes, armadillos, rats, a couple of types of snakes, smaller spiders, all our domesticated/pet animals, a whole host of parasites/bacteria

    basically anything that thrives off our garbage, off eating/being carried by us, and things that benefit from a large but inattentive noncompetitive/nonconsuming apex predator keeping their feeding range clear of things that would eat them

    You condo is home to a lot of small insects who love that we keep the birds out but don’t eat them.

  12. Peter, I have about three communications from you which appear to suggest that as regarded βehemoth, I should not waste my time. Now, I’m wishing I had paid you no heed. I think this may be one of the things about SF-as-prophecy: the prophecy part probably is some place the author isn’t thinking is the important bit. Then as time moves on, we find out that it is.

    Additionally: the message you were preaching, maybe 2 years ago, regarding major die-offs looming at the major coral reefs… starting to show up a bit on the cable channels, Weather Channel for example mentioned it for the last few days and I’ve heard it mentioned in the same time frame on NBC-affiliate news radio.

    @Johan Larson: Hello! Some other things that do really well in the presence of humans, probably proportionately to the level of crowding, at least two kinds of lice which can’t live without us, assorted icky skin mites, etc etc.

    @Lars: tunga penetrans also known as “jiggers” are pretty close to the top of my list for zoonotics which were fairly constrained in their origin environments but which have become nasty horrors in their new domains. Strong stomachs are required to watch this video of bush treatment practices in Africa. Honestly, bloody well nasty little bastards.

    Mister_DK: I’m not sure which is scarier, that Stross’ dismal economic predictions keep coming true, or that your dismal ecological predictions keep coming true

    Maybe if you mix and match a bit of both, you get Lovecraftian Deep Ones rising to the surface to dabble in Commoditized Debt Obligations. Or did that also happen already? :) (Reading Stross’s the Jennifer Morgue…)

  13. The thing about Doomsday scenarios…

    How does one wind down a civilization? Just finished reading SevenEves (meh) and it occurred to me that while all the Great Leaders were trying to keep things more-or-less functional until The End, there was no discussion of shutting down and containing radioactive waste, arsenic, and a variety of other horrendous byproducts of industrial society.

    Are there any plans to shut all this shit down? Should we care about our successor species?

  14. Oh, and I read Behemoth too, I tried to succumb to my Catholic Guilt and purchase it but it’s nowhere in stock.

    Are you (ahem) fishing for complements?

  15. Now. Aren’t you ashamed none of you read the damn book?
    Only because the dead tree version has been next to impossible to get a hold of in my neck of the woods.

    Maybe I need to get with the times and get an ebook-reader…

  16. I read it also {though one less time than the predecessors} and enjoyed it despite being told by the author repeatedly I wasn’t supposed to. Also want to point out that there’s also a Blame it on Rio reference/joke in order to show that prophetic ecological powers don’t assure a sound sense of humor 100% of the time.

  17. I’ve been expecting plankton broth to become a staple of our diet once we overfish our way down the foodchain until all the aquatic mega-fauna is gone.

    Compared to that, squid would be a treat.

    All a matter of perspective.

  18. Johan Larson,

    The plankton will go first

  19. Given our human overlords, I endorse that t-shirt.

  20. Greggles:
    The thing about Doomsday scenarios…

    How does one wind down a civilization?Just finished reading SevenEves (meh) and it occurred to me that while all the Great Leaders were trying to keep things more-or-less functional until The End, there was no discussion of shutting down and containing radioactive waste, arsenic, and a variety of other horrendous byproducts of industrial society.

    Are there any plans to shut all this shit down?Should we care about our successor species?

    Well, in both of the “things fall apart” stories I wrote, mid-1990s more or less, I certainly made mention of “orderly shutdown” and “mothballing” in the context of significant events. In the one work, an infiltration scheme being set up for generations is discovered and halted, but it can remain halted only by abandoning certain cities, in a “drop everything and evacuate now, ‘please turn off the city as you leave'” sort of mode. Even though the city in this fiction was Washington DC, the main industrial product of which is overregulation and “hot air”, if you are preserving a cityscape both as a historical site and a landscape of forensic evidence, someone will still have to go around and make sure that the gas stove is turned off and the windows are shut against the rain. In cities of industry, the engineers will have followed best practices in fire-prevention etc and most of their “scram” procedures are going to be “one big red button” as they can make them. Look into the shutdown procedures at petroleum refineries, for example, most have several shutdown modes ranging from “scheduled maintenance” to “main storage just blew up”. The likelihood of a variety of fairly situationally-responsive shutdown/failure modes is somewhat proportional to the capacity of the system (or system failure) to create problems. But to more directly answer your question, so far as I know there is no such regime for powerdown/system-failure of the whole of society considered as an industrial process. (Perhaps we should agitate for such a protocol.)

    That being said, I strongly suspect that when they get their first sniffles from Captain Trips, all librarians will head off to work to make sure that their libraries remain useful beyond the forseeable future. Everyone else may have their thinking geared more to the exigencies of “MAD” “mutually assured destruction” than to ensuring survivability for anyone. How would this downfall of civilization come to pass? If it’s military it might unfold so as to maximize destruction for now and to make long-term survival actually undesirable. If the causes are more from nature, we can only pray that the militaries do not decide to help it happen. I suspect it thus mostly falls to the engineers to design in a lot of fault-tolerance, error correction, and inbuilt disaster amelioration where feasible. Luckily for us, those are in the natural tendencies of engineers, anyway. :)

  21. […] Watts crows at the success of cephalopods on the changing […]

  22. I’m with Johan on this – love calamari, love octopus, and both are a hell of a lot healthier than beef; this is almost good news.

    In fact, I’m now incubating a short story where Cthulhu rises from the depths off the coast of Spain and is summarily turned into fifty thousand plates of pulpo a la gallega…….

  23. I used to quite like that Discovery Channel series The Future Is Wild, which imagined animal life millions of years in the future. It posited several land-based cephalopods, some giant, others super-intelligent. And the last of mammals, long gone.

  24. Richard Morgan,

    Locals did try to eat an architeuthis that washed or was found moribund near shore but there’s too much urea in the tissues apparently. So yeah, likely.

    On the other hand, the movie Dagon relocated (Or franchised) Innsmouth to a remote village in the Galician coast. If the shoe fits…

    Garth Ennis’ comic Crossed (Where a reaver style highly contagious and fast acting disease turns people into sadistic berserkers) had one soldier character ferrying nuclear technicians around the country safely shutting down nuclear power stations (And then executing the techs, because, I guess, they could turn and march back in and blow them up, but mainly because it’s that kind of story)

  25. I don’t mind eating more squids, but don’t they absorb more industrial toxins than fish? Or is the other way around? GMO salmon to the rescue.

  26. I read the book twice. I even printed it out and rolled naked across its pessimistic little pages.

  27. Johan Larson,

    Not seagulls. The “common” seagull in New Zealand, the red-billed gull, is now classed as vulnerable. They do well near humans and our rubbish, but they’re surface feeders and in the wild they need large schools of fish to drive their prey to the surface. Guess what…

  28. Angela D: Have you ever had the chance to interact with any cephalopods? What was your experience?

    Not in the wild. Which sucks, because back in the day I lived on the west coast, where all those giant Pacific Octopuses hang out. I even went diving off Whytecliffe a couple of times, because there were supposed to be octopuses there. No joy.

    I did, back when I was 13, get a chance to interact briefly with Cecilia Cephalopod, a captive octopus at OSU’s marine science center in Yaquina Bay. She later achieved notoriety for almost getting a janitor fired; she would sneak out of her tank at night, slide down the hall to the tidal-pool/handling tank, feast on various invertebrates, and then slide back up into her tank again before the morning shift showed up. Some senior management type slipped in one of the resulting puddles and nearly broke his tailbone. Naturally they blamed the janitor.

  29. Mr Non-Entity: Peter, I have about three communications from you which appear to suggest that as regarded βehemoth, I should not waste my time. Now, I’m wishing I had paid you no heed.

    No, no, continue to pay me heed. In fact, in light of some of these comments I’m now a bit worried that my flippant closing line might have inspired a bunch of people to go and read the damn thing, after which they’ll never read anything by me ever again. (This, at least, is apparently what some Amazon readers decided.)

    In all honesty I’m not exactly sure if Behemoth does suck, and if so, how much. My rifters batteries were drained when I was writing it, for sure. I was less inspired than with the other two books. It lacked the focus and the density of its predecessors— which doesn’t make it a bad book necessarily, just not as good as the other two.

    Of course, there was that contingent that objected to it on purely idealistic grounds— if you describe sexual violence, you must be advocating sexual violence. Those people are morons. But I also know other people with no such issues who found it a tough slog.

    I myself should go back and read it sometime, see what I’d do differently in hindsight. But then, I’ve never actually gone back and reread any of my novels once they’ve been published.

    Greggles: Are you (ahem) fishing for complements?

    Sympathy, maybe. If I was going after compliments I’d probably choose another title.

    Any other title.

    Nestor: Garth Ennis’ comic Crossed (Where a reaver style highly contagious and fast acting disease turns people into sadistic berserkers)

    Haven’t heard of that one. Was that before or after “28 Days Later”?

  30. Johan Larson:
    What species tend to do unusually well because of the presence of humans? Cockroaches, mice, raccoons, seagulls, bed-bugs, anything else?

    (I’m excluding domesticated species, because they’re obvious. It’s a great time to be a gene for large-grained seeds in wheat.)

    Howabout rabbits? In my area of Edmonton they’re damn near omnipresent, and the lack of any predators save for the rare coyote that ventures far from our river valley is the predominate factor behind their success, combined with how they can slip around in residential neighborhoods much easier than larger herbivores like deer.

    Peter Watts:
    I myself should go back and read it sometime, see what I’d do differently in hindsight. But then, I’ve never actually gone back and reread any of my novels once they’ve been published.

    Well drat, I’d long since put the second largest reason behind never fulfilling my vague intentions of becoming a writer at my inability to bring myself to re-read my past writings (the largest reason being a more general laziness and the ease with which one can fall into purely passive entertainment). But if a writer I admire as much as yourself has a similar issue, well, there goes that excuse!

  31. Peter Watts,

    Diagnosis: You like creating ever-increasing large scale problems culminating in partial or full extinction events but not what happens after. 😉

  32. Read, reread, thought much about, especially the parts that freaked people out.
    Scarily perceptive.

    —-
    Any ideas about doing a gene modification to give the big cephalopods much longer lifespans than the current few years?

    If the Deep Old Ones don’t exist, we are, I believe, obliged to invent them.

  33. Peter Watts,

    Behemoth was thrilling but flawed. All the scheming and infiltration was exceptionally good, especially the gels at Atlantis and the ride in the lifter’s flamethrower bladder. Some parts seemed to have no point but to gut-punch the reader – Alyx’s “Too bad,” Desjardin burning the vet’s baby, most of Ouellette’s fate. The torturesexposition didn’t work well. Teaching the reader while torment happens can work, e.g. Valerie or Stretch and Clench, but here the lesson was too twisty and the gross-out too extreme to combine.

    What I least liked was that in Behemoth, Lubin was cooler than Lenie. It felt very wrong for her to spend most of the book standing still in horrified confusion.

    That said, I read all the Rifters books, including Behemoth, three times each. (Echopraxia 3, Blindsight 6, Malak I’ve lost count).

  34. Peter Watts,

    In my opinion, Behemoth is a weird book. The underwater parts are meh, but once we surface to the world it gets quite good. I may be biased though, Because the totally fucked up John Carpenter future you described in rifters is my second favorite SF setting ever (The first being Ian McDonald’s River of Gods)

    EDIT: Also, I’m a lifelong fan of explotation movies and straight to VHS 80’s horror/sci fi stuff, so the Desjardin bits got more bearable once I mentally added dark synthesizer music in the background

  35. Hank Roberts,

    What would that do to their cultural evolution? To swims in the ocean?