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Are the Quintaglios Too Clever?
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1994 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
My Quintaglio trilogy
(Far-Seer, Ace, June 1992;
Fossil Hunter, Ace, May 1993; and
Foreigner, Ace, March 1994)
with the intellectual coming of age of a race of intelligent
dinosaurs. Most readers have embraced the books warmly, which is
quite satisfying for me. But a few seem upset that the
Quintaglios make progress faster than humans did, going, for
instance, in a single generation from Galileo to Darwin.
To me, this reaction has been a bit of an eye-opener. John W.
Campbell used to say to his writers, "Give me something that
thinks as well as a human being but not like a human being."
Some people seem to be genuinely offended by the prospect of
something that migod! thinks better than a human being.
I always find it funny when people say, gee, we've got one
example of an intelligent species, and from that one data point,
we can now extrapolate and define the parameters of all
possible intelligent species in the universe. That's going way
beyond the available data, in my book (pun intended).
There's no doubt that the Quintaglios cover intellectual ground
faster than humans do, and this results in a telescoping of
events which, of course is one of the reasons why the first
book in the series is called "Far-Seer," the Quintaglio term
for telescope. I make no apologies for this: science fiction
gives us a suite of literary tools that allow us to do things
that couldn't be done in mainstream fiction. Part of the fun of
positing the Quintaglios was to be able to discuss the whole Age
of Enlightenment as a drama involving a handful of characters and
only a few years of time. I chose science fiction as the genre,
and the metaphor of alien life as a narrative tool, to magnify
and personalize events, highlighting effects that otherwise would
get lost in the vast shuffle of history.
Another criticism a few readers have had of the Quintaglio books
is the mistaken belief that agriculture is a prerequisite for
civilization, and, therefore, no purely carnivorous species could
ever develop intelligence.
That's poppycock, of course. Indeed, some anthropologists today
are questioning whether agriculture was the catalyst for human
civilization, let alone being a universal requirement for any
civilization. Rather, according to these thinkers, our
civilization developed as an outgrowth of pack hunting.
Let's look at the evolution of the Quintaglios, who (as
established in the second volume,
Fossil Hunter, trace their
ancestry back to Earth and are derived directly from
Nanotyrannus, a dwarf form of tyrannosaur).
The Quintaglio novels are set within a million years of the
present day (I know exactly when they're set, but that's not
something I care to reveal just now). Now, some paleontologists
would argue that the most intelligent dinosaurs from the late
Cretaceous (65 million years ago) had intelligence comparable to
small primates that emerged, oh, say 15 million years ago. That
means dinosaurs, in essence, had a fifty million year jump on
mammals. It also means that the biological order containing the
Quintaglios (theropods) have had fifty million years longer than
our order (primates) did to reach a level of civilization
comparable to our own.
So, could a territorial, predator-based civilization arise as
quickly as a human, agriculture-based one did? Possibly not.
Could it eventually arise, with fifty million more years of
time to do it in than we took, especially if the animals involved
were more intelligent than humans, and already required
cooperative pack-hunting as part of their day-to-day lives.
Sure, why not?
In Fossil Hunter,
when The Watcher observes that the ratio of
brain-body size was increasing on a simple curve through
geological time, he's in fact saying something that was first
observed by Dr. Dale A. Russell, Chief of the Paleobiology
Division at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa (and one of
the top dinosaurian paleontologists in the world, as well as a
consultant to NASA on possibilities for extraterrestrial life).
You can plot this on a graph, and you will indeed find that
brains were getting bigger, and thus animals were getting more
intelligent without civilization having yet arisen. (Russell,
in fact, predicts that if life on Earth survives another 900
million years, average brain/body ratio of the most intelligent
creatures on the planet will be six times greater than it is
Big brains are the cause of civilization, not the effect. The
Quintaglios just needed to wait until they were sufficiently
intelligent to overcome the problems posed by their
territoriality before their civilization could arise. Since
overcoming that is a problem humans didn't face, it makes
perfect sense that their civilization did not emerge until they
were in fact more intelligent than human beings are.
More Good Reading
Are the Quintaglios Too Human?
Characterization and Aliens
More about Far-Seer
North American Quintaglio covers
British Quintaglio covers
Random Musings index