science fiction genre focused on biology
Speculative evolution is a genre of speculative fiction and an artistic movement focused on hypothetical scenarios in the evolution of life, and a significant form of fictional biology. It is also known as speculative biology and it is referred to as speculative zoology in regards to hypothetical animals. Works incorporating speculative evolution may have entirely conceptual species that evolve on a planet other than Earth, or they may be an alternate history focused on an alternate evolution of terrestrial life. Speculative evolution is often considered hard science fiction because of its strong connection to and basis in science, particularly biology.
Speculative evolution is a long-standing trope within science fiction, often recognized as beginning as such with H. G. Wells's 1895 novel The Time Machine, which featured several imaginary future creatures. Although small-scale speculative faunas were a hallmark of science fiction throughout the 20th century, ideas were only rarely well-developed, with some exceptions such as Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom, a fictional rendition of Mars and its ecosystem published through novels from 1912 to 1941, and Gerolf Steiner's Rhinogradentia, a fictional order of mammals created in 1957.
The modern speculative evolution movement is generally agreed to have begun with the publication of Dougal Dixon's 1981 book After Man, which explored a fully realized future Earth with a complete ecosystem of over a hundred hypothetical animals. The success of After Man spawned several "sequels" by Dixon, focusing on different alternate and future scenarios. Dixon's work, like most similar works that came after them, were created with real biological principles in mind and were aimed at exploring real life processes, such as evolution and climate change, through the use of fictional examples.
Speculative evolution's possible use as an educational and scientific tool has been noted and discussed through the decades following the publication of After Man. Speculative evolution can be useful in exploring and showcasing patterns present in the present and in the past. By extrapolating past trends into the future, scientists can research and predict the most likely scenarios of how certain organisms and lineages could respond to ecological changes. In some cases, creatures first imagined within speculative evolution have since been discovered, such as an imaginary filter-feeding anomalocarid illustrated by artist John Meszaros in the 2012 book All Yesterdays by John Conway, C. M. Kosemen and Darren Naish being proven as having existed through fossils discovered in 2014 of the real anomalocarid Tamisiocaris.
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