In the wake of the end of Battlestar Galactica and its revelations about the origins of humanity, I was contemplating other science fiction which is set in the pre-human past, and which contains origin myths about humans. There is obviously a lot of science fiction which crosses into extant human history, forming alternate histories or just explaining that past – David Weber has a strong line in it, Doctor Who could survive without it and AE Van Vogt and Robert Heinlein have dabbled in it. There are also the occurrences in a galaxy far far away, a long long time ago.
What was interesting to me though was, however, how little science fiction I could think of that I have read or seen has actually stepped into the pre-human and impacted on humanity. It seems like such a rich vein of exploration. I do wonder whether I am just forgetting some, and thoughts of these kinds of stories do seem to lurk insubstantially at the corners of my thoughts, but I just can’t quite grasp them. The two that have occurred to me are the Pliocene series by Julian May and The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.
In the Pliocene books, humans who don’t fit into the the new Galactic Milieu of the 22nd century travel through a one-way time machine in Southern France to the Pliocene period. Here, rather than discovering an untouched, pre-human world, they find two races of aliens who are perpetually warring despite their genetic relationship. Humans are used by the Tanu, a race of tall, goodlooking faerie like aliens, as their allies, although in some cases they are reduced to little more than slaves. The two races in the books, the Tanu and the Firvulag, are clearly the descendants of fairies, elves, sprites, goblins and trolls of human legend. What also becomes clear through the books is that some humans who have returned to the Pliocene have a genetic relationship to the Tanu themselves, suggesting that they survived to mix with the human evolutionary cycle. The suggestion is that one of the key aspects of the Galactic Milieu, the development in some humans of mind powers such as telepathy and psychokinesis may have in fact been at least in part a result of the inter breeding between human ancestors and Tanu.
In Hitchhikers Guide, the characters do not return to a pre-human earth until a couple of books along. However, it is the first book which nonetheless reveals the origins of the Earth and its purpose – as a huge supercomputer which has been created to discover the question of the meaning of life which gives the answer 42. Once the question is revealed, so too will the meaning of life be revealed, or so the theory goes. Mice were the representatives on earth of the beings who had created the computer/Earth, there to ensure that the processes ran appropriately to reach the answer. Of course, when the Earth is destroyed to make way for a Galactic bypass, the mice’s plan is destroyed and a new Earth must be built.
Interested to add to the collection of pre-human/human impacting science fiction if anyone has any thoughts.