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The Journey to Henders Island

Writing Fragment required a long journey through the real world that would end, eventually, at Henders Island.

While trying to invent life forms as alien as those from another planet, I discovered that imagination is a feeble competitor with Mother Nature. The monsters of the mind can hardly rival what already exists in our own backyards.

Along the varied paths of my research I encountered mindboggling facts about the dynamic forces at play and at war on our planet, and more often than not found that evolution had already invented wilder creatures than I could imagine. My innovations were exposed as imitations, speculations became simulacra, and phantasms mere footnotes on the actual record of life. Writing the book showed me the awesome power and variety of life on Earth, which, through its long and storied history, has been many worlds, both fantastic and unimaginable, vestiges of which survive to this day.

I could not include everything I found during the process of researching Fragment. Therefore, I could not convey how completely reality parallels the fantastic world I was trying to create.

A rich layering of flora and fauna from different eras comprises all the complexity we see around us today because our planet has carried life forms launched from completely different eras on splintering trajectories, still adapting to fragmented environments around the world. Under a rock, we can find pill-bugs, descendants of arthropods that first emerged half a billion years ago. In a pond we can see algae that first emerged a billion years ago and perhaps fish that descended from ancestors who lived 440 million years ago. In the garden we can see snails whose ancestors emerged 250 million years ago. In the trees above sing feathered descendants of dinosaurs that first emerged over 200 million years ago. On the couch beside us, we might find a dog that descended from ancestors who arose 40 million years ago, or a cat whose first ancestors emerged 25 million years ago. In the ocean we may spy dolphins whose land-based ancestors began to return to the sea only 10 million years ago. And, of course, there we are, our lineage only distinguishing itself about four million years ago.

Early on in the evolution of Henders Island I sketched out the idea for a catapult-like tail extending forward under an animal in order to propel certain species on the island in bursting leaps. I had found no analogs for this type of locomotion, and while some pointed out their doubts that it would work, I was quite proud of the innovation — until I learned of tiny insect-like creatures called, aptly, springtails. The springtail has a locking catapult tail astonishingly similar to the ones I imagined. These creatures are capable of leaping farther in proportion to their size than any animal on Earth, including the mighty flea. Their jumps are literally equivalent to Superman "leaping tall buildings in a single bound."

I was sure that the concept of rolling as a means of locomotion had little possibility of violating nature's patents — until I discovered that juvenile stomatopods (mantis shrimp) often grab their tails and roll down beaches to the surf when they are in danger. Here was a species that figured into the novel I had just written, as a link between Henders species and the rest of the world, and yet I had not discovered this fact about stomatopods until after I had created disk-ants. Some mountain-dwelling lizards also roll to escape from predators.

Sticky tendrils like those of jellyfish hang over the jungle corridors of Henders Island. I found that the larvae of the fungus gnat hangs just such glittering tendrils from cave ceilings to catch their prey.

Like disk-ants, many arthropods, such as wolf spiders, carry their tiny young in a mass on their bodies. Many animals, from chameleons to cuttlefish, display changing colors on their bodies. Marine hatchet fish actually display the color of the sky above them with light-emitting cells called photophors on their bellies to confuse predators stalking them from below, a camouflage that blends with the changing weather!

Some algae change color in reaction to light and nutrition, and some bacteria feed on rock, carving out giant caves under the surface of the Earth. Henders "clover" does both these things. Just as Henders clover is a symbiont between algae and bacteria that produces acid, lichen is a real-world symbiont between algae and fungi.

Like the drill-worms of the book, fig wasps use their long stingers to bore into figs and lay their eggs inside. Like many other denizens of Henders Island, the female larvae of the fig wasp are born pregnant, having already been impregnated by males.

Henders animals can have two brains. Some praying mantises also have two brains, since the female of the species has a habit of eating the male's head during sex and the male has to complete his sole function.

And then, of course, entire ecosystems have evolved in isolation. These are the real Henders Islands, both discovered and undiscovered. Whole treasure troves of undiscovered life are being uncovered all the time, in the depths of polar seas, in the wilds of New Guinea, in the ice of Antarctica, and who knows where next? Breathtakingly alien ecosystems like those of the Island of Socotra, the Seychelles, the Azores and Madagascar are like tiny alien worlds lost in the great blue space of the world's oceans.

Hamlet was right — there are more things in heaven and earth than we can dream of in our philosophy, and I suspect, for all of our longing to find other worlds in outer space and new frontiers to explore, we will not exhaust our discoveries on this world as long as our species shall persist.

Let us hope that curiosity doesn't kill the cat along the way.

÷ ÷ ÷

Warren Fahy has been a bookseller, editor, and lead writer for Rockstar Games's Red Dead Revolver and WowWee Robotics. He is the author of Fragment (nominated for a BSFA and an International Thriller Award) and other works. He currently resides in San Diego, California.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Pandemonium Used Hardcover $9.95

Warren Fahy is the author of Pandemonium

15 Responses to "The Journey to Henders Island"

    Gorm Lestwit June 18th, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    What a load of rubbish. What isn't plane childish, can better be learned by watching HIstory or reading one of many laymen books on the market now.

    Federico Carnovale June 24th, 2009 at 4:56 am

    I really enjoyed the book and the biological innovations and theories expressed in it.

    I hope that "the guide to henders isalnd" will become an actual book rather than a few pictures at the end of the story.

    Vanessa August 12th, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    I enjoyed the book. I thought the Hender character was kind of unrealistic but I enjoyed the biology and it was a fun read. I really enjoyed learning the real-world basis for the Hender's Island lifeforms as well so thanks.

    Warren Fahy August 13th, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Thank you, Federico and Vanessa.

    Not sure what Gorm is commenting on--perhaps he confused this novel or this essay with one that was about history. My comments were limited to natural history, a very different subject.

    Todd Bird October 6th, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    I found your book to be amazing. It definitely put me on the island with all the survivors. I love books that create other worlds. I liked the conflicting views of all the scientists as well, very well done. Definitely one of the best books i have read.

    Russell October 21st, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I loved this book, I had been waiting for it for ages. I got the blue EU cover though, it definitely lacks something compared to the US one. I agreed with Vanessa with the Henders character, it was a bit left of field, but did not detract from the story, just sent it in a direction that I was not expecting. Would love to see more of the island and creatures there, a prequel in the works maybe?! :)

    Thomas January 24th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Id like too if the 'field guide to henders island' exists. Oh! ill buy it at (almost) any price.

    Marc January 24th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    I loved this book. OMG!!! It was awesome!!!!!!! AWESOMELY GOOD!!!! :D!!!
    It will be the heaven if there's a prequel or the ''field guide to henders island'' in work. Thank you Warren!!! thank you very much for this book.

    Marie January 28th, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this book. I have a bachelors in biology and masters in fluid mechanics; and I loved the imagination of all the components. The research was well done, and I was captivated through the whole book!

    Dave Moore July 14th, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Fragment was a compelling read and a great concept. Having devoured everything written by Crichton, it was exciting to see a possible heir to the realm of speculative fiction with a solid scientific basis. Please follow through on your obvious talent. Thanks for the ride!

    Conradb212 July 20th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    "Fragment" is a thrilling, exciting, well-crafted read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope it'll be a movie someday, and I wish the sequel were available already. Great job!

    Jason August 21st, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Just finished the book. Nice easy read and a good companion to all my Chriction books. Loved seeing the science and background for the theories in thebook and then being able to research them. Mantis shrimp - what a great concept and reality.....

    Warren Fahy June 10th, 2011 at 1:44 am

    I'm hopeful that the sequel will soon reach the light of day... :)

    Warren Fahy March 29th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    The sequel, PANDEMONIUM, is coming from Tor Books in about 9 months, in hardback.

    Warren Fahy March 7th, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    While writing FRAGMENT, I just couldn't seem to come up with anything that nature hadn't come up with first. One of the scientists I consulted with extensively, Chair of the Biology Department of the College of New Jersey, a world expert in crustaceans who was a stickler for scientific accuracy along the way, told me there was absolutely no way that crustaceans could develop fur. Then, while writing it, the "furry lobster" was discovered. Oy vey. He had to laugh and say,"OK, I give!” to the one thing he had so strenuously objected to.

    Eight years of research went into FRAGMENT, much of which flowed into PANDEMONIUM. I actually visited the Associates of Cape Cod Laboratories in Woods Hole mentioned in the beginning of the book and met with the scientists there. I worked intimately with experts every step of the way. I have to laugh when some reviewers claim the science in the novel is not authentic. A genetics lab actually contacted me about my original theory of life span in Fragment since it implied a new area of the human genome to look for life extension. As a result of this careful research, real biologists know that the novel's scientific accuracy is unusually high. I think, perhaps, that some amateurs' default supposition is that the science must be hokey in a novel that is created to be fun. In this case, they are wrong.

    While writing both books I had a Post-It note on top of my computer screen with one 3-letter word to remind me what I was doing, however. That word was "FUN." But I knew, from Crichton, that part of what makes novels like this fun is knowing that their basis is plausible. So, have fun! :)

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