There was also some discussion of people being inspired to become scientists by science fiction, but no one got around to asking whether it helps to have accurate science in the fiction to get that effect. I'm also curious about whether it's a shock to find out that real science is much harder than the stuff in fiction.
I brought up the use of science for inspiration to get weirder ideas than you can make up all by yourself, but I was talking so fast that I'm not sure the idea got across.
My examples were Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity (centipede-shaped aliens on a very high gravity planet) and Poul Anderson's solutions to the problem of having winged, intelligent humanoids-- iirc, he had a low gravity planet, aliens which got enough oxygen to fly because they had intakes (gills?) which were activated once they were up to speed, and tripartite aliens which made personalities out of a rhino-like animal, a monkey-like animal, and a bird-like animal.
This article reminded me that I wanted to post about this-- it describes the advantages of making monsters by thinking about how they fit into biology rather than just shuffling traits and saying the monster was created by a mad wizard.
A mixed case is certainly possible, and it wouldn't surprise me if some authors, game designers, and GMs have monsters who are the evolution-affected descendents of monsters created by mad wizards. It wouldn't even completely surprise me if there are some such in books I've read but am not remembering at the moment.
Link thanks to deborahjross.
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