Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Shape Shifter Gaffe: John’s Pet Peeves Number 1


Not that this is my biggest pet peeve, it’s just the first one I decided to write about. J

Have you ever read an urban fantasy story or some other sort of fiction where people shape shift into animals? Have you ever read about knees reversing direction as the person became an animal? Have you been tempted to write that into one of your stories?

For the love of biology, do not do this! It makes me want to throw the book, and if you read a little farther, it might get the same reaction from you in the future. This is because I like to share.

Do a couple of web searches. First, find an animal skeleton with the bones labelled. It can be a dog, cat, horse, wolf, whatever. Now do a search for a human skeleton, also with the bones labelled. Now, note that many of the same bones show up in both places. Do you see that bendy part that looks like a backwards knee on the rear leg of a dog or cat? That would be a heel.

If you look at the knee on the rear legs, you can see that most animals have a patella, or knee cap. The knees face forward. FORWARD!

Now that you’ve looked up and seen the differences, don’t assume four legged animals are all the same. It gets even more interesting if you look at the front leg of a horse. The equivalent of the elbow is actually up quite high where the humerus ends, and the entire lower half of the leg, what you would think of as everything below the forward-facing knee, is made up of metacarpals, or what for you and me are wrist and hand bones. It makes a little more sense if you think of the hoof as a fingernail.

Granted, a writer who is making up fantasy for entertainment purposes should not be forcibly held to rigorous scientific standards. Hard science fiction is a category of story that tries to get the fiddly scientific bits right as much as the story allows. Hard fantasy isn’t a category at all. I suspect there is a reason for this. I’ve enjoyed some stories that got their biology so horribly wrong that I suspect they never took a class, never cracked a book, never did a web search on the subject, and probably had no pets.

Still, I can’t help but think how much better a story would be if the paws were not so faux, since illogical biology can rip a reader right out of the story just as much as any other writing blunder if the reader has a little knowledge in the area where an author has skimped.

I feel better for having shared. How about you? Do you have a pet peeve that you want to share?


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