by Quentin Long
©2006 Quentin Long

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   Good news: There’s lots of ways different critters can get on each other’s nerves! Well, I call it good. Why? Because as an editor, I look for drama, for conflict—and anything which can serve as a source of conflict is, by definition, a Good Thing. At least it is for storytelling, anyway. Dietary needs are a widely recognized wellspring of hostility, and rightly so. I mean, wouldn’t you get pissed off at a species which thinks you constitute a valid source of protein and vital nutrients?
   Thus, it shouldn’t (and usually doesn’t) surprise anybody that there are plenty of stories in which meat-eaters and leaf-eaters do not get along at all well. But in all honesty, isn’t the herbivore/carnivore thing overused? Why not explore other possibilities, such as the ones I'm going to discuss now?

   Size is always a factor worth considering. Tiny creatures are likely to regard big things as slow, clumsy, and dangerous; large creatures are likely to think of little critters (when they think of them at all) as irrelevant and distracting. In any situation where different-sized species are competing for the same resources, the smaller ones might well be annoyed that the big guys consume so much more of those resources than they (the smaller ones) do.

   Instincts, especially when they’re not entirely controlled, can be a problem. Does anybody really need me to think up specific examples of how one species’ hard-wired, involuntary behavioral traits could cause trouble when interacting with another species?

   Pheromones aren’t necessarily going to be a problem, because the pheromones of Species A may or may not have any kind of effect on members of Species B. But whenever pheromones do have a cross-species effect, there’s the potential for the kind of conflict that creates great drama!

   Bodily secretions in general offer an interesting range of potential disasters-in-the-making. As far as Species A is concerned, Species B’s sweat could be a lethal toxin; it could induce hallucinations; it could be literally corrosive, thanks to an extreme pH value; it could trigger an arbitrarily-severe allergic reaction; and so on, and so forth. This also applies to saliva, blood, other bodily fluids, fur, dandruff, etc etc.

   Sensory differences could lead to distrust between species. For instance, let’s say Species A is blind to IR light, while Species B has no problems seeing infrared. Species A could make themselves highly annoying by the use of IR flashlights that are bright enough to blind Species B, while at the same time, Species A doesn’t even notice said flashlights. On the other hand, unscrupulous members of Species A could use IR-readable signs to warn Species A away from some hazard—signs which would not even be visible to members of Species B.
   Analogous problems can be derived from differences in hearing, the sense of smell, and so on.

   Sleep patterns: Nocturnal versus diurnal is the ‘money shot’ here. Whenever a day-sleeping creature interacts with a night-sleeping creature, the odds are that one of that pair will be somewhat tired, right? And a tired sentient is one who’s got a higher chance of making a wide variety of stupid and/or annoying mistakes. Other than that, there can be friction if Species A needs a solid X-hour ‘block’ of sleep every day, while Species B gets by with however-many Y-minute-long naps per day.

   There you go: Six plausible alternatives to the standard herbivore/carnivore source of conflict. Note that these six do not—weren’t even intended to—constitute an exhaustive enumeration; if you know of any others, feel free to tell me about them. Who knows, I might get enough responses that a sequel to this editorial would be worthwhile…

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