Astrovitae is a magazine of speculative biology. But what is that, exactly? Speculative biology is, in many ways, a hybrid genre. It is fictional life- animals, plant, microbe, and other organisms- designed with a deep grounding in the laws and constraints of biology and physics. Now of course writers and artists have been inventing imaginary creatures since the dawn of human history. But many of those are rooted in myth and fantasy. Creatures of speculative biology, however, are grounded more in science- though even then the degree of realism can vary.
The modern incarnation of speculative biology has its origins in the 1970s and 80s with Dougal Dixon’s After Man- a fictional field guide to Earth life millions of years in the future; and with artist Wayne Barlowe’s Expedition, a visual voyage to a fictional alien world. Later works such as the Speculative Dinosaur Project; C. M. Kösemen;s Snaiad project and his novel of future human evolution, All Tomorrows; and the early 2000s pseudo-documentary series The Future is Wild also served as major inspirations for many students of speculative biology. Many of these amateur artists and writers built their worlds in relative isolation during the 90s and early 2000s, but the increasing communication afforded by the internet allowed them to connect with each other more easily, resulting in a boom in creative output.
Astrovitae magazine, founded and edited by Domenic Vincent Pennetta, aims to gather works from many of the spec bio creators working today to showcase the diversity in the genre. The majority of the entries in this first issue feature extraterrestrial life- particularly aquatic extraterrestrial life- though there a few organisms derived from our own Earthly fauna. This may simply be due to the interests of many artists working right now, but hopefully future issues will be able to feature more speculations on the possibilities of Earthly life.
|A couple of aquatic aliens designed by Christian Cline|
The magazine is divided into three sections. Captivating Worlds offers glimpses into several world-building projects- a brief peak at a kaleidoscope of planets. Artist Spotlight focuses on the artists themselves and the ways they develop and design their worlds. Creature Compendium is a showcase of individual organisms as opposed to full ecosystems.
If you’re a biologically-minded person like me, it’s fascinating to see how each artist has used the known ecological and physiological laws of our own planet to extrapolate their creatures. Their organisms are alien, yet convergent evolution creates an undeniable familiarity. These worlds may not be ours, this life not the kind we know, but they undeniably evoke familiarity. A reader can see how these creatures fit into their ecology and how the have been shaped by the same biological and physical laws that have molded our own ecosystem.
|A menagerie of strange beasts envisioned by Miles Rosenbloom.|
It is also interesting to see the range of approaches to presenting these speculative organisms. Some artists like Christian Cline and Veknor showcase their worlds like a “field guide” or an informative plaque that one might find in a museum. Others like Reinhard Gutzat and Miles Rosenbloom focus on the aesthetics of creature design, presenting their works more like medieval bestiary or, if you’re a fan of TTRPGs, like the entries in a Monster Manual.
I appreciate that most of the organisms have been given a common as well as a scientific name. While the latter adds to the realism, the former gives the organism more character for a reader to hook onto.
This first issue of Astrovitae is a satisfying initial glimpse into the diversity of speculative biology creators working today. I’m eager to see what future issues will bring. You can download the first issue free on the official website.