Uplifted?

The term Uplifted in science fiction often refers to the artificial advancement of non-sentient creatures to full (or partial) intelligence.  For example, the recent Planet of the Apes movie, Dawn of, shows how a chimpanzee was uplifted through a drug being tested to fight Alzheimer’s.  There are many examples in science fiction (as well as other genres) of non- or player character races that were formerly animals that now have developed intelligence.  Fantasy Games Unlimited’s Space Opera circa 1980 has player races based on canines, felines, primates, bears and even birds.  EN Publishing’s N.E.W. has a feline race.  Traveller has lions and dogs.  There’s a lot of fiction out there that use Earth based animals as uplifted sentient races as well.

Why I’m bringing this up here is because it bothers me that so often these uplifted races are “funny head” aliens; they have regular humanoid bodies but heads and faces that are simply the stock animal.  Sometimes the legs are digitigrade (long heel-toe arrangements like dogs and cats), but often not.  Also, it seems that if there is a feline-based race, they are always presented as “sexy”; they’ve got supermodel figures with a little bit of fur and a tail.  Why is that sexy?

What if instead we developed these races with real evolution in mind?  There’s no reason a canine or feline or ursoid or whatever race can’t exist in the billions of planets in the universe, but if they did evolve from creatures very similar to Earth’s animals, shouldn’t they have evolved like humans?  Humanity only just barely resembles primates; we both have arms, legs, and a head, and genetically we’re almost the same thing.  But humans don’t have opposable thumbs on their feet.  Humans don’t have tails.  We’ve lost almost all of the body hair.  Our faces are so much different.

These changes are due to evolution.  Humans developed due to environmental circumstances, and they developed to become better and better at what is necessary for survival.

So shouldn’t cat people or dog people evolve the same way?  Yes, I know it’s just fiction, and apparently these sorts of races are popular, especially with animal lovers.  Heck, I once had a feline character (tiger based) in Space Opera that wore Stormtrooper armor and had a mohawk.  It was cool, it was fun, and why on Earth not?

But couldn’t “properly” evolved Earth animals be cool too?  I feel like there could be a whole conversation on “what if” animals evolving to sentience.  I’d like to go down that rabbit hole myself, but not right now in this post.  I just don’t have enough of a science background to fill that need.  It’s worth researching, though.  Maybe I’ll start a series of posts covering each of the types of animals that are common in science fiction.  Maybe I’ll get someone smarter to do it.

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