The Desire to Belong

by Tamara Dost

We all want to fit in somewhere. Or at least have people we feel connected to. This desire is normal for humans; but is it also typical for “non-sapient” organisms? Or is this desire and longing not exclusive to humans to begin with?

In the novel Ghost Species, written by James Bradley, we encounter a girl, Eve, who falls under the category of “non-sapient”.  She is the result of a scientific experiment in which humans attempted to recreate Neanderthals with the help of ancient genetic material, trying to gain a new perspective. They expected this perspective to be the ultimate solution to avoiding or postponing the inevitable doomsday of the earth, but instead, Eve shows very common, social, and “sapient” characteristics, especially considering her desire to belong to the people around her.

At first, we notice that she has a strong bond with Kate, the woman who raises Eve like her own child and who is the central mother figure in Eve’s life. This connection and established sense of belonging can easily be explained since Kate is the first person Eve grows up with. Just like a little duckling feels a connection towards the first creature they encounter after hatching, young Eve loves and belongs to Kate. Is this so different from human children?

Apart from the connection to her mother, she also establishes a relationship with Sami, a human boy she encounters in different stages of her life. She already knows Sami from her early years, but when she meets him again as a teenager, we notice that her behavior towards him shifts. She wants to be close to him and wants to fit in – and maybe she also wants to experience something apart from the routines of her life – which leads to her going to a party. During the party, she shows many signs of emotions expected from a sapient; the desire for a deeper connection with another person (in this case, with Sami, since she decides to kiss him) – the anxiety of being  “different” – we’ve all been there at least once, right? – and the loss of reason and personal limits to become a part of the group, which in this case is the consumption of unknown substances or more precisely drugs. After the party and after the kiss, her anxiety intensifies, especially because she tells Sami about being a homo neanderthalensis; “Why did Sami leave? […] What if he found her hideous all along? […] She feels nauseous at the thought of her own body, its repulsiveness.” (Bradley 194).

If we look at those emotions as an example of Eve’s possible feelings and desires, it is easy to say that she is not as different from a sapient as the scientists thought. Her actions and choices are very similar to those of humans you can encounter in everyday life; maybe even your own.

It is also noticeable that affiliation and belonging are not limited to people – be it homo sapiens or homo neanderthalensis – but that instead those feelings or actions can be seen in animals’ behavior as well; just like the duckling mentioned above. Many animals live in a social context in which relationships and connections are necessary for survival (to a certain extent).

We don’t really know whether all feelings humans are capable of can be found in other organisms, but we know that there are overlapping concepts and perceptions of urges and desires; whether they are purely controlled by instinct or by something yet unknown will either be answerable in the future or forever remain a mystery; especially considering that we are not able to reconstruct and witness a homo neanderthalensis’ social ability.

It’s Breezing from the South

by Jannik Weber

I think it’s fair to say that James Bradley’s Ghost Species took some pages out of Jurassic Park. Our protagonists are flown into the story by helicopter. They are brought in by a certain “foundation” looking to revive extinct species with the help of groundbreaking technology. Incidentally, most of the story takes place on an island as well. While the similarities mostly end there, the island location, Tasmania, in Ghost Species, adds a great deal to the atmosphere of the novel. But why is that?

The island starts out as a tranquil haven for the foundation to further its research. Here Davis, the foundation’s founder and main sponsor, has already begun populating their plot of land with bioengineered plants and un-extincted Tasmanian wolves. When our protagonist researchers, Kate and Jay, are first shown around the area, they take in the immensity of the environment around them and the plants that have already been altered and are thriving there. It becomes clear that Davis is aiming to create coherent ecosystems. But the ecosystem we are shown in Tasmania is only a testing ground. The life there which has been tampered with is wholly contained on an island. It cannot spill out into the world, and, more subtly than in Jurassic Park, the novel implies that perhaps it shouldn’t.

In the same initial walk around the foundation’s grounds, the reader is overcome with a sense of gloom when Kate finds herself located at the “end of the world” and “only empty ocean separating it from the distant ice of Antarctica”. The novel very often points toward Tasmania’s isolation, especially connecting it with notions of temperature. From a Eurasian point of view, which Ghost Species decidedly takes on, with a focus on human presence and history in the Old World, Tasmania exists on the periphery. As throughout the story the world is heating up, our characters mostly experience climate change from a distance, through news from the mainland. There, they first hear of mass extinctions and the destruction of fragile ecosystems and in later stages, civil unrest and evermore natural disasters as climate change seems to have reached a point of no return. In Tasmania, Kate is able to live and raise Eve relatively unbothered by the effects of climate change until her early death. But catastrophe is slowly but surely creeping towards them from the center. The story constantly reminds us of this inevitable fact and our assumed geographic position with events like “fires to the north and west”. Combined with the dominant presence of cliffs and sea to the south, and the numerous references to being at the edge of the world, the reader might, like Kate and Eve, feel backed into a corner.

Perhaps in an attempt to escape this state of being trapped between the heat approaching from the north and the unmovable ice walls of Antarctica to the south, Eve eventually sets out to travel away from the edge towards the center in her search for other Neanderthals. In this journey, she inadvertently retraces the movement of humans when they first spread around the globe. In this sense, the novel lays a large focus on human migration. The motivation behind Davis’s plan to resurrect Neanderthals is to right the wrongs Homo Sapiens have committed, by crusading from their east African origins to every corner of the world, exterminating Neanderthals on their way. It is at this edge of the world, the point of humanity’s furthest extent, where Eve is conceived. This ultimate act of Homo Sapiens’ hubris falls apart together with all other institutions of civil society. Through the ruins of Eve’s cousin species’ cities, she returns to the center of things, Neanderthal’s original home somewhere in Europe, and sets the metaphorical clock back to zero.

The reader is left to wonder whether it is humanity’s fate to fail. That spreading across the world to every edge was too great of an undertaking and bound to crumble like the Roman Empire. Are humans like an infection sending the earth into a deadly fever? Did they condemn it to a fate of overheating the moment they dared to venture farther than their place of origin? Kate offers us a line from a poem describing a group of islands not far south of Tasmania when lost in thought during a walk with Eve. According to it, these islands form “full stops to sentences about the end of the world”.