Thursday, 24 April 2014

Life In The Asteroid Belt

Poul Anderson, "Barnacle Bull" IN The Collected Short Works Of Poul Anderson (Framingham MA, 2009), pp. 399-411:

a mutant life-form had existed on the asteroidal planet;
it adapted to space during the slow break-up of the larger fragments;
it uses an unidentified liquid other than water which would boil or freeze in space;
its chemistry is carbon and silicon;
adults eject freely drifting spores;
a few flourish on stony bodies;
powered by sunlight, the "barnacles" extract silicon, carbon and metals and excrete the metals by laying a plating under their shells;
the shell resists radiation and holds a charge that attracts dust;
water and free oxygen poison the barnacles and atmospheric friction destroys them;
barnacles destroy space probes' radio transmitters by eating their silicon components;
settling and multiplying on a spaceship's hull, the barnacles lay down heavy metal plating which interferes with the magnetic fields generated to divert ions from the ship, causes cosmic rays penetrating the plating to produce secondary radiation and increases the ship's mass but also shields the ship against meteor impacts;
magnetic screens must be differently heterodyned and radio transmitters must be protected.

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