1. Al Fields

    Al Fields New Member

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    Scavenging for food on a foreign planet?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Al Fields, Mar 13, 2018.

    In the current story I'm writing, my character is stranded on another planet after his ship has crashed. I plan on a large fraction of the story taking place in this setting, and while I'm not entirely settled on how much time will pass in story, I know it will be long enough for food and water resources to become a concern.

    I'm going to be honest right off the bat and admit this is for a fan fiction, so you can have a better understanding of my guidelines and the established universe I'm working with. The character is human, so I cannot solve the issue with making a biological work around. The planet he crashes on isn't an one that appears in the series. I want it to be mysterious: an obstacle for him at every turn.

    I've already considered how his lack of immunity to certain viruses might come into play, his interactions with the environment and some of it's inhabitants, but I have no idea how to go about scavenging for food and water. If it took place on earth, I could easily google some safe-to-consume plants or animals while fending for yourself in the wild. Like I mentioned, this character is underprepared but I don't want him to come across as stupid and willing to eat just anything that seems safe enough, if that makes any sense.

    I need some creative ideas about some solutions or ways to go about this subject. Even some information about surviving without food and water or tips on things I should consider regarding that would be helpful. I've done some research on the subject, but any tidbits you may have could really help make the story feel more grounded and real. As real as it can be for sci-fi, anyway.
     
  2. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    The virus idea not needed, we'd certainly be immune to any alien virus. Viruses have to hijack your cells in order to reproduce, and our cells are very very complicated. The only reason viruses can get in at all is because they have four billion years of evolving along side of us. We're usually not even susceptible to viruses that attack our closest relatives, let alone a completely different genetic system.

    Food would be tricky because there isn't really any way to determine if something is poisonous other than trial and error. On earth, you could watch what other animals eat, and have at least an idea, but on an alien world, something poisonous to us may be necessary for their food chain and permeate everything.

    Besides that, simply not being poisonous is not the same as being nutritious. Your planet might be covered in trees that produce the biggest, sweetest fruit in the galaxy. But if that fruit uses sucralose instead of sucrose to run it's metabolism, you might as well eat dirt.

    The most obvious solution is to have a guinea pig eat it first. By watching another earth creature, you could figure out what type of chemicals are in whatever it's eating. You may need a lot of test subjects though, as trial by error ends up with lots of corpses. Is this person completely alone or are their test subjects available to him? If they are other humans, I would not recommend actually telling them they are test subjects, and children would obviously be preferred.
     
  3. Al Fields

    Al Fields New Member

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    I super appreciate your feedback.

    Everything you said about viral infection and immunity makes perfect sense, and I'm glad I don't have to overexplain anything in a cheap or superficial way. It most likely would have come out as forced with what I had in mind. Let's just say I didn't pass biology with flying colors in high school.

    And unfortunately, this character is completely alone in his endeavor. He's on his own when he crashes and reamins the only person there until the end. No innocent children for him posion, lol. I really liked the idea of having him observe other species on the planet. Like you said, watching them eat specific things and activley avoid eating others would be a great indicator right off the bat on which plants to rule out as potential food. There will still be the risk of these foods being either harmful or useless in terms of nutrients to humans and not the indigenous creatures, but I don't mind there still being an element of risk. It still keeps the character on his toes and uncertain about his chances of surviving-- his visit to the planet wasn't a planned vacation, and it certainly won't be like one. But my biggest concern was having him seem completely naive and eating anything that looked halfway edible. With a simple solution like yours, it adds a little more credibility to the character, who needs to be beleivable since he is carrying the narrative all on his own.

    Thanks again!
     
  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I think they would have used up all their reserve rations, to even be considering scavenging.
    Also they may consider eating the dead, as it would be less dangerous than eating something
    that they haven't a clue if it is edible, nutritious, or toxic.

    The virus thing, @newjerseyrunner has pretty well covered.

    Ultimately they would have access to some kind of tech that would help them find resources,
    provided that some of that survived the crash. Would look pretty funny a tech-advanced guy
    running around with a dousing rod looking for water. Might even create those water collectors
    that use collect moisture from the air, and funnel it into jars or whatever they have available.
     
  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This actually just came up in a story I wrote, also fanfiction!

    @BayView kindly gave me a bit of vocab not too long ago: truthiness (which is not the same as truth)

    You have to decide whether genuine, real-world facts trump the reason for wanting to tell the story you are telling, and the accepted workarounds (truthinesses) we engage in the genre in order to tell those stories.

    The story I wrote was written in the Stargate Universe fandom, and if you know this part of the Stargate franchise, then you know that finding food on the many planets they hop-skippity-jump to is a central issue in the story. As already mentioned by @newjerseyrunner, the likelihood that edibles from a different planet would be of nutritional value to us is pretty low. Even when we look at Earthly foods, not everything edible is going to support us. For example, while it's absolutely feasible for a human to exist solely on vegetable matter (bajillions of vegans do it every day), it can't just be any vegetable matter. We can't graze on grass, for example, and expect to live. Humans lack the digestive system to extract enough nutrition from just grass, unlike a horse or a wildebeest. We would die if that was all we had, and grass and humans evolved alongside one another.

    But...

    If we stick too close to reality, Stargate Universe simply cannot happen. The series would be over in as many episodes (and in as much time) as it takes for us to starve to death and the final episodes are a story about cannibalism. Now, clearly, that's not the story we want to tell or watch when we engage the crew of the Destiny, so, we tell some lies as regards how the crew manages to get nutrition.

    So, I ask you in all honesty and without irony, what do you think is more important in the tell of your story?
     
  6. Al Fields

    Al Fields New Member

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    Thanks for the reply!

    He doesn't have any emergency supply or rations, as he crashes on an empty stolen cargo ship. Nor does he have any company with him on the planet. There won't be any humanoid creature encounters, but he will come across more animal-like aliens. I didn't consider having him hunt down any of them before, but I kind of like the idea of him finding a near-dead creature and deciding to put it out of it's misery before eating it. It makes for an intense last resort, as he's actively shot at and "killed" many robots in the context of the series, but I imagine killing a living-breathing creature wouldn't sit as easy.

    Collecting moisture from the air is probably the smartest idea as well when it comes to the hydration aspect. It is raining heavily when he arrives and it doesn't show any obvious affect on him, but it's fully possible the rainfall is harmful to digest in large quantities, and he'd have no way of telling. Which goes back to trial and error, and maybe a little bit of luck.
     
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  7. Al Fields

    Al Fields New Member

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    This is a wonderful addition and I appreciate you pointing out that I could be detracting from the suspension of disbelief that goes hand in hand with many of these sci-fi stories. Its a great reminder: one that a lot of fan-fiction writers should remember. Usually when I write a story that belongs in the context of another universe, I use the same tone and the same rules from the universe itself. I don't feel the need to overexplain anything because as you said, there's no point in sticking too close to reality.

    But for the purpose of this story, I do want it to be a more accurate-to-life telling.

    When I started this, it was with full intention that I decided I wanted it to be more grounded and more reality based than the series itself. The show tends to be more fantastical and fun-- which are both aspects I would never want to change about it-- but I also thought it would be an interesting exercise to branch away from that and tell a story that is a little darker and more personal. I think this particular character doesn't have a lot of self confidence and isn't even entirely sure he's going to be rescued by his crew. He's young and afraid in the face of unfamiliarity. These are characteristics the show will hint at, but never fully fleshes it out because a large fraction of its audience is children.

    Stargate is wonderful, by the way.
     
  8. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Rain should be safe to drink on any planet. The act of being vaporized, then condensing back down removes impurities. The first few inches of rain may be contaminated by airborne pollutants either from a civilization or from things like the alien version of pollen, but after that, the water from the sky is perfectly clean.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    How long is he there? A solution that would work for ten days may be quite different from a solution that would work for ten months.

    Could the planet be one that was abandoned after a failed attempt at terraforming or some such thing?
     
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  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    I'm going to apologize ahead of time because this isn't going to be helpful at all, but wouldn't it be hilarious if the only sign of civilization on the planet was a fully staffed, fully functional diner? Silly and inexplicable, I know, but that's the kind of story I would write. Not that that helps the OP or anyone else, but that's the first thing that jumped into my head. MC wanders the planet for a bit, debating whether he/she should try eating this or eating that, and then BOOM... there's a diner in the middle of the jungle. Turn the shipwreck/survival trope on its head!

    (unless, of course, it's Star Trek fanfic, of which, there's probably half a dozen episodes where they find restaurants, nightclubs, or hotels on otherwise deserted planets)
     
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  11. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    "The Royale" from Next Generation immediately came to my mind when you mentioned a random fully functioning establishment in the middle of a barren planet.
     
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  12. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Yeah, the one with the casino and all the toughs? That's what I was thinking too. Wasn't that recreated from a bad pulp novel aliens found in the wreckage of a human ship or something?

    I'm derivative as fuck, apparently.
     
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  13. Privateer

    Privateer Senior Member

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    Virus infection isn't a problem but if that planet has lifeforms analogous to fungus or bacteria your guy could be in deep doo-doo.

    What your body runs on is glucose- what if the things on this planet don't use or contain it or any fats or long chain carbohydrates that our bodies can break down into it? Expending the energy hunting and killing some freaky alien only to find out that their body chemistry chiefly utilises some other substance that he can't metabolise would be a bit of a bummer.
     
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  14. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I mentioned that, but it’s actually even worse than that. Glucose is a semi-symmetrical molecule. It has a corkscrew shape and in natural processes, that’s corkscrew can wind in either direction. Earth life metabolizes only sugar with a left handed chirality.
     
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  15. Maggie May

    Maggie May Active Member

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    Survival training teaches you that you can live without air for 3 minutes, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. If your character had this kind of training, he would prioritize what he plans and does.
     
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  16. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Potatoes again? Supporter Contributor

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    I hate citing Wikihow, but this article is pretty solid for testing to see if a plant is safe. It won't tell you if it's nutritious, but starvation takes longer than toxicity.
     
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  17. Al Fields

    Al Fields New Member

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    No need to apologize. This has had me cracking up hard for a while. I'm almost tempted to write something like that in just for the laughs. The protagonist is injured and fighting off hysteria when he turns a few corners and bam. Hard Rock Cafe.
     
  18. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Potatoes again? Supporter Contributor

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    Somehow I glossed past that post, but...

    I'd still be pretty careful with food from the Hard Rock. Follow the protocols, it's the only way to be sure :)
     
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  19. TheRealStegblob

    TheRealStegblob Kill All Mages Contributor

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    Okay so basically as others have already explained, you don't necessarily need to worry about the schematics of trying to eat alienballs you find on another planet or whatever. Science fiction allows you to conveniently ignore the fact that humans probably wouldn't be able to eat things on another planet, assuming theories that life on other planets would likely/have to follow very close biological laws to life on our own (and therefore would end up looking pretty much just like our planet and not a cool alien worldscape) aren't credible.

    So what you're looking for is survival writing. A link was already provided to testing if plant matter is poisonous for human consumption, so I'd suggest you research more into survival tactics, especially in the "determining the nutritional value and edibility of food".

    I'd imagine someone stranded on an alien planet would want to establish a way of getting food that is as low effort and low energy-consuming as possible for the highest amount of food/calorie return as possible. Perhaps your MC finds an alien creature that builds nests on the ground and lays eggs, so they make carefully stealing eggs a staple of their diet? Perhaps their only access to water is salt water, so they have to rig a home-fashioned water purifier up.

    You should read a lot of survival stories in general, if you haven't already. Being lost on an alien world that humans could actually survive on wouldn't end up being much different from being stuck out in the woods, only you can make up all your own cool alien geography and weather and creatures and stuff.
     

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