Monday, July 13, 2009

Building a Werewolf


Some years back, Reaves and I were going to do a book featuring a scientifically-made werewolf. I went up Pill Hill in Portland, hit the medical library, interviewed a bunch of doctors, from dentists to endocrinologists, and came up with a way of doing it using known science, and one not-so-huge suspension of disbelief.

With one thing or another, we didn't get around to writing the book. In a recent discussion online, the subject came up, in a conversation about vampires, and I thought I'd offer my how-to-make-a-werewolf as an exercise in research ...

First, the caveat: The creature had to be created without magic, even though we could use some of those tropes if we could figure out a way.

So, armed with this, I set out, and was able to come up with a scenario that was fairly simple, once I had the notion. It involved combining some things that, while not likely, could be stretched enough to seem possible.

Pretty much, you could do it with hormones and drugs.

Hormones are potent chemicals, and under the right tweaking, could be made to accomplish almost all of the classical werewolf features. Add in a few known drugs ...

Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy and Lionel the Lion Faced Man, were certainly hairy enough, examples hypertrichosis. Genetic in these cases, but the medical literature has examples of people who suddenly sprouted hair, and a combination of hormones and drugs could do the trick.

Third-set dentition -- extra/super-numerary teeth -- are rare, but do happen, and there might be a way to encourage this.

Drugs and hormone storms can make somebody fantastically-strong, fairly impervious to pain or less than crippling injuries, and full of rage. Angel dust, Roid rage, amphetamines, narcotics, easy stuff here -- make them time-release via some kind of implant.

An allergy to silver? Not impossible ...

Now technically-speaking, Larry would be no more related to a wolf than you or I -- he'd just be a hairy, toothy, bad-tempered, strong human, but he would look the part and be able to act it.

The limits: First, it would take a while to change Larry into Wolfie. Months -- and even if you fudged this a little, you couldn't do so by much -- hair and teeth take time to grow. Call it six months, you can get away with it, but much less than three or four months, probably not.

Second, once changed, Larry isn't going back on his own. You could shave or depilate the hair, pull the teeth, get the implant out and he might eventually come to look something like he did before, but the hair and teeth are the easy part; balancing the hormones would take weeks or months. That's not counting the repairs his body would have to make to injuries because it didn't throttle down while leaping about -- torn this, cracked that.

Be a lot harder to make a vampire. You could come up with sunlight allergies, somebody who drank blood -- though the nutritional aspect of human blood simply isn't enough to keep somebody alive and healthy. Chemicals for strength would work, but the blur of super-speed and the ability to spider up and down walls or fly would be a tad beyond current science ...

8 comments:

James said...

Peter Watts, author of "Blindsight", came up with a rationale for vampires that involved them being predators on humans. Even came up with a reason for the whole crucifix aversion. He's a deep sea biologist and his books come with an appendix that cites the scientific research that underscores his themes and ideas. Good writer, to boot.

Anonymous said...

Louis Lamour liked 'wolfers' as tough neutrals- the hero could shoot them and not feel bad, or they could be impressed by his virtu and refuse to hit him while he was down.


Wolfers: guys who'd hunted wolves for bounty long enough to think like wolves.
Bruce

Dan Moran said...

I think I mentioned in a letter to Steve that he reminded me of L'Amour. Same ethic (same writing ethic, for that matter), same tone, same consistent professionalism. His matador novels remind me of L'Amour's Sackett sequence, too.

jks9199 said...

I'm trying to remember a short story or book I read; I thought it was Brin's The Giving Plague, but I just found it on-line and it doesn't match.

Anyway, the story ran that vampirism was some sort of virus, and that over time, it reaches enough of a population that the non-vampires who walk in the daylight, etc. are the "monsters"...

Dan Moran said...

You're probably thinking of Matheson's "I am Legend."

jks9199 said...

I don't think so, because this story had kind of a cycle; it was (like I Am Legend) focused on the last survivor, but it hypothesized that the vamps were kind of a population control, and that when they became over-populated, they would be driven out by non-vamps and go back and forth like that.

Steve Perry said...

The superhero Plot Device Man can rationalize most anything. The most recent vampire story I did was years ago, and in it, I had my vamp out in the daytime, wearing major sunblock and a Kevlar vest to stop stakes and/or arrows or bullets with crosses or wood embedded in them. I had fun doing it.

A couple times, I've taken a fairy tale and twisted it, and such offers interesting avenues for a story. Had a guy discover dinosaur bones in a cave once, turned out to belong to Puff the Magic Dragon ...

Lot of folks have tried to come up with reasons for vampires to exist other than supernatural ones. Ditto werewolves and zombies, et al.

Lucius Shepard's Green Eyes is a great example of a zombie-plague novel. I played with some zombie tropes recently in a book starring a certain well-known archeologist/adventurer. We all put our own spin on things.

Generally, the scientific efforts to make monsters leave out the supernatural stuff. Vampires who fly, don't cast shadows, or can't be seen in mirrors get left in the magic realm. No reason a cross should bother a Jewish vampire or a Hindu one, either ...

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

"the ability to spider up and down walls or fly would be a tad beyond current science ..."

Check out http://www.thought-criminal.org/article/node/1195

Not everyone would have the muscular strength to be able to climb vertical walls with those, I wouldn't, but there are plenty who would.