If you’ve read even a little of TUYO at this point, then you’ve met at least one Ugaro and a lot of Lau. You have undoubtedly noted that these two peoples are very different.
I made the difference much more extreme than you would see between any real-world populations, just as extreme as possible. I mean, the Ugaro are comfortable in short sleeves in the middle of a Canadian-style winter, as long as they can stay active. Their muscles don’t lock up in frigid water. It’s not as clear how extremely heat-adapted the Lau are, but eventually maybe we’ll see that; they are just as extreme.
Then I whammed the two peoples together in highly distinctive environments separated by about, what, a hundred yards or so rather than a couple thousand miles. Did anybody else wonder if the Ugaro and Lau are actually the same species, or is that just my own biology background showing?
How about theLakasha-erra of the far south? Does mentioning them make anybody wonder about this? I mentioned, but did not describe, the Tarashana of the far north, the starlit lands. I may come back to them later in another book; I left a definite plot hook for that, which some of you may have noticed. I think I know what they look like, which will also be highly distinctive.
Did anybody notice I suggested that a little bit of interbreeding may take place between Ugaro and Lau? Not a lot, and given the events in the story, you can probably see that any resulting children would probably wind up settling in the borderlands between the winter country and the summer country.
I’m actually not sure whether the two peoples are the same species or not. In story terms, it doesn’t matter — neither the Ugaro nor the Lau would think of it in the way a modern biologist would — but since I have a biology background, I do sort of wonder just how different two populations can get and still be considered the same species.
The “biological species definition” says that if two populations can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, they are the same species. This is not, of course, correct.
I would like to pause for a moment to emphasize the above statement. The biological species concept is a handy guideline, but it is not correct. It’s widely known, widely referenced, and frequently wrong. For example, grizzly bears and polar bears can interbreed and produce fertile offspring, but any fool can easily see that they are different species. There’s a loooong list of related species like this, so at this point I would really like to drive a stake through the heart of the biological species concept. It gets cited all over the place as though it’s Gospel Truth, which it isn’t, and it’s causing way more confusion than it’s worth.
There are (at least) three other species definitions in use today, if you’re curious: the evolutionary species concept, the phylogenetic species concept, and the morphological species concept. Personally I pretty much go with the morphological species concept: if it looks like the same species, it is; and if it doesn’t, it isn’t. “Looks like” includes behavioral and metabolic and for that matter DNA similarities and differences. In the real world, I want to emphasize, you’re always going to be able to argue around the edges because real organisms don’t necessarily feel inclined to follow textbook definitions.
One current school of thought declares that dogs and wolves are the same species. This is done because of a (wrong, imo) interpretation of DNA evidence. Let me just rapidly list important differences between dogs and wolves in order to illustrate the kinds of differences that I think are important but that some people are willing to ignore:
— Wolves, but not dogs, are pack animals and form relatively stable family packs in the wild with consistent positive (affiliative) and negative (agonistic) behaviors that support family pack formation. Dogs really do not do this, except for dingos. Dogs, including dogs living in the wild, don’t form the same kind of pair-bond between mated pairs, don’t show the same behaviors that maintain a pack, don’t generally show cooperative care of puppies, and just on and on. Dogs are highly social, but they are not actually pack animals.
–Dogs, but not wolves, can digest carbohydrates rather well. This doesn’t mean that a vegan diet is okay for a dog, but it means that a dog will starve to death much more slowly on such a diet than a wolf would, often living long enough to develop deficiency diseases rather than dying before those diseases turn up. You are safe to assume that I am absolutely disgusted by people who delude themselves into thinking it’s okay to feed their dog a vegan diet, but it is true the dog does not outwardly starve on this kind of diet as fast as a cat would. Or a wolf.
— Dogs have smaller teeth and weaker jaws than wolves of the same basic size. This is true of dogs that supposedly look like wolves, such as Siberian huskies and German shepherds, not just of, I don’t know, Pomeranians or whatever. Dogs have smaller brains relative to their body weight than wolves. Dogs have shorter legs proportionally, and smaller feet, and the head is rather different, and the eyes are seldom yellow, and on and on.
Based on all that, as far as I’m concerned, dogs and wolves are definitely not the same species. As an added perk, this lets me say much more firmly that wolves are terrible, terrible pets and that wolf-dog hybrids are also terrible, terrible pets. People who think dogs and wolves are the same species have a hard time saying this firmly enough and then people get wolves or high-percentage wolf hybrids, nearly all of which get put down young because the owner can’t cope, and I am now standing on a soapbox, so let me step down and bring this topic back to the two peoples we get a good look at in TUYO.
The Ugaro and the Lau — different enough to be two distinct species? Or not? I don’t actually know, but it was a question that drifted through my mind from time to time as I wrote the story. I think this is why I exaggerated the differences even more than necessary — for example, the Lau often live half again as long as the Ugaro, with a typical lifespan of well over a hundred years — did you notice that? But then I got rid of old age for the Ugaro just because it’s a nice thing to do — they may die younger, but they barely show their age till right at the end. (I wish I were aging like that, but alas.) So those are important differences.
Plus of course sorcery is a lot more common among the Lau. I could tell you why, but I think I’ll hold onto that worldbuilding detail in case I want to use it as a plot point sometime.
For me, the question of whether the Ugaro and Lau are the same species or not adds depth to the world and I enjoy thinking about it, even though they’re not nearly as different as, say, Tolkien’s humans and elves.