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New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

Interview with a Saber Tooth Tiger

Note: this article first appeared as a guest blog post in Scientific American.

Lions, Chauvet
Cave lion(esse)s, Aurignacian era, Chauvet cave, France

From our science correspondent AA.

AA: We’re in a cave at an undisclosed location on the Himalayas, interviewing Ms. Lilypad, a saber tooth tiger. Ms. Lilypad, what made you agree to this interview after your species has lived incognito for literally millennia?

LP: I got tired listening to the TED goombahs going on and on about de-extinction. So I decided to write my memoirs. Why should everyone get rich and famous but us?

AA: Were you able to find agent representation?

LP: (Extends a claw towards an avalanche of printouts). They’re falling all over themselves, but most are suggesting chewtoys as royalties. What do they take us for, wolves?

AA: Everyone thought you’d gone extinct. How did you manage to survive?

LP: We had to leave yaks alone, couldn’t afford to arouse suspicions. We scraped along by carefully harvesting yetis — and the occasional climbing expedition when things got really lean. Though humans are more trouble than they’re worth, with all that extra stuff to remove. Do you know how bad GoreTex tastes? Plus it wreaks havoc with our digestion.

AA: How did you manage to escape detection, especially after the advent of sophisticated surveillance technologies?

LP: Whenever we crossed in front of one of those silly hidden cameras, we clapped a paw over our fangs. The National Geographic doofuses thought we were Siberian tigers (snickers and grooms her whiskers).

AA: Are the others in your group on board with breaking cover after all this time?

LP: Most are. The warmup made the yeti population plummet. Also made them tougher to chew. We’re all looking forward to real food, like mammoth steaks (starts opening a jar of horseradish sauce).

AA: But if you eat mammoths, you’ll drive them back into extinction!

LP: Do you want to have an unregulated mammoth population explosion? If we don’t do our part, they’ll trample everything into mud! (Sniffs the horseradish sauce, wrinkles her nose). Besides, you’re a fine one to talk. Rapacious bipeds.

AA: Point taken. Where would you prefer to live, given a choice?

LP: The Siberian cousins tell us things look pretty grim up there. Similar reports from the Polar Bear Bureau on Greenland and Nunavut. Antarctica has a good food supply, though the habitat… We considered zoos but the photos look awful. I mean, aluminum bathtubs? Circuses are better – at least you get to do something. So we got proactive, put together a proposal for cleanup services. Sent it to big-city mayors.

AA: What was the response?

LP: Guarded. On the other hand, we got eager queries from cartels and military leaders.

AA: How much territory would you require?

LP: Something the size of Rhode Island. (Pause). Per tiger.

AA: Would you consent to being part of scientific investigations? Experimentations?

LP: We’re flexible. But after watching a few episodes of Nova, we’re really wary. Some things are off the list for sure. Ixnay to tranquilizer darts and forced mating. (Eyes correspondent’s arm) Mind if I test the horseradish sauce on you?

AA: Bad idea.

LP: Ok. (Grumbles under her breath).

AA: What do you think of the transhumanists’ ideas about uplift?

LP: We saber tooth tigers are already as uplifted as we want and need to be.

AA: What about their concept of turning predators into loving vegetarians?

LP: Send them over, we can discuss this face to face (starts opening a jar of wasabi). Send over the guys who think that tiger parts cure impotence, while you’re at it.

AA: Speaking of that, have you had cubs of your own?

LP: A few. Hard to find nice males with a decent genetic pedigree. Plus they try to expand into your territory afterwards, as if one mating gives them lifelong rights (growls). Also hard to teach the cubs good hunting habits, with all the skulking and hiding we’ve had to do.

AA: Are you looking forward to becoming part of the world?

LP: We do the live-and-let-live thing, everyone’s happy.

AA: By the way, isn’t Lilypad an odd name for a top-of-the-chain predator?

Pad 2SLP: My mom named me after the tiger in Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ Animal Wife, whose pawprints looked like water lily leaves. (Purrs). She read a lot – winters here are long!

On the right: Lilypad stealthily concealing her giveaway fangs (photo: Peter Cassidy, staff photographer).

Related: Interview with a Yeti

20 Responses to “Interview with a Saber Tooth Tiger”

  1. Caliban says:


  2. Athena says:

    Lilypad is in earnest!

  3. intrigued_scribe says:

    Interesting, funny post!

  4. Athena says:

    I thought you might like it! *smile*

  5. Christopher Phoenix says:

    Haha, funny post!! XD

    Speaking of uplift, I have recently become interested in Cordwainer Smith’s fiction, the writer who wrote the short story “The Lady Who Sailed the Soul”.

    Many of the interconnected stories involve the “Underpeople”- transgenic animals that have been engineered into a somewhat-human form and used for slave labor, like the turtle people who run the interstellar ship in “The Crime and Glory of Commander Suzdal”. Which points out a problem with creating intelligent creatures- they would likely be viewed as property of those who created them. Which may become a problem once they learn to say the word “no”.

  6. Athena says:

    Cordwainer Smith’s Underpeople cycle is a true classic — in my opinion, it’s among the best SF takes on the fraught issue of uplift. It’s also well-written in the bargain, with several interesting characters (C’mell for one, speaking of cats!)

  7. Walden2 says:

    That was the plot in the 1972 SF film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Various primates are used as slave labor in the distant future year of 1991 after a virus killed off all the pets.

    The apes begin to revolt against their masters and eventually win, bringing about the society we saw in the original Planet of the Apes film – though the first film made it pretty clear everything came about due to nuclear war. Maybe that happened as a last-ditch effort by the otherwise defeated humans after the events in Conquest?

    For all the weaknesses the Apes series had after the first film, they still contained important social messages which cannot be said about many SF films that followed, especially in the post-Star Wars era.

    Though I am happy to say I am beginning to see hints that cinema is starting to make SF films with some brains and something of substance to say.

  8. Athena says:

    Not if you judge by the upcoming Star Trek and Oblivion trailers…

  9. Walden2 says:

    The new Star Trek franchise I consider to be a lost cause. Oblivion I am on the fence about until I see it. There are some other SF films coming out this year such as The Purge and Elysium which, while likely not knocking 2001 off its perch, at least have interesting ideas:

    Then again, I thought Cowboys and Aliens would at least be good popcorn fun and it was not even that.

  10. Athena says:

    Oblivion is Wall-E with Tom Cruise (and two Eves half his age, to show that he’s still a hot alpha male hero). Pity he’s less expressive than the Pixar incarnation. It’s also 2001 except the monolith is evil, Independence Day with a Matrix/Moon premise… the third-hand derivative schlock goes on indefinitely.

  11. Walden2 says:

    I will let this quote from the article I link to below speak for itself:

    Abrams admitted to Entertainment Weekly that he was more of Star Wars fan growing up. “All my smart friends like Star Trek,” he said, “I preferred a more visceral experience.” Abrams went on to tell EW that he took on the reboot of Star Trek in hopes of creating a film that “grabbed me the way Star Wars did.”

  12. Athena says:

    Yep. “Star Trek go boom!” Couldn’t say it better myself.

  13. Caliban says:

    Coincidentally, just last night one of my friends commented that Abrams’ Star Trek was really just Star Wars. Of course he couldn’t make Star Wars much worse than Lucas already did….

    I know this is off topic but I’d love to see a Mike Leigh version of Star Trek/Wars…. heh

  14. Athena says:

    You’re right on both counts! But turning ST into SW is a fundamental betrayal even if both Lucas and Abrams were good directors. Star Trek is very far from perfect, but its default setting was thinking things through, rather than making things go boom.

  15. Caliban says:

    Exactly. What I was trying to say, imperfectly, is that in my humble opinion changing Star Trek–precisely because it *was* about thinking things through — is a bigger betrayal than any possible changes to Star Wars, which as you’ve dissected much more eloquently, is an incoherent mismash of revenge and monasticism…

  16. Athena says:

    Plus heavy-duty adoration of feudal hierarchies and blood purity. At least Star Trek was socially progressive and science-friendly (or tried hard to be, within the limit/ations of Hollywood). I wonder how many kids who swish plastic “light sabers” realize what pernicious paradigms they’re literally buying into.

  17. Robert van der Heide says:

    Wonderful example of the “short short” SF story!

  18. Walden2 says:

    I saw Oblivion this past Sunday. I could tell that someone at least thought they were trying to make a good SF film, which these days I guess is a good thing.

    Among the pluses were really nice effects which included some beautiful scenery, much of which was not dark for a change. I also liked the fact that there were actual moments in the film where everything and everyone were quiet. Really quiet. Pretty amazing for a summer blockbuster, where every moment has to be filled with shouting, screaming, explosions, and killing or attempting to kill, like in Iron Man 3, which I saw the day before.

    A perceptive review here:

    In it is a piece on the twelve SF films Oblivion stole from:

    It’s nice to know that we will be sending a manned mission to Titan in 2017, which was news to me. :^)

  19. Athena says:

    Yes, they stole concepts from everything that wasn’t nailed down!

  20. Walden2 says:

    19 June 2013

    ** Contact information appears below. **

    Text & Images:


    It is likely some of the most widespread and oldest art in the United States. Pieces of rock art dot the Appalachian Mountains, and research by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, anthropology professor Jan Simek finds each engraving or drawing is strategically placed to reveal a cosmological puzzle.

    Recently, the discoveries of prehistoric rock art have become more common. With these discoveries comes a single giant one — all these drawings and engravings map the prehistoric peoples’ cosmological world.

    The research led by Simek, president emeritus of the UT system and a distinguished professor of science, is published in this month’s edition of the journal Antiquity at The paper is co-authored by Nick Herrmann of Mississippi State University, Alan Cressler of the U.S. Geological Survey, and Sarah Sherwood of The University of the South.

    The researchers proposed that rock art changed the natural landscape to reflect a three-dimensional universe central to the religion of the prehistoric Mississippian period.

    “Our findings provide a window into what Native American societies were like beginning more than 6,000 years ago,” said Simek. “They tell us that the prehistoric peoples in the Cumberland Plateau, a section of the Appalachian Mountains, used the rather distinctive upland environment to map their conceptual universe onto the natural world in which they lived.”

    Simek and his team analyzed 44 open-air art sites where the art is exposed to light and 50 cave art sites in the Cumberland Plateau using nondestructive, high-tech tools, such as a high-resolution laser scanner. Through analysis of the depictions, colors and spatial organization, they found that the sites mimic the Southeastern native people’s cosmological principles.

    “The cosmological divisions of the universe were mapped onto the physical landscape using the relief of the Cumberland Plateau as a topographic canvas,” said Simek.

    The “upper world” included celestial bodies and weather forces personified in mythic characters that exerted influences on the human situation. Mostly open-air art sites located in high elevations touched by the Sun and stars feature these images. Many of the images are drawn in the color red, which was associated with life.

    The “middle world” represented the natural world. A mixture of open-air and cave art sites hug the middle of the plateau and feature images of people, plants and animals of mostly secular character.

    The “lower world” was characterized by darkness and danger, and was associated with death, transformation and renewal. The art sites, predominantly found in caves, feature otherworldly characters, supernatural serpents and dogs that accompanied dead humans on the path of souls. The inclusion of creatures such as birds and fish that could cross the three layers represents the belief that the boundaries were permeable. Many of these images are depicted in the color black, which was associated with death.

    “This layered universe was a stage for a variety of actors that included heroes, monsters and creatures that could cross between the levels,” Simek said.

    Interestingly, weapons are rarely featured in any of the art sites.

    Simek said the scale of the rendering is most impressive, noting the Cumberland Plateau was a sacred setting, spanning hundreds of miles, in which individual sites were only parts of a greater conceptual whole.


    Whitney Heins
    +1 865-974-5460



    This art features a bird holding ceremonial maces and a ceremonial monolithic axe transforming into a human face.


    Jan Simek, Alan Cressler, Nicholas Herrmann, and Sarah Sherwood/Antiquity Publications Ltd.