Evolution may be one of the most controversial scientific ideas in recent history, but it sure is boring to watch it happen in real life. That's why science fiction stories adhere to these 10 very special rules for evolution, just to make a long, complicated process into something totally rad.
1. There is a "next stage" of evolution and experts know what it's going to be.
Here's the deal, people. It's no fun to talk about how evolutionary changes are the result of adaptation to the environment because first of all what the hell are you talking about. Second of all, we are making an apolitical movie and we don't want any of this "inconvenient truth environment" stuff. That's why those guys in lab coats are staring at something in a microscope and saying, "It's the next stage in evolution!" Evolution is just like a story, and scientists have spoilers about the ending. Usually the "next stage" involves an ability to light things on fire using the power of your mind, or maybe turning into a room-sized throbbing brain.
2. You can de-evolve!
Evolution is not a series of random mutations in response to Al Gore, as we've already established. Which is why I can use this gun or drug or maybe high-energy particle beam to turn you into a chimp (or maybe a dinosaur if you are a goomba). Also, there is also the very real possibility that if you are too lazy or watch too much TV that your offspring will de-evolve by becoming stupider. Because when it's going "forward," evolution naturally pushes Homo sapiens towards cultural refinement and intellectual sophistication. Other animals not so much. Stop asking why sharks don't make operas even though they have been evolving for millions of years longer than we have.
3. Life can be "seeded."
We can seed the galaxy with our DNA so that no matter what the environmental conditions are, and no matter what life already exists on each planet, the results will be humanoids. Just toss out your DNA onto a barren world with some kind of egg timer gene so that at exactly the right moment you'll get the perfect form of life: an ape that walks on two legs.
4. Your ancestors are always white.
Somebody once said that humans evolved in Africa, and that Homo sapiens were all black people when they started exploring the Earth. But that can't possibly be true because our ancestors are aliens who are so white you can practically see through their skin to the perfectly pink muscles underneath. We are all descended from super-caucasians who are basically gods and seeded the galaxy with their techno-sperm.
5. Radiation will create a new species of "mutants."
OK, so we all agree that radiation creates mutations. That means your DNA is being twisted into weird new shapes that turn you into a cannibal or a frog-faced pimp, but either way you'll definitely be living underground. Also, these radiation mutations will never do anything boring like give you cancer, or cause a whole range of birth defects. Every single mutation will be exactly the same in every person, instantly creating a new species. A corollary to this rule is that the sudden uniformity of these mutations will likely lead to a situation where non-mutated women are restlessly roaming the landscape searching for non-mutated men so that they can strap said men into sperm extraction machines and restart humanity.
One gene can give you wings, turn you into a gelatinous cube, give you laser eyes, or allow you to kill with a touch. In fact, this same gene will manifest as different superpowers in each person who possesses it. Duh.
7. Evolution can happen really fast!
If there is enough pollution in the environment, it will only take a few years for cockroaches to evolve into human-sized creatures that will eat your head. Evolutionary biology is just that awesome. In addition, I have a gun/beam/whatever that can evolve you so rapidly that you wake up as a horny newt tomorrow, regardless of where you are. Luckily, I can reverse it. Also, see rule 6.
8. It's the ultimate predator!
The thing about predators is that they transcend their ecosystems. They aren't predators in the context of prey species, because as we all know there is such a thing as a creature for whom everything is prey on every planet, in every corner of the galaxy. Obviously the features humans think of as predatory — like having armor and teeth and acid weapons — are dangerous to all creatures, all the time. Just think about it. You can also build the ultimate predator by taking a cute fuzzy animal, fighting it against a bad guy, and then making a new, stronger animal out of the DNA of the defeated fuzzyface. Just iterate this process a million times, and your fuzzy creature has become the harbinger of doom across all the known worlds. It's a tried and true formula.
9. Genetically-engineered organisms will look like hot women.
Except sometimes they will have poison-tipped tails. Or maybe they will grow tails, but only when they are naked. If they don't look like hot women with tails, they will look like hideous monsters or they will be microscopic.
10. Humanity is the pinnacle of evolution.
We have already established that evolution moves in one set direction, and that when humans evolve they always get superpowers or become geniuses who never watch TV. If any other animal is going to start evolving (really fast, of course) then it naturally follows that it will start becoming more human. That's why superintelligent lab rats form tiny cities full of rodents in lab coats. And it's why apes who evolve to the "next stage" do all the things that humans would do, like form governments and ride horses and wear silly outfits. Once you start evolving, you automatically go the human route. Either that, or you evolve to hate and kill humans even after humans have left the planet. It probably has something to do with our white alien ancestors seeding the galaxy with their pre-programmed DNA.
Annalee Newitz is the author of the book, Scatter, Adapt and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction. Follow her on Twitter.