Aha Moment: Carl Zimmer on Giant Sandworms

Feature

Friday, January 24, 2014

The science writer Carl Zimmer was 10 years old when his family moved to rural New Jersey. He quickly made a new friend whose father was the prolific science fiction illustrator John Schoenherr.  

Zimmer hadn’t read Dune, or seen Schoenherr’s unforgettable illustrations of sandworms. He was stunned by the realism of the artist’s imagination. “He was trying to make real landscape art,” Zimmer explains, informed by his studies of geology and the natural world. “He would try to paint some alien sandworm or Chewbacca-like monster as carefully as Dürer might have drawn a rabbit.”

That attention to detail made Zimmer look at life on Earth differently. “I started to realize that actually living things on Earth are aliens in a way,” an idea that’s the backbone of Zimmer’s own work. “I love writing about bizarre biology here on Earth because there’s no end of it. I started to appreciate that sitting in his studio and looking at these things he was painting.”

 

→ Is there a painting, song, movie, or another work of art that has changed your life? Tell us in a Comment below, or by e-mail.

 

Slideshow: Jack Schoenherr’s paintings

<em>Man into Space</em>. Special cover painting for the April 1962 issue of <em>Analog Science Fact / Science Fiction</em>.
John Schoenherr (Courtesy of the Estate of John Schoenherr)

Man into Space

Special cover painting for the April 1962 issue of Analog Science Fact / Science Fiction. According to Schoenherr’s son Ian, the piece was originally titled Anything You Can Do and complemented an editorial that advocated sending man into space.

Cover art for John Rackham’s 1965 novel <em>We, the Venusians</em>.
John Schoenherr/Ace Books (Courtesy of the Estate of John Schoenherr)

Cover art for John Rackham’s 1965 novel We, the Venusians.

Cover art for A. E. Van Vogt’s 1970 novel <em>Quest for the Future</em>.
John Schoenherr/Ace Books (Courtesy of the Estate of John Schoenherr)

Cover art for A. E. Van Vogt’s 1970 novel Quest for the Future.

These illustrations for George R. R. Martin’s 1975 novelette <em>And Seven Times Never Kill Man</em> anticipated — and arguably inspired — the wookies of Star Wars.
John Schoenherr/Analog Science Fact/Science Fiction (Courtesy of the Estate of John Schoenherr)

These illustrations for George R. R. Martin’s 1975 novelette And Seven Times Never Kill Man anticipated — and arguably inspired — the wookies of Star Wars.

<em>Desert Nightmare </em> Illustration from Frank Herbert’s 1978 <em>Dune</em> calendar.
John Schoenherr (Courtesy of the Estate of John Schoenherr)

Desert Nightmare

Illustration from Frank Herbert’s 1978 Dune calendar.

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Guests:

Carl Zimmer

Produced by:

Julia Lowrie Henderson

Comments [2]

Moreno Ferreira from Huntington, NY

I went on an epic trip at the age of 18 right after high school that started with me in a 1973 Volkswagen Westfalia camper and hitchhiking in the USA and ended with me traveling all over Brazil, my birthplace, when I got my Green Card. I was inspired by a book I read in high school for summer reading called Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon. I visited a few of the places that he visited, including the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Georgia.

Feb. 03 2014 09:45 PM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

This is more like it! These are beautiful conceptions - they are simultaneously illuminating windows into the future AND the past.

Shoenherr's works, Like those of Ron Cobb and Syd Mead and others bridged the present and the future with real understanding of real engineering problems as well as with soaring imagination and subtle beauty. They're real treasures.

Jan. 26 2014 05:09 AM

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