Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Along the Ashfold Road
by Robert Dawson

Big Boost
by N.E. Chenier

Ceres Beach Resort
by Paul Michael Moreau

by Michael Hodges

Space Squid!
by Myke Edwards

Dahlia and the Ronin
by Milo James Fowler

A Self-Digging Well
by Jay Fuller

World Without Rot
by Erin Lale

Water Finds Its Path
by Robert Lowell Russell

Turning Humans On
by Antha Ann Adkins


Biology of a Hyper-Evolved Theropod
by John McCormick

How Airplanes Fly, Really
by Eric M. Jones

You’ve Got Fantasy in My Science!
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Biology of a Hyper-Evolved Theropod

By John McCormick

GODZILLA IS BACK ONCE AGAIN in theaters and the question, aside from the eternal why posed by the production of any sequel, is just how could such a creature exist in Earth’s environment?

The larger question is just how does the real world of science fit with either giant or miniature versions of animals or people.

As a sea creature, indicated by her introduction to the world where she first appeared in the ocean in the 1954 movie, GodzIlla could easily grow to large size. In fact, Gojira, the original name (as close as you can come to the original Japanese) is a combination of the two Japanese characters for gorilla and whale. But just because she has developed supported by the buoyancy in water doesn’t mean she could walk out of Tokyo Harbor and stomp the city to rubble.

Altered size was a major theme of 1950s science fiction movies whether it was giant people, giant spiders, giant lizards, or, at the opposite end, miniaturized people.

Whether we are talking about Godzilla or a 50-foot woman (centerfold/ cheerleader, etc., I will call them collectively Eve 2.0), we are faced with some basic biology that is necessarily ignored by movie makers. Of course we know they can ignore obvious problems when we see the casting of Matthew Broderick (“Wargames” and “Ferris Bueller”) as a semi-hero in a monster movie!

We all probably feel intuitively that there is something basically wrong with increasing the height of a woman by ten times or shrinking Raquel Welch to cellular size (“Fantastic Voyage”), but just what science, if any, is involved when you scale up or scale down a biological entity?

Scaling up is conceptually easy, just eat a lot and add more mass.

But what about shrinking a body? Do cells decrease in size? If so, how? Do you remove every other atom/molecule thereby reducing the mass? Do the atoms themselves shrink, i.e., the distance between the electron shells and the nuclei decreases (which means the mass would stay the same)? Or does the distance between atoms in molecules shrink (again mass is constant)? Do cell surface areas alter the way they process energy? Does muscle increase or decrease in size and strength? How about signals between nerves, either between the spinal cord and the limbs or within the brain?

In any of the scenarios where the mass remains the same you quickly approach a size/mass ratio where the density would cause the body to fall through any conceivable physical support, plunging the body to the Earth’s core.

(Note: Throughout this report I refer to Godzilla as “she” because there are no obvious external sex organs, and I believe in strong female characters in cinema, not, as some people might think, because only a female could get that angry over something as minor as having her undersea home disturbed by a hydrogen bomb. As the infamous quote from “Species” had it, as Ben Kingsley said of Sil, we decided to make it female so it would be more docile and controllable. Whereupon the “hunter” asked if he had been out much recently.)

The Math

Yes, Virginia, there really is a use for geometry.

As with most things in life as we approach the bottom line it all comes down to the math. I often think that the ability to use math and, more importantly, to possess a basic grasp of just how important math really is, could be the basic definition of what makes a scientific mind.

Since there is no “normal” size version of Godzilla and therefore we can’t look at how an increase in size affects the physics and biology of the creature, we’ll begin with a few calculations related to Eve 2.0, our 50-foot woman, comparing her to the regular size version.

To keep things simple, let’s take as a basic assumption that Eve 2.0 was originally five feet tall so after the growth spurt she is now exactly ten times taller.

Setting aside the question of just how she gained the mass to go from a petite five feet to a statuesque 50 feet faster than you can say “Pork Beach Diet,” just consider the math involved at the most basic level.

At first glance it seems obvious: double the height and you double the mass. But it is not that simple. If you double the height of a solid object, you must also double the width and depth to keep the same shape.

Because there are three dimensions, when you double those you cube the volume. At the same time you only square the surface area, which has some serious consequences of its own.

If Eve 2.0 is made of the same meat and bones as her five foot version, she will have the same density and therefore her volume and weight will increase by 10^3 or 1,000 times and given a petite 100 pounds at five feet, she would weigh a more substantial 100,000 pounds or 50 tons at 50 feet.

Now let’s look at Eve 2.0 in detail, starting at the bottom and working our way up her less than dainty frame. Those petite size five feet that were nine inches long are now 90 inches long and proportionately wide. That sounds like a challenge to Ferragamo designers but the challenge is actually for Eve 2.0 whose feet have a surface area supporting her weight, which has squared in area while her weight has cubed.

That means when she is walking there are times when one relatively small foot must support her entire 50 tons. Running would put that weight just on the toes and ball of the foot—a crushing weight.

At pre-growth size, each square inch of her foot only has to support about three pounds maximum when walking, and only 1.5 pounds when standing flat on both feet.

At a 50-foot height, each foot must support about 27 pounds per square inch when walking. That’s the same pressure as a automobile car tire (27 psi isn’t far from the average tire pressure).

Would she be looking for Birkenstocks or perhaps a pair of fancy rhinestone studded sandals? No, Eve 2.0 would be shopping for steel-reinforced concrete arch supports.

Moving up past her ankles we come to a true Achilles Heel—the tibia and fibula. Her leg bones are simply not strong enough to support her massive weight because the strength of a bone is proportional to its cross sectional area, which we know from above has only been squared while, once again, the weight it must support is cubed. That means the bone has 100 times more strength but is subjected to 1000 times more pressure, a sure recipe for a broken leg with every step.

Moving farther up the legs, we have knee joints tendons and muscles, all of which are being asked to support ten times more weight than before.

Hip joints come next but the same arguments apply so let’s move on to that six-pack any well-built model would be sporting. Consider how much muscle tone is required to hold in that enormous amount of gut—stomach, liver, kidneys, and intestines—the only large mass in the body not surrounded by some sort of bone cage.

Ascending further, we have the heart and lungs. The cardiovascular system is no longer able to pump blood to the head with a measly pressure equal to 50 mm of mercury (systolic 110, 60 diastolic). Also, of course, the lungs have a surface area which is squared but must provide oxygen for the new cubed body mass.

As for her breasts, which are usually shown in a loosely tied shirt, Eve 2.0 had better be an “A” cup because her skin wouldn’t be strong enough to support 8,000 pound breasts—the skin would tear.

As for those beautiful blues, evidence from nature shows that a 50-foot woman would either have tiny, piggy-like eyes, or would be nearly blind. It works like this—the rods and cones of a retina are of a specific size because they must be a50 foot woman certain ratio related to the wavelengths of light in various visible colors.

It turns out that while a mouse has much smaller eyes than a human, the rods and cones are nearly the same size; there are just fewer of them and, therefore, mice see less acutely than people can but they will see approximately the same spectrum.

At the other end of the size scale, an elephant’s eye is tiny compared to its size, not really significantly larger than a human eye.

Apply this to Eve 2.0 and if her eyes are proportional to her face she would have massive vision problems.

In fact, the place in which Eve 2.0 would be most comfortable would be exactly where the average teen boy would prefer to see her—in a swimming pool or hot tub. The buoyancy of the water is necessary to relieve the strained skin and muscles as well as protect those bird-fragile bones.

But the hot tub idea presents another question, that of how much heat she generates internally (2,000 calories at five feet equals two million calories for the 50 foot incarnation bit then only if she is relatively sedentary) and how her body gets rid of that heat.

Human skin radiates most of the body’s heat to keep the temperature at 98.6 F. Not so much of a problem for a cold blooded reptile such as Godzilla.

But for a human we once again run into the square vs. cube problem. The amount of heat which needs to be radiated is 1,000 times greater but the skin’s surface area is only 100 times greater.

Eve 2.0 would literally be too hot to handle.

Historical Documentaries

In 1993, Daryl Hannah grew angry in the TV remake of the 1958 original “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”

A blatantly exploitative documentary, “Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader” in 2012 took advantage of a poor co-ed who suffered adverse side effects from a beauty enhancement drug she took in an effort to impress the cheerleading squad. This was produced by famed documentary filmmaker Roger Corman.

An earlier documentary produced by Corman in 1995 conclusively demonstrated the accuracy of the well-known proposition that centerfolds are superior in every way to ordinary women. Although ordinary angry women were a mere 50 feet tall, the centerfold variety sports a more statuesque stature as indicated in the title “Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold” with most of the additional 10 foot height predictably being in the legs.

While these movies show empowered (and powerful) domineering women, there is never any explanation of why they all seem so angry and want to “attack” as soon as they reach their full growth.

There has been some speculation that they are angry at discovering they now have to shop in Lane Bryant and shave their legs with a lawn mower.

Exploring the Big G Spot

Understanding that there is a “vas deferens” between males and females, I see no evidence that Godzilla is a male and because reptiles (and mammals) all start out female I’m supposing that the ocean temperature that prevailed when Godzilla was hatching was consistently warmer due to the atomic tests and proximity to the Pacific volcanic rift. (Reptiles often have their sex decided by the exact temperature of the egg during a certain period of incubation and there is no reason to think Godzilla eggs are any different.)

We know the current Godzillas were born about the time of the first atomic bomb explosion because, as explained below, they appear to still be growing/maturing.

Discussing the biomechanics of Godzilla is more problematic than analyzing the biology of giant women since there is no “normal” sized something-a-saurus to show us how such a creature should work when scaled up. Godzilla is, so to speak, already scaled up and we are presented with a creature which exists as the earliest documentary shows.

Size variations occurred in later movies as Godzilla grew to keep up with the growth of skyscrapers in Tokyo. Originally Godzilla was 50 meters tall with an estimated length from tip of nose to tip of tail about 120 meters. The estimated weight was just under 800 tons.

Later movies seem to indicate that the original Godzilla was just a teen in the early ’50s because she kept growing and the with the latest Godzilla you can see enough differences to know there has been a series of the creatures, not just one, with the current creature reaching an estimated 107 meters tall in 2014.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” is the Americanized version of Ishiro Honda’s 1954 “Gojira” with actor Raymond Burr (Perry Mason and later Ironside) inserted in nearly every scene as an American reporter. Both versions are available for free if you have Amazon Prime.

Both Raymond Burr and Godzilla have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Godzilla’s star, in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, was awarded on the 50th anniversary of her first appearance. She reportedly sent a representative because she was embarassed by the language barrier.

In many ways, the various Godzillas are well designed; they certainly have a more practical physical structure than Eve 2.0.

To start with, the legs are short and thick and at a glance they just “look” as if they could support the giant saurian.

But problems remain. For example, what is that she shoots out of her mouth? Although she looks just like a little girl saving up spit, what comes out is some sort of heat or radioactive ray, perhaps an anti-matter or gamma burst ray, reinforcing the suggestion that Godzilla is actually atomic-powered, not just awakened by the radiation from a bomb but actually powered by a similar process leading to speculation that she actually came on land looking for a possible mate after having detected a similar radioactive pattern.

If she has that sort of energy internally, how does Godzilla get rid of the heat? Eve 2.0 has trouble, but she wasn’t evolved to deal with the problem whereas Godzilla was. But what if she is only able to cope with the internal heat when immersed in the cold ocean?

Is it possible that when she set fire to Tokyo it wasn’t due to anger? Perhaps it was just a reflex action, a natural elimination process getting rid of the heat buildup the only way she could. If so, obviously the large input of electrical energy from the Godzilla “barrier” made the situation worse and caused her body to expel more energy.

Does she even realize humans are being killed or that they have the slightest significance? After all, Godzilla is a creature of the ocean, probably deep ocean; she hadn’t been seen before except possibly by a few natives (and we all know that natives don’t count). Perhaps being from the deep ocean she has never encountered land creatures and has no more empathy for them than we do for the fish we say feel no pain when hooked out of their proper environment.

Or, is it noteworthy that a sea creature is stomping people in the only country in the world that hunts whales on a commercial basis?

(Note: Japan has a license, which it issues to itself, to take about 1,000 whales each year purely for research purposes. The meat from the research is sold in Japanese shops. One wag has suggested that the goal of Japan’s cetacean research was to determine if killing all the whales in the ocean would result in their extinction.)

Little Women

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to put women in their place by shrinking them down to perform cleaning chores (like blood vessels in 1966’s “Fantastic Voyage”), we don’t hesitate to miniaturize a busty female scientist in a skintight wetsuit to make a point.

Filmmakers experimented with a male in the 1957 “Incredible Shrinking Man,” and it is noteworthy that while giant women always “attack” the shrunken man was merely the much less threatening “incredible.” This couldn’t have been a documentary because the director had virtually everything completely wrong, beginning with the inch tall man’s ability to defend himself.

One scene shows the unfortunate shrunken man attacked by a spider. Due to the strength advantage of small critters the man should have been able to pick up something ten times his own weight and throw it at the spider at a dangerously high velocity. Certainly he would have found the pin he picked up to be a formidable weapon which he would wield as if it weighed almost nothing, not the massive weight as portrayed in the film.

Moving along to a more realistic version, in “Fantastic Voyage,” a documentary medical film, Raquel Welch is shrunken to help “man” a submarine that is supposed to clear a famous scientist’s arteries of 60 years of cheeseburgers.

One of the problems in making people this tiny is that their eyes will be too small to detect visible light. Another is that they are essentially the size of blood cells, which opens them up to bombardment by water molecules and having to deal with an incredible amount of surface tension.

Although their apparent sizes change quite a bit from one site to another in the body as the film progresses, they are generally much smaller than a speck of pollen.

That is an important point because in 1847 Robert Brown detected the motion of water molecules by watching how pollen particles were batted back and forth randomly in water, an effect named Brownian motion after the Scottish botanist.

Now picture just how difficult it would be to do any work outside their submarine when the voyagers are reduced to one-tenth the size of pollen?

They would literally be knocked from pillar to post, possibly unable to even stand, let alone control their arms.

Terminal Velocity

Although not strictly a survival characteristic, a look at the various terminal velocities of different size critters can help develop an intuitive feel for the important differences between big and small in biology.

Consider the spider. If you capture one and drop it out of your fifth floor apartment window, it won’t be crushed on the sidewalk unless someone happens to be stepping in just the wrong place when it lands.

Really small critters have a much lower terminal velocity than does a human.

For a person, terminal velocity in our atmosphere is about 120 mph, which lends verisimilitude to that classic dark joke about it not being the fall that hurts but that short, sharp splat when you stop.

Cats, on the other hand, are known for their ability to land on all fours, not just metaphorically but physically. Part of the reason for such remarkable ability such as a cat falling off a balcony and surviving, even running away when it lands, are due to the fact that a cat’s terminal velocity is far less than that of a human.

An elephant, on the other hand, can’t survive even a short fall, let alone one where its terminal velocity of about 200 mph would be reached. That ten foot trench around the elephant compound in a zoo is all it takes to pen them in.

The same would hold true for a much bigger 50 foot woman. While a shrunken man or woman would have no trouble jumping off a countertop or chair, they would also have little trouble jumping up to a chair seat.

Terminal velocity is that state where a falling object in atmosphere (or other fluid) stops accelerating. It occurs when the force of gravity is exactly balanced by the upward force of wind resistance and therefore depends on the density not just on the mass of the object but on the area as well.

Terminal velocity equals the square root of 2× mass × acceleration (g) divided by drag coefficient × area × density of the fluid.

This was in all likelihood the root of Aristotle’s belief that a heavier object would fall faster than a light one. The Greeks tended to ignore the air around them, which is difficult to believe, but seems to be the only conclusion despite their having built sailboats.

An example is simple—drop almost anything and a feather at the same time and the feather will fall slower because it has a much higher (surface area) drag to weight ratio. In a vacuum both would, of course, fall at the same rate.

The conclusion you might draw from all this is that a 50 foot woman would be impractical and a real danger not to others but to herself.

Godzilla, on the other hand, is obviously more realistic because she is not an inflated version of a smaller creature but was actually born to grow up into a giant sea creature and therefore is “designed” to fit her height and weight. END

Further Reading

Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader
“On Being the Right Size,” by J.B.S. Haldane
The Biology of B-Movie Monsters
“The Japanese Imagination of Disaster,” by Susan J. Napier

John McCormick is a trained physicist, science/technology journalist, and widely-published author with more than 17,000 bylines to his credit. He is a member of The National Press Club and the AAAS. His full bibliography can be accessed online.