“But Where’s Its Anus?”: On Alien Lifeforms

Jaime Green at LitHub:

I first read Carl Sagan’s Contact and Cosmos in high school, when I was working at a bookstore that let us borrow any book we had at least two copies of on the shelves. I loved them then and was excited to revisit these books in the course of my research for The Possibility of Life. A scene from Cosmos had stayed with me—and confounded me—for almost twenty years, and I was ready to make new sense of it. But when I got to the place in the book where the scene should have been, the chapter just ended.

Luckily, I was reading an e-book, so I could search anus… Zero results.

Let me explain.

The scene I remembered is in a classroom—I don’t know if Sagan was teacher or student—and the class is split into groups, each tasked with designing an alien life-form. The professor looks at their anatomy sketches and chides, “Where’s its anus?” What had haunted me across the decades was my confusion: Was the professor closed-minded, or were the students being careless?

more here.