Falling asleep last night, feeling replete and self-satisfied from an evening spent not-watching the Oscars — yeah, I’m just a rebel that way — I played a thought-game: What are the ten physically largest living beings in all of science fiction? Here’s my list, biggest to smallest, generated — I might add, in my defense — without peeking at Wikipedia beforehand (though I peeked afterhand to add in links).
1) Solaris. My parents took me to see this artsy movie based on a Stanislaw Lem novel when I was a little kid. I believe they thought it would be like Star Wars. Needless to say it was not. It’s an avant-garde Russian film from the 1970’s. I attained near-traumatic levels of boredom. Before I blacked out I registered that a sentient planet figures in the plot somehow. I didn’t see the Soderbergh remake. Should I?
2) Behemothaurs, from Iain M. Banks’s Return to Windward. OK, this is a fairly obscure one, but it’ll register if you’re at all into Banks’s Culture novels. There’s a subplot in this one that deals with (IIRC) a near-weightless mass of air adrift in space (a bit like the torus in Niven’s Integral Trees books) that supports a complex ecosystem, including truly stupendous blimplike entities who are basically functionally immortal. There are people I know and love who are immune to Banks’s charms, but to me he’s probably the greatest living SF writer — I have an unlimited appetite for his literary, postmodernistically self-conscious space opera. Look to Windward, which came out in the U.S. shortly before September 11th, 2001, is an eerily relevant analysis of how liberal capitalist technocracies provoke acts of suicidal terrorism…anyway, yeah, behemothaurs = big.
3) I’m not enough of a Farscape scholar to even remember what their ship is called. But I do remember that it’s not an artifact, it’s a very large alien being. So I’m countin’ it.
4) Bandersnatchi. I never got a clear mental picture of the Bandersnatch, a colossal slug-like being from Larry Niven’s Known Space universe. I believe they were the product of genetic engineering, created by the Tnuctipun for the Slavers as food animals. Though the rebellious Tnuctipun secretly made them sentient, and immune to mind control…
5) The Crystalline Entity. That huge, tree-like interstellar fella who cropped up in a few Star Trek episode. A heartless world-ravager, it turned out to be rather fragile — what with it being crystalline and all — and the Enterprise shattered it.
6) Sandworms. Shai-hulud, yo. They’re large.
7) Galactus. The awesome Devourer of Worlds from the Marvel universe. A very helpful fellow, in that he’s always picking people to be his herald and giving them cool powers, thus generating an endless series of convenient origin stories (viz., the Silver Surfer, and (I think) Firelord, among many others). My memory of Galactus is that different artists have drawn him in somewhat different scales, making his true height kind of elastic. But I think eating planets tends to make you grow up pretty big and strong no matter who’s drawing you.
8) The Brobdingnagians from Gulliver’s Travels. You know, the big people Gulliver meets after the Lilliputians. I don’t have a good mental fix on their size, but I do remember a scene where Gulliver sits astride the nipple of one of the women. So, you know, not small. (I vividly remember him being disgusted by her macro-scale skin blemishes. Ew.)
10) And I figure some of the Cthulhu crowd have gotta be pretty burly? Help me out here.
I know I must have missed some easy shots here, and the order is totally off-the-cuff. There’s probably a killer sentient galaxy out there that’s going to throw this whole thing off…