Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Free Fiction: Inside Job

OK, I've been a terrible poster here. In the next week or so, I should be able to get out at least one or two of the half-zillion posts I have in draft format. In the meantime, here is a novella, Inside Job, by one of my favorite authors, Connie Willis. It doesn't have any hard science in it at all, and definitely no biology, so if you don't like the softer stuff with a bit of humor, don't bother to click the link.

What the story does is ask the question: what if psychic channelers bypassed ancient Atlantean kings and Aztec princesses and connected with someone willing to fight on the side of reason in the war on science?

Read Inside Job. Then, once you've done that, read these columns.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Where are the Scientists on Television?

On the eastern blot blog Eva points out that scientist television characters usually fall into one of three categories:
1. Scientists in a show about medical or forensic science. These characters are quite well developed. They’re all different, they are carefully selected to cover different races and genders and attitudes. But they’re always at work, because the show is about their work.

2. The funny “mad scientist” type in any other type of TV show. These are usually stereotypically male and white, and either very old or nerdy little kids.

3. Someone who just happens to be a scientist, but this is otherwise irrelevant to the story line.
While there are lots of characters that fall into categories 1 and 2, very few fall into category 3. The only one that Eva could think of is Ross on the sit-com Friends, who happens to be a paleontology professor.

What about the current TV lineup? I can only think of a couple:
  • The character Jack on Men in Trees is not only Anne Heche's love interest, but also a a ruggedly handsome "fish and game" biologist. I haven't actually seen the show, so I don't know whether his job is important to the plot or not.
  • On Medium, Patricia Arquette's husband is some kind of engineer or physicist. I'm not sure he counts, though, because his scientific background is used to make him the skeptical voice about supernatural powers.
And that's it. (If you know of any others, please leave a comment!)

On science fiction shows, the scientist characters are scientists to help drive the plot. The work of scientists such as Mohinder Suresh on Heroes, Samantha Carter on Stargate, or Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica is not incidental to the story lines of those programs.

I agree with Eva - it would be great if more scientists were shown as just regular people, not just sexy and ultrafashionable CSIs or nerdy and obsessive geeks (or worse, megalomaniacs); scientists who are part of the "real" world and not the science fiction universe.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Free Fiction: Carcinoma Angels

The Friday free fiction for this week is Carcinoma Angels by Norman Spinrad (published 1967 in Dangerous Visions). It's the tale of Harrison Wintergreen, a golden boy who has been successful at everything he has every tried - until, at the age of 40, he learns he has incurable cancer.
e knew that some terminal cancer patients had been cured. Therefore terminal cancer could be cured. Therefore the problem was removed from the realm of the impossible and was now merely the domain of the highly improbable.

And doing the highly improbable was Wintergreen's specialty.

With six months of estimated life left, Wintergreen set jubilantly to work. From his complete cancer library he culled every known case of spontaneous remission. He coded every one of them into the computer—data on the medical histories of the patients, on the treatments employed, on their ages, sexes, religions, races, creeds, colors, national origins, temperaments, marital status, Dun and Bradstreet ratings, neuroses, psychoses, and favorite beers. Complete profiles of every human being ever known to have survived terminal cancer were fed into Harrison Wintergreen's computer.
Is cancer a battle "the man who can do anything" can win? Read the story to find out.

You can purchase the reissue of Dangerous Visions from Amazon.com
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