Monday, July 09, 2007

Weekly Biology in Science Fiction Bits

Bits about Bio in SF from the last week:

Janet Stemwedel at Adventures in Ethics and Science explains what she wants from science fiction.
What I find more interesting, frankly, is how relatively small technological advances from where we are right now could have big impacts on the way we live. Gattaca and Never Let Me Go both fall into this category for me. It makes it easier to get involved in the story if you can imagine yourself in that world -- or if you can see a trajectory by which your world could become that world.
Jeremy Bruno at The Voltage Gate chimes into the discussion with "stressing the fiction in science fiction."

SF should be entertaining above all, because, at its core, it is still fiction. It should be an escape, a place to hide when the real world becomes monotonous and frustrating. It should open minds and feed our imagination, give us an inkling of what could be and what we are, for better or worse.

Cotournix at A Blog Around the Clock starts out by reviewing Verne Vinge's Rainbows End, and ends up discussing the important elements of science fiction: SF as entertainment, SF as literature, SF as textbook (you know, when there are 3 pages about black holes including diagrams), SF as futurology, and SF as thought-provoker.

In Vinge's novel, science is backstage. There is not much he had to change or predict. The medical stuff is somewhat plausible. The molecular research (lightly described near the end) is almost plausible. The online technologies described are very plausible. All of that is just a backdrop for the story, should be understood as such and one need not ask for more (though, again, some of it may become more important in subsequent volumes set in this world). Just sit back and enjoy the story!

Interestingly, Vinge actually addresses an issue that is often ignored. How might the nature of scientific inquiry change in the future?
How does one get answers to scientific questions, or get new technologies developed? By using the hive-mind. There are online boards and forums. You go there, offer virtual money, and the collective effort of the people on there provides you the answer in a timely fashion. It is so powerful that you can rely on the people to design you a new technology according to your specifications, and do it in time for you to go ahead with your plans, certain that the technology will be available to you at the time when you need it.
Sounds interesting.

At the World's Fair, Benjamin Cohen reprints a piece by Joshua Tyree in McSweeney's about the implausibility of the Death Star's trash compactor. It's mostly about engineering of course, but there is the pesky question of where exactly the trash compactor creature lives.
5. And what of the creature that lives in the trash compactor? Presumably, the creature survives because the moving walls do not extend all the way to the floor of the room, where the liquid is. After all, if the walls reached the floor, the creature would be killed each time trash is compacted. The design employed on the Death Star must allow the organic trash to filter down to the bottom, where the parasitic worm-creature devours it. But what happens when heavier pieces of non-organic trash fall down there? Would such trash not get wedged under the doors, causing them to malfunction? Do stormtroopers have to confront the creature each time they retrieve pieces of un-compacted trash?
Commenter Jamie suggests the solution:

7- The worm has a chamber below the surface it can retreat to. The chamber isn't easy to find unless you're a processing worm. (or have the Death Star plans)

8- The Walls Move slowly to give the worm time to get out of the way.

Works for me!

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