Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald

"He was dying for over a year, did you know that? Each day he'd hurt a little more. You could almost see it spreading through him, like some sort of— leaf, going brown. Or maybe that was the chemo. Never could decide which was worse." She shakes her head. "Heh. At least that's over now."

"Is that why you did it? To end his suffering?" Thomas doubts it.

Mercy killers don't generally disembowel their beneficiaries. Still, he asks.

She answers. "Of course I fucked up, I only ended up making things worse." She clasps her hands in front of her. "I miss him already. Isn't that crazy? It only happened a few hours ago, and I know it's no big deal, but I still miss him. That head-heart thing again."
"You say you fucked up," Thomas says.

She takes a deep breath, nods. "Big time."

"Tell me about that."

"I don't know shit about debugging. I thought I did, but when you're dealing with organics— all I really did was go in and mess randomly with the code. You make a mess of everything, unless you know exactly what you're doing. That's what I'm working on now."

"Debugging?"

"That's what I call it. There's no real word for it yet."
- "The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald", by Peter Watts
The latest edition of the StarShipSofa podcast has Peter Watts reading his short story "The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald". It starts with an introductory comment about one of the drawbacks of "mundane" SF: by the time it's published it's already behind the times (via No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons)

ETA: it looks like they have the wrong link to the audio file. To listen, click here (mp3).

While the story isn't particularly mundane, it does highlight a point made by Rosie Redfield of UBC in her explanation of why biology is harder than physics:
Biological processes of course are consequences of physics and chemistry, which is why we require our biology students to study the physical sciences. But organisms are also historical entities, and that's where the complexities arise. The facts of physics and chemistry are constant across time and space. Any one carbon atom is the same as any other, and today's carbon atoms are the same as those of a billion years ago. But each organism is different. That's not just a statement that fruit flies are different from house flies. Rather, each fruit fly is different from every other fruit fly alive today, and from every other fruit fly that ever lived, and it's the differences that make biology both thrilling and hard.
That's the beauty of living organisms, but clearly a problem if you are trying to muck about their workings.

If MP3s aren't your thing, you can read "The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald" online at Rifters.com (pdf).

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