Saturday, June 07, 2008

Biology in Science Fiction Roundup: June 7 Edition

Here's a roundup of biology in science fiction-related blog posts and articles from around the web:

Written SF

Nancy Kress writes about her concern that a story she is working on - which is told from the point of view of an anchondroplastic dwarf - might be culturally trespassing.
I still feel uneasy appropriating a culture not my own as a subject for fiction. Writers do this all the time, of course, and critics and readers then complain about it all the time. (Look up the controversy over Memoirs of a Geisha, written by a non-Asian man.) I don't want to step on anyone's sensibilities. But if I stuck to my own culture -- white, female, middle-aged and middle class -- I would have a very narrow range of stories.
It seems to me the important thing is getting it right.

At Making Light commenter Michael Roberts asked :
what science-fiction books would the assembly recommend for getting a good picture of alternate ecologies? A little perspective: we've just read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (aside: holy schemoley, what a great set of books!) and the alternate world with the wheeled creatures definitely caught her fancy.

I searched through the boxes, and came up with Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, Niven's Protector, Rainbow Mars, and Smoke Ring, Brin and Benford's Heart of the Comet, Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio, Forward's Flight of the Dragonfly, Orson Scott Card's Wyrms, and Brin's Glory Season. What am I not thinking of? This wasn't intended to be a survey of biologically-oriented SF, but there's got to be others. I didn't give her Dune, I suppose.

Making Light's knowledgeable commentariat comes up with some more suggestions (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and, well, just keep reading down the thread for more).

Nina Munteanu reviews Robert Sawyer's Neanderthal Trilogy.

Television

The Science of Battlestar Galactica takes a look at how Colonials and Cylons can interbreed . The conclusion: Earth “humans” must be a cross between Colonials and Cylons. Read part 1 and part 2.

Have we seen the "father" of the Cylons? Check out Michael Hinman's column at SyFy Portal to find out (SPOILERS!).

Eva at EasternBlot has an alternative explanation for the invisible non-humanoid life forms Doctor Who detected in the library.

Adam Hadhazy, Scientific American intern, liked A&E's Andromeda Strain - at least the first half.
A remarkable amount of the science in the 40-year-old original still holds up as compelling and has been wisely retained. Who doesn't get excited when the scrambling scientists, whisked away to a top secret laboratory, discover that the microscopic invader contains no DNA or RNA—making it unlike any other life-form on Earth? To try and wow science-savvy people, as well as inveigle the layman, A&E cranks its version up a notch by throwing in buckyballs and singularitywormholes, though somewhat unnecessarily.
Only somewhat? And I seriously doubt it was the "science-savvy" they were trying to wow.
Sarah Stegall has a positive review - at least of the The Andromeda Strain's science - for SF Scope.
The current research into the communities of chemosynthetic organisms is among the (ahem) hottest topics in ocean research today. More cutting edge science is threaded throughout this updated version: buckyballs, Archaea, DNA research, wormhole theory, messenger theory. We discover after a couple of hours that the Andromeda strain was picked up by a secret research mission to a secret wormhole that has since collapsed. Best of all, nobody stops to explain all this stuff. While it may leave some viewers in the dust, this is the best integration of actual science into a science fiction story I've seen in a long time. Apart from the wormhole itself (which is still part of respectable physical speculation), there is no hand-waving, no "Trek science" to insult the knowledgeable viewer. The science is real, and that makes the supposed threat more real.
I don't really agree that there wasn't any "Trek science" (wormhole from the future anyone?), but it definitely could have been worse.

Genevieve Valentine has a funny review of the very bad SciFi original movie Aztec Rex (Aztecs, a bewigged Cort├ęs and great big dinosaurs) at Fantasy Magazine. No real science involved.

Fantasy Magazine also has a discussion of "SciFi movies we love to hate". See also io9's peek at the upcoming SciFi movie "Flu Birds".

Movies

SciFi Weekly reviewed Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds giving it a B-. You might do better reading the "far superior short story by Daphne du Maurier" that the movie is (very loosely) based on.

At Laughing Squid Scott Beale posts some anatomical cross-section diagrams of Gamera & Godzilla (via SF Signal).

On Science Friday, Ira Flatow talked to M. Night Shyamalan about The Happening and "the intersection between real-world environmental issues and Shyamalan's fantasy world" (to listen, subscribe to the podcast or check back next week when the archived audio is posted). If you want more, Bloody Disgusting has new widgets, trailers and clips of The Happening.

And if CGI monsters are your thing, io9 has information about the upcoming dinosaur scifi movie Reptisaurus. It stars former Buck Rodgers Gil Gerard, so how can it miss?

Will Ridley Scott be making an updated version of Brave New World?

On a more serious note, SciFi Scanner writes about a panel at the recent World Science Festival on "The Brain and Bourne: Neuroscience in the Bourne Trilogy."

Science bits

io9's resident Biogeek looks at bioengineered ecologies.

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine created a brain-machine interface that allows a money to operate a robotic arm.

Scientists at Davidson College have created a simple living computer made from E.coli bacteria (via Metafilter).
“It’s kind of like that computer in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ ” she said, referring to a popular novel by the late Douglas Adams. “It’s been working on a problem so long that by the time it comes up with an answer, everybody forgot the question.”

Athena Andreadis, author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek, writes about transhumanism and the future of space travel. (via Sentient Developments)

Willamette Week interviewed Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story and the new book Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science.
When I was a kid I read a lot of science-fiction and read all these predictions of how the world would be in the future. So I love to think about things that seem small now but could become enormous later.... Global climate change is driving [infectious disease] invaders from one ecosystem to another. Dengue virus, which is carried by the Asian tiger mosquito, has begun to appear in areas very close to the Southern United States—most people feel dengue is going to be in the U.S. before too long. Dengue can make people die of hemorrhages flowing from all orifices of their body. And it can look like Ebola virus. It’s a grisly, scary disease for which there is currently no good vaccine.
Human fetal brain cells - stem cells - that were injected into mice were able to correct a nervous system defect. All of the control and untreated "shiverer" mice died within 150 days, while 4 of 26 injected mice were still living at 14 months.
The mice did better than just survive — as the myelin grew, the mice began to lose signs of being shiverers. They gained normal brain activity, no longer had seizures and lost much of the shakiness. “As they live longer, they slowly but surely get better,” says Goldman.
The treatment is not anywhere near ready to use on humans, but it's an important result nonetheless.

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