Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Vaction-Style Random Thoughts

So my brother is currently in town on his annual post-Comic-Con visit (we're going to Disneyland, yay!), so my posting will be even lighter than usual this week.

I've been reading some old SF novels over the past few weeks, and here are some of my random thoughts (spoilers, although I'm not sure the warning is necessary for novels over 20 years old):

Stranger in a Strange Land would have been much much shorter if in Heinlein's future America effective birth control had been invented before a manned expedition was sent to Mars. Also, if Michael Valentine Smith had been raised by wizards instead of Martians you could place it squarely into the Fantasy genre without having to otherwise change the plot (sufficiently advanced technology looks like magic etc. etc. ).

• I think it's a bummer that Asimov decided to tie together his series of Foundation novels and Robot stories by making the humanity's expansion onto many worlds, the creation of the Galactic Empire and its replacement by the Foundation ultimately due to the meddling of a couple of mind-reading, mind-influencing robots. I'd like to think that we'll conquer the universe without the nudging of telepathic robot nannies. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for more magic-with-a-thin-veneer-of-science after reading SiaSL.

(Also, I wonder about the Foundation movie in development - how will they successfully adapt the original trilogy which covers a lot of time and has a lot more talking than action? Also, why not film the robot novels, which have movie-friendly Earthman/robot sidekick solve-a-mystery plots?)

• I've also just read Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time. I'm putting together a post on it, since advanced biotechnology plays an important role, but I wanted to mention that there is going to be a discussion about it starting tomorrow on sajbrfem's journal as part of a "Women in Science Fiction" reading club.

• Every so often an article like this comes up on my newsreader:
". . . it’s what technology ethicist Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University says during the piece that, for me, delivers an equally big (if not bigger) impact:

“It’s what I always tell my students that there is no science fiction anymore. All the science fiction I read in high school, we’re doing.“
And I wonder to myself what sort of mundane SF Wolpe read in high school. Do we have regular space travel or colonies off of the Earth? Nope. Have we found life on other planets (never mind sentient life)? Nope. What about human genetic engineering or cloning? We're approaching that ability, but it's still highly experimental. Can we upload our minds into a computer? Not yet. Time travel? Uh uh. Telepathic robots? Not even. Most of that fun stuff isn't going to happen in the near future if at all. We are living in the future, sure, but it's not the one of most science fiction novels.

• Also I've updated my posts about the Darwinism panel at Readercon and the science in SF-related panels at Comic-Con with attendee reports.

Anyway, that should hold you 'til I'm back.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Serialized Fiction: The Vector

It’s the age of the home-made virus, and humanity is dying. It just doesn’t know it yet.

In Prague, a young woman named Eva returns home to escape the plagues, only to find her mother missing and the police blaming her for the worst outbreaks in recent memory. Events are complicated by the appearance of a Healer — a merciless Chinese agent — sent to neutralize a new strain that may bring Prague to its knees.

With only days until the launch of a super-virus, Eva must navigate a hostile city and escape to safety before she becomes another faceless victim in this global, slow apocalypse.
If you like dark end-of-the-world-due-to-genetic tampering stories you should check out MCM's serialized novel The Vector. There will be a new chapter every Monday and Wednesday through the end of December - or you can buy the complete story today for $5.

Read the beginning of The Vector.

(via io9)

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Science in Science Fiction at Comic-Con

Update: Script PhD has a transcript of the Mad Science panel! Some of the topics of bio-interest include brain scanning, legal issues regarding the children of clones, where they get their science ideas and the role of science advisors.

There's also this quote from Fringe writer Glen Whitman on why they like to base their plots on biology:
Fringe is a horror show, partly. Creepy and gross is easier with biology and virology, than astrophysics, usually.
Update 2: Science Not Fiction has the scoop on the Unlocking Arkham panel.

Update 3: I've embedded video of the Mad Science panel below. There are more recaps linked here.

For those of you willing to brave the crowds at Comic-Con (and lucky enough to have been able to purchase a ticket before they sold out) you might be interested in the Mad Science: Science of Science Fiction panel on Thursday, from 6pm-7pm:
... explore science as a double-edged sword – it's ethically and morally neutral in and of itself, but science depends on who wields it and how. [. . . It will be ] a lively and fun discussion on science used for good vs. evil."
  • The moderator is Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy
  • Jaime Paglia — co-Executive Producer of Eureka
  • Kevin Grazier — Battlestar Galactica and Vituality science advisor. From his bio: "Grazier earned B.S. degrees in Computer Science and Geology from Purdue University, and a B.S. in Physics from Oakland University, as well as M.S. degrees in physics from Purdue and Geophysics and Space Physics from UCLA. He did his Ph.D. in Planetary Physics at UCLA." Grazier currently is a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  • Jane Espenson — major scifi writer/producer: Firefly, Dollhouse, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation and many other shows
  • Rob Chiappetta and Glenn Whitman — writers for Fringe
  • Ricardo Gil da Costa — cognitive neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and consultant for Fringe
The panel is co-sponsed by Discover Magazine and the Science and Entertainment Exchange.

Sounds like it should be interesting and entertaining. Maybe someone will post video? Here's the video:

There are a few other events of science in SF interest on the Thursday schedule:
5:30-6:30 The Physics of Hollywood Movies— Join physics instructor Adam Weiner (author of Don't Try This at Home! The Physics of Hollywood Movies) for an interactive presentation employing basic physical principles and a sense of humor in analyzing scenes from favorite Hollywood science fiction, superhero, and action movies, from Iron Man to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and actually learn the physics behind them—both good and bad!
6:30-7:30 The Anthropology of Star Trek Daryl Frazetti (Department of Anthropology, Lake Tahoe Community College, where he teaches a course by the same name), Ian Morris (UCSB student), John Stivers, Jacob Hurd, and Kanan Miller (Lake Tahoe Community College students) discuss the anthropological themes in the Star Trek universe. Select themes include such topics as politics, religion, identity, technology, the cultural role of the individual, and the anthropological concept of "race." A brief discussion on the subculture of fandom is also included, along with the cultural impact of Trek. Audience participation is encouraged. This presentation spans the franchise and explores the relationship between Star Trek and society throughout the past four decades.

6:30-7:30 Unlocking Arkham: Forensic Psychiatry and Batman's Rogues' Gallery – Arkham Asylum holds some of Gotham City's most disturbed criminals. But do they truly belong there? From the vantage point of a forensic psychiatrist utilizing real-world psychiatric diagnostic criteria, panelists explore the mental disorders of the Dark Knight's Rogues' Gallery, with in-depth analyses of The Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, The Ventriloquist, Mad Hatter, and Mr. Zsasz, among others. Learn as three psychiatrists explain the meaning of such terms as "psychotic," "not guilty by reason of insanity," and "psychopathy." Bring your questions, and join the fun as experts unlock Arkham Asylum and possibly set free some of its "inmates"! Panelists include H. Eric Bender, M.D., University of California, Los Angeles; Praveen Kambam, M.D., University Hospitals/Case Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio; and Vasilis K. Pozios, M.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rogue Farm

Now here's a strange tale by Charles Stross that you can listen to at Escape Pod: Rogue Farm. It's a good listen if you like surreal bioengineering, a pot-smoking dog, and, of course, a rogue farm. It also has a nice reference to the fantastic genetic engineering found in Niven's known space.

A taste:
“Buggerit, I don’t have time for this,” Joe muttered. The stable waiting for the small herd of cloned spidercows cluttering up the north paddock was still knee-deep in manure, and the tractor seat wasn’t getting any warmer while he shivered out here waiting for Maddie to come and sort this thing out. It wasn’t a big herd, but it was as big as his land and his labour could manage – the big biofabricator in the shed could assemble mammalian livestock faster than he could feed them up and sell them with an honest HAND-RAISED NOT VAT-GROWN label.

“What do you want with us?” he yelled up at the gently buzzing farm.

“Brains, fresh brains for baby Jesus,” crooned the farm in a warm contralto, startling Joe half out of his skin. “Buy my brains!” Half a dozen disturbing cauliflower shapes poked suggestively out of the farms’ back then retracted again, coyly.

“Don’t want no brains around here,” Joe said stubbornly, his fingers whitening on the stock of the shotgun. “Don’t want your kind round here, neither. Go away.”
Listen to "Rogue Farm".

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Hollywood, Science, and Unscientific America

As those of you who are regular readers of The Intersection are aware, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum's recently published book, Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future, takes a look at how American culture influences science literacy (or the lack thereof). There has been a lot of controversy (at least in blogland) about some of the content, particularly in the authors' suggestions as to what scientists could and should do in promoting science to the public. Discussing the science in fiction is my whole reason for blogging here, so I was particularly interested in what Unscientific America had to say about science and Hollywood*.

As the chapter points out, the way that Hollywood portrays science is often egregiously bad and the way it portrays scientists is almost always negative. Because most of the public has little exposure to either quality discussions of science** or interaction with actual scientists, what people see on the big or little screen negatively influences their perception. I can't argue with any of that.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum point out that part of the problem is that many filmmakers consider scientific accuracy to get in the way of telling an entertaining story.
But throughout the industry, there is certainly a sense that science is inimical to storytelling, that it quashes creativity, which must be allowed to breathe. As screenwriter and ScienceDebate2008 founder Matthew Chapman explained about some of his fellow writers; "among the less talented, there's I think a kind of inherent prejudice against science, because science means being rational, and being rational is considered the opposite of being creative –– whereas fantasy, superstition, magic, all of these more child-like ways of looking at life, are somehow thought to be what the creative process is about."
I suspect that the large number of actors and Hollywood trend setters who embrace pseudoscience and New Age-style magical thinking adds to the problem. See, for example, quantum physics woo in What the (Bleep) Do We Know!, the quackery and pseudoscience promoted on the Hollywood-connected Huffington Post, stars drinking magical Kabbalah water, and so on. Of course not every screenwriter, actor, and director in the film and television industry is anti-science, but those who are make up at least a significant minority.

But Mooney and Kirschenbaum go a step further and claim that part of the problem is that science and storytelling that is based on the laws of nature is inherantly boring to most people.
The problem for science in this context is that the technical facts it furnishes can rarely hold the attention of non-scientists – and anyone who has watched presentations at a scientific conference knows why.
Such science-centrism simply won't work for the broader, non-scientist population. It ignores their compelling need not to be bored. Successes like March of the Penguins notwithstanding, most of the time people need to see and hear stories about other people, or about animals that are given human attributes, as in Disney-Pixar films.
Are scientists really all pushing for Hollywood to produce technical documentaries rather than fictional tales? I haven't heard or read such an arguments. Sure there is a lot of discussion of where the science in fiction goes wrong - right here among other places. But that's not a demand that Hollywood should stop making entertaining films - the vast majority of scientists that I know can both suspend disbelief and critique the silly science they've been watching. That's why the LSC movie series is such an institution at MIT: hard-core geeks and nerds enjoy watching summer blockbusters as much as they enjoy picking them apart (and shouting "LSC...sucks", of course). It's all part of the fun.

Personally, I don't get particularly annoyed at bad science unless it either does nothing to serve the plot – for example, the scientist in Red Planet naming the DNA bases A, G, T, and P (rather than C) – or if the writer or director has made a big fuss about how science-based their movie. A couple of recent examples of the latter are the TV series Eleventh Hour and M. Knight Shayamalan's The Happening. If you claim you are basing your show on science, I'm going to hold it to a higher standard. On the other hand, the outrageous science on Fringe doesn't bother me because that's the whole point of the series. And sure, I'm going to write about where they get it wrong, but that doesn't mean I think they should be doing things differently.

Anyway, the only example of a narrow minded entertainment-hating scientist that Unscientific America comes up is bioscience popularizer and unapologetic atheist Richard Dawkins:
And some scientists will also have to get over the idea that everyone ought to be as captivated by the intricacies of science as they are. "The natural world is fascinating in its own right," Oxford's Richard Dawkins has stated. "It really doesn't need human drama to be fascinating." He even reported told the New York Times that he wondered why Jurassic Park required a cast that included human beings –– after all, it already had dinosaurs.
Now, I looked up the 1998 New York Times story that that quote was pulled from, and from the way I read it, I would take what Dawkins is reported to have said with a big grain of salt. You see, the article is actually about a series of panel discussions hosted by the Sloan Foundation, which included Hollywood directors and producers and scientists. There was much disagreement and at one point the discussion "degenerated into a raucous name-calling exchange." It was at an interview after this meeting that Dawkins "wondered why ''Jurassic Park'' had to have any people in it at all when it had dinosaurs." I don't think it's far-fetched to think that he might have been speaking out of annoyance or less than completely seriously - something we can't judge because the article gives no context for Dawkins' paraphrased comment.

And no matter what Dawkins did say, he certainly isn't the spokesman for all scientists, or even all biologists. I'm disappointed that Unscientifc America indulges in the same sort of negative stereotyping of scientists that pop culture does. And maybe I'm misunderstanding, but the suggestion seems to be that scientists should not comment on or complain about "minor" scientific inaccuracies, because, well, just because:
Yet in marshaling scientific complaints against the entertainment industry, it's important to consider what really matters and what doesn't. Any specialist – a historian, say, or an anthropologist – is prone to get ticked off if a film or TV drama makes a mistake about his or her field. [ . . . ] So how worried should we really be if an inaccuracy or implausibility sips into a film to serve the plot or to satisfy audience expectations – if, say, Star Wars shows fiery explosions in space? Probably not very.
Again, I don't really get it. It's not as if scientists aren't filing formal complaints with the movie studios or organizing boycotts because of science bloopers. Talking or writing about where the movies go wrong harms no one (except maybe thin-skinned filmmakers) and actually can be an entertaining way to start a discussion about real science. And I'm not convinced that having more realistic space battles in Star Wars would have made it less entertaining.***

Anyway, they do have some suggestions that the "scientific community" can take to try to improve the depiction of science and scientists in films and television:

- First off, as noted above, scientists have to understand that people want to be entertained by the movies, which should include both drama and people. This is where scientists who are also science fiction writers can play a major role, since they are already familiar with the difficulties of balancing the science with the fiction to tell a compelling story. But as I noted above, there are many scientists who are great movie fans too, and who wouldn't have any trouble with the idea that telling a story requires some suspension of disbelief.

- Next, get to know the right people in Hollywood, and know them well:
Science consultants can have an impact on the scientific content in a film's script, on its set design, on its sound effects. In general, they are invited on board by those at the head of film projects –– directors, producers –– and their influence is proportionate to the closeness of their relationship to that leader.
The key is developing "relationships with important players and learn how to serve them to further shared goals, rather than merely issuing criticism and denunciation." There are, in fact, already number of scientists who already act as advisors for movies and TV shows, so that's clearly doable.

But I think criticism is important too, since bad science sometimes can't be helped – the superpowered "mutants" in X-Men, for example, aren't going to called anything different. The scientific community is not monolithic, and so it makes that some will be included to work with Hollywood from the inside, while others will be more comfortable critiquing Hollywood from the outside. There's no reason why there can't be doing scientists doing both, unless producers and directors are so sensitive to negative comments that any criticism will turn them away from attempting to accurately portray the functioning of the universe.

- Finally, scientists must realize, they may be called for advice on too late to make any substansive changes:
By the time a science consultant arrives on the scene to work on a project, many things such as plotline, cast, and budget are usually already agreed upon, and a script has likely been written, at least in draft form. Given all of this, any effective science consultant or adviser will be acutely aware of the realities and constraints of filmmaking and will work with them, rather than trying to overturn them.
And "factual accuracy" is the first thing to go when a movie is being made:
Dawkins and some other scientists fail to grasp that in Hollywood, the story is paramount –– that narrative, drama, and character development will trump mere factual accuracy every time, and by a very long shot. Either science will align itself with these overweening objectives or it will literally get flattened by the drive for profit.
I find it a bit disturbing that they are suggesting that scientists should ignore "mere factual accuracy" to get an "in" in Hollywood. Science consultants shouldn't be the ones worrying about profit - that's the job of the filmmakers. I don't think anyone should be surprised if their suggestions for scientific accuracy are sometimes ignored, but that doesn't mean that those suggestions shouldn't be made. If factual accuracy is completely off the table, what's the point in being a science advisor?

It all sounds a bit hopeless, at least from the perspective of an individual who doesn't have any Hollywood connections or much spare time to build personal relationships with filmmakers. That's where The Science and Entertainment Exchange comes in - it should be a useful mediator between scientists interested in Hollywood and filmmakers interested in science.

So overall, I think Unscientific America does make useful points about how science is portrayed by Hollywood. However, I don't think it's helpful that the book portrays most scientists as clueless joykillers who can't enjoy a less-than-documentarian movie, or that it suggests scientists should stop criticizing science in the movies. And yes, I took it a bit personally, because discussing bad science in science fiction is much of what this blog is about. I think it's worthwhile, not in small part because I've gotten comments from people who stumbled in here looking for information about whether the science in their favorite movie or TV show is "real". I'm glad I could give them the information they were looking for.

And if you are still reading, you might want to check out some of the other posts that have discussed the "Hollywood and the Mad Scientists" chapter of Unscientific America:
  • Stephanie Zvan @ Quiche Moraine has an excellent post: "Mere Factual Accuracy"

    "Setting up story and accuracy as a dichotomy also ignores the richness that accuracy can add to a story. In fact, whole stories can be built from closely observed detail."

  • Janet Stemwedel @ Adventures in Ethics and Science: "Book review: Unscientific America"

    "It struck me, while reading this book, that the root problem here is no fundamental flaw in the American character, but a capitalist system that squeezes out spaces for things that are not expected to sell widely for the lowest costs to produce. Science is brimming with complexities. Explaining it, understanding it, takes time and effort. But if the news media and Hollywood (and politics, too) are harbingers of doom for a scientific America, it makes it seem just as likely to me that a long term solution will involve replacing extreme capitalism with something different. Show me the alternative and the plan to implement it, and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and help."

    ETA: And definitely read Janet's excellent post "Are scientists all on the same team?"

  • PZ Myers @ Pharyngula has a scathing review: "Unscientific America: How Scientiric Illiteracy Threatens Our Future"
    Chris Mooney @ The Intersection replies: "PZ Myers vs. Unscientific America"
    (Note that PZ and Chris don't agree on anything, PZ was called out in the book, and there's a fair amount of animosity between them, so the comments reflect that.)

I think all the Scienceblogs.com bloggers got review copies, A number of Scienceblogs.com bloggers have also reviewed Unscientific America, so you can read more about the book as a whole over there.


* The chapter titled "Hollywood and the Mad Scientists" is the only one I've read so far, so I can't comment on the rest of the book.

** It's unfortunately true that a lot of the reporting of science in the news media is really reallyreally bad (click the links for examples just from this month).

*** But then I'm one of those freaks who thinks showing women having a conversation about something other than than boys, weddings or babies can be entertaining too, so what do I know?


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The Human Genre Project

One of the most unique offerings at SciFiction is Michael Swanwick's "Periodic Table of Science Fiction", which has a short short story linked to each element in the periodic table. It starts with "The Hindenburg" for Hydrogen (atomic number 1) and continues all the way through "Now You See It Now You" for Ununoctium (atomic number 118). I don't think it's surprising that some of the bits work better than others, but it's a clever concept.

Inspired by Swanwick, Scottish science fiction writer Ken MacLeod, writer in residence at The Genomics Forum, has has put together The Human Genre Project. It looks like each of the 22 autosomal and X and Y chromosomes can have more than one entry. That's appropriate, since each carries multiple genes, and can affect many different human characteristics.

It's a work in progress - only 7 of the chromosomes have an entry - and you can still submit a contribution inspired by genes and genomics. If you need inspiration, you can explore each chromosome using the Human Genome Project's Chromosome Viewer.

If you don't want to scroll over each chromosomal image to find the stories, you can just use the Index of Human Genre Project stories by author.

Also, you can read the winners of the Genomics Network's short story competition, which aren't so much science fiction as fiction with science.

(via SF Signal)

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Strange Nature: From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7

Today's free fiction:

American SF author Nnedi Okorafor's "From the Lost Diary of TreeFrog7" explores the surreal far-future Forbidden Greeny Jungle in the form of a field journal. I especially like how the story has been enhanced with audio entries and links to the jungle's Field Guide.


"Is Darwinism Too Good for SF?" panel at Readercon

Robert Sawyer, guest blogging for Borders, writes about an upcoming panel at Readercon in Boston that asks "Is Darwinism Too Good for SF?"* The panelists will be Jeff Hecht (science writer, primarily about lasers and optics and occasional SF writer), Caitlin Kiernan (primarily a horror writer with a background in vertebrate paleontology), Anil Menon (SF writer with background in computer science), James Morrow (SF writer who often satirizes organized religion), Steven Popkes (SF writer and software engineer) and Sawyer (whose Neanderthal trilogy does touch on evolutionary themes). I hope I'm mistaken, but the panel seems dominated by people who likely don't know much about modern biology. When SF panels focus on physics it seems that physicists usually participate, so it's a shame they couldn't find more panelists with a biology background.

Anyway, here's the description:
This year marks the sesquicentennial of the publication of The Origin of Species and the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth. Considering the importance of the scientific idea, there has been surprisingly little great sf inspired by it. We wonder whether, in fact, if the theory has been too good, too unassailable and too full of explanatory power, to leave the wiggle room where speculative minds can play in. After all, physics not only has FTL and time travel, but mechanisms like wormholes that might conceivably make them possible. What are their equivalents in evolutionary theory, if any?
It's an interesting question and Sawyer is asking for comments and suggestions. Here's the comment I left:
I don't think that comparing FTL and time travel are really analogous to evolutionary theory (which - the former are primarily technologies while the latter is an explanation of how the natural world works. Evolution should be as much a part of good world building as gravitation.

That being said, in the science fiction context I think there are multiple ways evolutionary theory can be used, such as stories that look at our evolutionary descendants in the far future (Wells' "The Time Machine", Silverberg's "Son of Man"), alternative evolution on Earth (Wilson's "Darwinia", Harrison's "West of Eden"), and evolution on other planets (Niven & Pournelle's "Mote in God's Eye", Blish's "A Case of Conscience").

I'd also argue that evolutionary theory is so tightly intertwined with modern genetics that human-directed evolution using genetic engineering should also be included (Atwood's "Oryx and Crake", Kagan's "Mirabile" ). I'd wager those are more realistic than FTL travel.

That's off the top of my head - there are certainly other novels that should be included in the list.

Go add your own suggestions.



Gayle Surrette @ A Curious Statistical Anomaly has a report on the panel. An excerpt:

The problem is that with science and physics you can look at the rules and the equations and they work just about anywhere and you know what would happen if you changed any one bit. But for biology we don't have a handle on things. We've only got Earth to see how things work. One sample just isn't enough. We need another planet to have some comparisons. If we found life on another planet and the DNA matched bits of ours that would tell us a lot. But we don't, and things aren't solid.
I'm not sure if she noted it wrong or if this is what the panelists really said, because this sounds like a whole lot of stupid. Leaving aside the fact that evolution is science, it makes no sense that we need life on another planet to make biology "solid". Life on another planet would give us insight into how biology operates given completely separate evolution, but that doesn't mean we "don't have a handle" on Earthly biology.

* I really hate the panel title. I don't want novels with "Darwinism", I want novels with modern evolutionary theory. "Darwinism" is what the creationists call it.
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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Summer and Science Fiction

Wow, the summer is really flying by. I've been having a very nice bit of a holiday, topped by an excellent 4th of July BBQ: good friends, tasty food, cold beer and sitting by the pool discussing time travel paradoxes. I could do that every day, but alas, that's not possible. But what I can do is spend some of the cool evening hours reading stories by some new (or new to me) SF authors, and when I find stories available online I can share them with you.

To start, here's a short tale by Australian SF writer Ian McHugh featuring whales and prions and aliens:
The biology is fanciful - it's not known whether whales are susceptible to prion diseases, and the singing whale theme has a whiff of Star Trek IV about it, but it's got a unique twist.

And music has indeed been made based on the three-dimensional structure of biological molecules. Listen to human growth hormone. It's not much like humpback whale song, but it's nice.

Image: Human prion protein PDB structure 1i4m (Knaus KJ et al. " Crystal structure of the human prion protein reveals a mechanism for oligomerization." Nat Struct Biol 8:770-774) (2001)