Sunday, September 09, 2012

Science and SF Tidbits: September 9, 2012

Some of the science and SF links originally posted on Google+Biology in Science Fiction on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook over the past week.

Congratulations to this year's Hugo Winners!

Be sure to check out SF Signal (Best Fanzine); Jim C. Hines' blog (Best Fan Writer), especially his post where he tries out the poses of women in fantasy book cover art; SF Squeecast (Best Fancast); and the artwork of John Picacio (Best Pro Artist) and Maurine Starkey (Best Fan Artist).

Also free online:
• best novella "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson
"Kit came to Nearside with two trunks and an oiled-cloth folio full of plans for the bridge across the mist. His trunks lay tumbled like stones at his feet, where the mailcoach guard had dropped them. The folio he held close, away from the drying mud of yesterday’s storm."
• best novellette "Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders
The man who can see the future has a date with the woman who can see many possible futures"
• best short story "The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (or listen)
"A little paper tiger stood on the table, the size of two fists placed together. The skin of the tiger was the pattern on the wrapping paper, white background with red candy canes and green Christmas trees. I reached out to Mom’s creation. Its tail twitched, and it pounced playfully at my finger" 
• best graphic story Digger by Ursula Vernon

Science and SF Links

Locus Online Perspectives » Cory Doctorow: Why Science Fiction Movies Drive Me Nuts »

Cory Doctorow writes about the bad depiction of science labs in the Spider-Man movie. Of course a realistic looking lab would probably be too cluttered and mundane looking for a movie set (not to mention the unkempt graduate students and post-docs all over the place). From the article:
Because although these are the home of cutting edge research, they look like no lab I’ve ever visited. Instead, they look like a highly polished phone-support bank, with glassed-in conference rooms around the edges that have been temporarily taken over with trade-show exhibits for new products. Every single thing in the ‘‘lab’’ – a wet biology lab, no less – looks like a product, not like an experiment. Experiments are pretty unglamorous-looking, by and large, even when they’re performed on a mass-scale. 
RIP futurist Shulamith Firestone, who hailed artificial wombs and cybernetics as tools of liberation »

Firestone's book "The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution" influenced SF: her book "effectively kickstarted the cyberfeminist movement, influencing later thinkers like Joanna Russ (author of "The Female Man"), sci-fi author Joan Slonczweski, and of course, Donna "I'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess" Harraway, author of "The Cyborg Manifesto."" It also makes me think of the "utopian" future in Marge Piercy's "Woman on the Edge of Time".

'Build clones to relieve us from boredom' »

At BBC Future Indian commentator Salil Tripathi suggests we create brainless clones to take care of mundane tasks for us. It's not clear to me how this would be better than using technology or hiring staff.

Cool (and disturbing) Bioscience


3.5 billion year old rocks in Australia show signs of ancient life. The rocks were first shown to have signs of microbial biofilms back in 2006. Ongoing analysis has provided more evidence that supports that hypothesis. So far this is the oldest evidence life on Earth and it's on the order of 2 billion years older than signs of multicellular creatures. That likely means bacteria and other microbes ruled the world for billions of years.


Humans are a part of nature, even when using technology. Case in point is a recent report that suggests human hunting habits are affecting at least one elk population. But being able to hide from hunters with high powered rifles may not improve survival when the predator is a grizzly bear, which means this may be problematic in the long term for elk populations.


When  Wolbachia bacteria infect a new insect species, the host's immune system mounts a defense that destroys cells hosting the infection. Unfortunately, those happen to be the insect's own nervous system, including its brain. Oops.


The article is not for the squeamish. California has a health problem: tape worms that take up residence in the brain, causing headaches, seizures and paralysis. It's most common in immigrants or those who travel back and forth between the US and Latin America, Asia or African countries where the parasite is more common. It makes me shudder!


Need a refresher on DNA? Check out this video from Scientific American.


Microbes living deep in caves may be able to produce molecules that have drug-like properties.  Chemistry professor Brian Bachmann has set up a systematic program to try to discover what the microbes can do. 


Scientists are tracking honey bees infected with the parasitic zombie fly to see how they affect behavior and their hives.  These "zombie bees", or "Zombees" (cute!) have mostly been found in California, but scientists are hoping that regular folks will be on the lookout for odd bee behavior to see if the infection has spread to hives in other states. You can participate in Zombee Watch here

Exploring the Solar System: Interesting NASA Folk


The LA Times talked to David Oh, lead flight director for the Mars Science Laboratory Team. Oh and his family have been trying to live on Mars time, rather than Earth time, and it's been a struggle. 

The NASA Scientist Who Answers Your 2012 Apocalypse Emails »

Dan Duray at the Awl talks to NASA scientist David Morrison, the man behind NASA's "Ask an Astrobiologist", does his best to debunk doomsday predictions that claim the world will end in December 2012. It's hard work for which he hasn't gotten much recognition or credit. He's even made YouTube videos and weathered the comments there, that apparently often are little more than personal insults. I think he's doing good work promoting science and skepticism and hopefully allaying peoples' fears.

Image: Detail from the cover of fanzine Drink Tank Issue 307 (pdf here) by Hugo-award winning artist Maurine Starkey. Used with permission.

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