Monday, July 23, 2007

Biology in SF Bits 7-23-07

OK, I finally finished reading Harry Potter 7, so it's back to blogging! Here are some science fiction biology tidbits from the past week:

Washington Technology interviewed John Scalzi about Old Man's War and his other novels, some of which have biotech themes.

Q: Your books also touch on biotechnology. In your distant future, you imagine using the DNA of the dead to engineer supersoldiers. But if you look at the state of the science and its cultural barriers today, what do you foresee for the near future?

Scalzi: One of the things that has been very interesting about the biotech field is that a lot of it is going against roadblocks that have been put up politically. If embryonic stem cell research was not being blocked by the current administration, there would not be as much interest in [alternatives].

Q: Can you give an example?

Scalzi: [Scientists] recently took skin cells from mice and engineered them into [the equivalent of embryonic stem cells]. That’s a really interesting bioengineering achievement that would have been unnecessary had there not been ethical concerns about embryonic stem cells. We can argue whether that’s taking six steps sideways to take one step forward, but if they can take skin cells from me and make me a new liver, that’s a real advance.

Read the whole interview.

SciFi Weekly reviews Jeff Carlson's new novel, Plague Year. Rogue nanotech has destroyed most of the human (and other animal population). Carlson focuses on the survivors of this plague. While giving it a thumbs up for an interesting and believable science fiction premise, the review indicates that characterization is lacking.
This novel is so concerned with surface effects—cinematic effects, if you will, and I think this judgment about the book's movie models is sound—that the poetry, the emotions, the whole affect of the post-apocalypse novel goes missing. There's no true sense of desuetude or loss here, no Ozymandias Effect. Just compare this book to Wyndham's classic The Day of the Triffids (1951) to see what I mean

According to the Wired Underwire blog, ABC will be showing the Masters of Science Fiction series beginning Saturday, August 4th.
  • August 4: "A Clean Escape" based on John Kessel's short story by the same name.
    "In "A Clean Escape," set not too far in a post-Apocalyptic future, psychiatrist Dr. Deanna Evans (Judy Davis) interrogates a distinguished, if befuddled, man (Sam Waterston) who appears to be suffering from a lapse in memory. Why can't he remember - and why is it so important that she uncover the secret he holds deep inside?"
  • August 11: "The Awakening," based on a short story by Howard Fast.
    "[T]he episode opens outside Baghdad, where U.S. soldiers discover a mysterious casualty - one they can't even identify as human."
  • August 18: "Jerry Was a Man," based on the Robert Heinlein story.
    "Set in the future, the world's seventh richest couple, the van Vogels, find their lives changed forever when they acquire an anthropoid named Jerry."
  • August 25: "The Discarded," based on a story by Harlan Ellison.
    "John Hurt and James Denton star in this ultimate story of despised minorities sentenced to drift in the darkness of outer space forever. These men and women make a desperate pact in the hope of being offered refuge at home on Earth."
It certainly looks more interesting that the usual Saturday-night network fare.

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