Monday, August 06, 2007

Biology in Science Fiction Roundup: August 6 Edition

Some of the biology in science fiction news stories from the past couple of weeks:

ABC TV's Masters of Science Fiction episode on August 18th will be "Jerry Was a Man." The review gives it a thumbs up.
Out of six episodes produced by Starz, ABC would only air four, so this was chosen as one of the four because it is tonally the most unique and lighthearted. It stars Malcolm McDowell ("Dr. Soran" in "Star Trek Generations") as the head of Controlled Genetics, a firm that specializes in construction of "anthropoids" (limited-intelligence androids) and "plasto-biological hybrids" such as a tiny elephant who can read and write. Anne Heche co-stars as a filthy rich, supercilious heiress who decides to take up the noble cause of fighting for the rights of a particular anthropoid named Jerry (her motivation is disputable, and you can't help but think: Hmm, first she's straight, then she's gay, then she's straight again ... now she's robosexual?). The dialog by writer/director Michael Tolkin is quickly paced and finds most of its humor in social commentary, some of which can escape you if you're not listening carefully.
I'm not sure why the reviewer brought up Anne Heche's sexuality - I suppose s/he thinks that's important to Star Trek fans (???).

Hsien-Hsien Lei at Eye on DNA found a Gattaca music video that explores all the DNA motifs in the movie.

The Boston Globe interviewed Doris Lessing about her new novel, The Cleft.
"The Cleft" takes up the idea that eons ago the human race consisted entirely of women ("Clefts"), who, for unknown reasons, suddenly started giving birth to boys (first called "Monsters," later "Squirts"). The advent of boys was, for the immemorial Old Shes, calamitous, and a catalyst for rapid social transformation. The ancient annals of this transformation were brought, during the reign of Nero, to a Roman senator who edited them, sometimes adding Squirt-centric commentary.
Chris Talbot writes about author Kevin J. Anderson's latest project: completing the unfinished last novel of A.E. van Vogt, a sequel to Slan, which originally published in 1946. It sounds like very pulpy fiction:
Cross, who was orphaned as a boy after the evil leader of Earth's secret police murdered his parents, attempts to unite slans, humans and a third species -- the mysterious tendrilless slans, whose evil nature is eventually revealed. The book examines race, genetics, war and humanity's flaws. Slans, victims of intense government propaganda, are persecuted by humans who don't trust these mutant creatures.
Elizabeth Bear reviews Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's Zahrah the Windseeker.
The world that the story takes place in is unrelentingly neat, with vegetative computers grown from CPU pods and bizarre organopunk technology. I suspect kids will like it for that alone: it's the kind of world you will want to go visit, hang out, and play make-believe in.
SF Site reviews Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan.
While Thirteen is cinematic and action-driven in terms of style and plotting, on another level this is a novel about a very believable future.

That is, if you accept the scientific premises about genetics. The book implies some strong claims in the classical nature/nurture debate, slanting towards the nature-pole. While this is slightly disagreeable to me, Morgan is smart enough to present all anthropological statements as positions of characters from the novel and not as absolute truths. However, the notion of genetic "wiring" that determines social behaviour is certainly a dominant topic of the book, especially in regards to gender roles. I'm really not sure if Thirteen is a highly sexist book, a book about sexism, or both. A part of this specific gender-politics is certainly inherited from the whole hard-boiled tradition Morgan picks up on and therefore has a certain self-referential quality.

SciFiChick points out that you can catch up on Kyle XY on the ABC Family web site.
Just go to and click on one of the several shows or “Get Started.”
Sara at HealthBolt makes some predictions about what the world would be like if people lived to be 1,000: how does Highlander: The Reality Show sound? (via Cranky Fitness)

Andrew Wheeler reviews the fake non-fiction guide How to Keep Dinosaurs. His verdict? "Quite simply, anyone who hopes to raise or keep a dinosaur needs this book."

Caribbean-born speculative fiction author Tobias Buckell was named EcoGeek of the Week and interviewed by the EcoGeek blog about the environment and the future. He talked a little bit about biofuels and other alternative energy sources. (via SF Signal)
Right now ethanol and biodiesel has a big buzz, but the issue there is that in order to harvest the amount of ethanol needed to run our country, we'd have to plant just absolutely enormous amounts of crops, it would have a tremendous effect on us to attempt this. Even our attempts to slightly up our ethanol usage are having impacts on the global crop market right now. I've seen some research about algae for biodiesel that looks promising, algae fields are more doable than soybeans and corn, one can grow that stuff in a wide range of locations.
Finally, The Onion reports that "DNA Evidence Frees Man From Zoo."
Years of controversy were finally settled Monday after DNA tests conclusively proved that Duane Panovich, an attraction at the Phoenix Zoo for the past 11 years, was indeed a human being, and not a reticulated giraffe from southwestern Kenya.
Yes, I know it's fictional science and not "science fiction", but it seems like it could be the basis of a very funny story . . .

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  1. Anonymous9:58 AM

    Faux bad science reports are one of The Onion's greatest strengths; "the allegations of giraffehood that have been such a burden" ... yick, yick, yick! But this one doesn't quite trump Scientists Discover Gene Responsible For Eating Whole Goddamn Bag Of Chips

  2. Anonymous7:28 PM

    Ugh...when is Kevin Anderson going to stop horribly destroying the work of great authors before him? Jules Verne, HG Wells, Frank Herbert, Alan Moore, and now A.E. van Vogt...


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