Monday, April 21, 2008

Splice: Rock and Roll Geneticists and the Horror of Genetic Engineering

Update: The publicist for Splice has asked me to take the promo image down, so I have. You can see the images at Ain't it Cool News. She also points out that Guillermo Del Toro is the executive producer and that Steve Hoban of Copperheart Entertainment is the producer. Hopefully they'll release some promotional images soon.

Producer Guillermo Del Toro and Director/Writer Vincenzo Natali's latest movie is Splice, which stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley as a pair of molecular biologists with more ambition than sense.
Elsa and Clive, two young rebellious scientists, defy legal and ethical boundaries and forge ahead with a dangerous experiment: splicing together human and animal DNA to create a new organism. Named "Dren", the creature rapidly develops from a deformed female infant into a beautiful but dangerous winged human-chimera, who forges a bond with both of her creators - only to have that bond turn deadly.
Nelson Cabral of interviewed Natali, whose description of the main characters makes them sound a bit like computer hackers:
. . . I sort of saw it as the natural evolution of whats happening with computer programming. A lot of really young people do computer programming, they deal with really sophisticated technology, really sophisticated hardware. I’m sure that that is happening currently in the bio-technology field as well. It just seemed like the appropriate thing. On some level, the movie is about deciding to have a family, and what you do with becoming a parent, so it had to be about young people so Clive and Elsa are sort of, as rock and roll geneticists, are ill equipped to become parents, and that’s what makes it exciting to watch them have a mutant kid.
Natali also mentioned the real science that was his inspiration for the movie:
Why splice? Because years ago there was this thing I saw a photo of, its called (something)mouse, it was, by all appearances, a human ear on its back. It actually was a plastic armature under a kind of skin that could be grafted onto human beings. It was such a crazy, shocking weird image that I was inspired to write a story about genetic splicing.
The experiment that Natali is remembering is probably the work of Joseph and Charles Vacanti of the Tissue Engineering & Organ Fabrication Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital. Back in 1997 their photo of a mouse with a human ear-shaped growth on its back made a splash in the popular media. It's no wonder that it caught Natali's attention. He apparently didn't pay much attention to the story attached with the picture, though, because the experiment had absolutely nothing to do with genetic engineering. What the Vacantis and colleagues actually did was form a biodegradable polymer into the shape of a human ear, seed it with cow cartilage cells (bovine chondrocytes), and implant it under the skin of the experimental mice1. They found that new cartilage formed in the shape of the implant. And it turns out their methodology had immediate real-world applications. They used similar techniques to grow a "shield" in the chest of boy who was born with no cartilage or bone between his skin and heart. They also were able to grow a replacement thumb tip using a scaffold made of coral. It's very cool tissue engineering technology.

It isn't that surprising that Natali thinks that genetic engineering was involved. He may have seen the full page ad in the New York Times placed by the anti-biotechnology group the Turning Point Project, which (according to Wikipedia) showed the picture of the ear-bearing mouse with the description "This is an actual photo of a genetically engineered mouse with a human ear on its back"2. The image also made the email chain letter rounds with similarly misleading information.

I've noticed that the term "mutant" is commonly used as shorthand to describe any mal- or unusually-formed animal, even when no mutations or other DNA changes are involved, so it's not such a stretch for people to believe that genetic engineering could be used for something as fantastic as growing an extra ear. Splice taps into the idea that genetic engineering is the can-do-anything science for the 21st century. As Splice co-producer Steve Hoban commented, “If Mary Shelley had been born 200 years later she wouldn’t have written Frankenstein, she would have written ‘Splice’.

Splice is scheduled to be released in 2009. In the mean time, check out Ain't It Cool News for more images of Splice's human-animal hybrid (some NSFW).

1. Cao Y et al. (1997) "Transplantation of Chondrocytes Utilizing a Polymer-Cell Construct to Pruduce Tissue-Engineered Cartilage in the Shape of a Human Ear", Plast Reconstr Surg 100(2):297-302.

2. It's not clear to me if their deception was intentional or the creator of he ad was merely incompetent. Unfortunately advertisements aren't required to be truthful (or issue corrections for inaccuracies), so public perception is influenced by the misleading copy.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story

John Scalzi has posted one of his short stories, "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story". It's being offered as shareware: you can download it for free, but you are encouraged to make a donation through PayPal or Amazon. Half of the money will be donated to The Lupus Foundation of America.

It's a cute story based on the strange and wonderful biology of reproduction. I think it's definitely worth a small donation.

Download a zipped pdf of "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story" (instructions for those wishing to donate are included).


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Beware the Andromeda Strain!

And now there was this machine. The machine would not, of course, give the precise order of amino acids. But it would give a rough percentage composition: so much valine, so much arginine, so much cystine and proline and leucine. And that, in turn, would give a great deal of information.

Yet it was a short in the dark, this machine. Because they had no reason to believe that either the rock or the green organism was composed even partially of proteins. True, every living thing on earth had at least some proteins – but that didn't mean life elsewhere had to have it.

For a moment, he tried to imagine life without proteins. It was almost impossible: on earth, proteins were part of the cell wall, and comprised all the enzymes known to man. And life without enzymes? Was that possible?

~ The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain is a classic in biology-based science fiction. A military satellite crashes in the desert and, before it can be retrieved, almost every inhabitant of the nearby town has been killed by a deadly plague. It becomes clear that the satellite was carrying a virulent extraterrestrial microorganism. Much of the action revolves around a team of scientists in the secret "Wildfire" facility analyzing the microbes - the Andromeda strain - and trying to find a cure. After much experimentation, they finally determine that the Andromeda strain is like no life on Earth, since it's a crystalline organism that contains no proteins, DNA or other nucleic acids - and it can live on human blood! Of course there is more, including an action-packed race to prevent the self-destruction of the facility when the microbes turn to eating plastic. What's unique about the story is that the thriller action doesn't overshadow the lab work. At least that's how it seemed to me when I read the novel as an undergrad.

The 1971 movie version of The Andromeda Strain kept much of the focus on the scientists. It included this somewhat disturbing scene of a rhesus monkey being "killed" (actually briefly asphyxiated with carbon dioxide).

(I'm pretty sure the original movie didn't use "Shock the Monkey" on it's soundtrack.)

On Memorial Day (May 26) A&E will broadcast a new miniseries based on The Andromeda Strain* and produced by Ridley Scott. It stars Benjamin Bratt as Dr. Jeremy Stone, along with Christa Miller, Eric McCormack, Viola Davis, Daniel Dae Kim and Andre Braugher. The trailer certainly makes it look action packed.

There will be a related game on the official web site* starting May 5. There aren't any details, but it looks like it will probably be interactive.
Should we worry about a real-life Andromeda strain? While it seems unlikely to me that microbes adapted to living in cold and airless space would be able to thrive in the warm soup of the human body, there does appear to be a real potential threat from Earthly bacteria that travel with human astronauts. Salmonella bacteria flown aboard the space shuttle were shown to be more virulent when tested after upon their to earth (Pseudomonas and Candida carried on the same flight are still being analyzed). And even if the inside of spacecraft are sterile, it's possible that bacteria will be carried on the outside. Living Streptococcus bacteria were recovered from the camera of the Surveyor 3 probe after three frigid years on the moon. We may end up being our own worst enemy.

* To see the Andromeda Strain web site extras, click Experience the Andromeda Strain on the sidebar. That pops up a Flash-based site that doesn't seem to want to load for me in Firefox, but works just fine in Safari.

(trailer via SF Signal)


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Depiction of Cloning in the Movies

PodBlack Blog made an interesting post about science in the movies that points to a 2006 study at Biotechnology Australia that focused on cloning in the movies (report PDF). Their concern is that one of the major sources of information on human cloning is the movies, and the way that the science and scientists are portrayed can have a significant influence on public opinion.

They looked at 33 different movies and divided them into five categories:
  1. "Contemporary Social Realism": set in the present or near future, presented as realistic
    Example: The Boys from Brazil, Jurassic Park
  2. "Future Social Realism": set in the future, presented as realistic
    Example: The Island
  3. "Science Fiction/Fantasy": set in the far future or a distant galaxy
    Examples: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Star Trek:Nemesis
  4. Comedy
    Examples: Sleeper, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
  5. "Gone and Forgotten": Movies that tanked at the box office or are rarely seen
    Examples: The Clones of Bruce Lee, Replikator: Cloned to Kill
The movies were rated for scientific accuracy and their "key message" - whether the science or scientists are evil and the social implications of the cloning. Not surprisingly, they found that the most common message in the movies is that "corporations or scientists operate in their own interests and outside of regulation, and are willing to kill to cover up what they've done." Cloning is portrayed as unnatural, with the moral "mess with nature and it will mess with you."

The best of the bunch science-wise:
Boys from Brazil (1978), staring Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier and James Levin, and based on the novel by Ira Levin.
Type: Contemporary Social Realism
Cloned (1997), starring Elizabeth Perkins and Bradley Whitford. This movie is "one of the few films that has a fairly accurate portrayal of he science of cloning."
Type: Contemporary Social Realism
Blueprint (2002). This German film is more focused on the ethical and social issues of cloning, rather than the science.
Type: Contemporary Social Realism
Clone High (2002), an MTV animated series.
Type: Comedy
Anna To the Infinite Power (1982), based on a novel by Mildred Ames
Type: Gone and Forgotten
Creator (1985), starring Peter O'Toole.
Type: Gone and Forgotten
The Cloning of Joanna May (1991), a British Granada Television program, based on the Fay Weldon novel.
Type: Gone and Forgotten
The Third Twin (1997), based on a Ken Follett thriller.
Type: Gone and Forgotten

I don't think that it's particularly surprising that the most scientifically-realistic movies are those set in the near future, and have few science-fictional elements other than human cloning (does that make them mundane SF?). Scientific accuracy isn't what makes a box office hit, though. Blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Star Wars: Attack of the Clones end up influencing popular culture simply because so many people have seen them. That's which is why their science is worth discussing, even if it has little basis in real life.

Biotechnology Australia followed up with a second report, "Biotechnology at the Movies", which looks at a wider range of movies, from The Andromeda Strain (1971) to Children of Men (2006). Their conclusion:
"The study concluded that the science was, for the most part, seriously flawed, and that while the films may raise awareness, the quality of public debate on biotechnology is not generally enhanced by its depiction in films."
I'm doubt that will change any time soon, since stories with scientists oblivious to the ethical implications and potentially dangerous consequences of their experiments sell movie tickets.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Biology in Science Fiction Roundup: April 12 Edition

Here are some Biology in Science Fiction bits from around the internet:

Books and Comics

Ursula LeGuin talked about science and the fantastic in her review of Salman Rushdie's new fantasy novel The Enchantress of Florence:
Some boast that science has ousted the incomprehensible; others cry that science has driven magic out of the world and plead for "re-enchantment". But it's clear that Charles Darwin lived in as wondrous a world, as full of discoveries, amazements and profound mysteries, as that of any fantasist. The people who disenchant the world are not the scientists, but those who see it as meaningless in itself, a machine operated by a deity. Science and literary fantasy would seem to be intellectually incompatible, yet both describe the world; the imagination functions actively in both modes, seeking meaning, and wins intellectual consent through strict attention to detail and coherence of thought, whether one is describing a beetle or an enchantress. Religion, which prescribes and proscribes, is irreconcilable with both of them, and since it demands belief, must shun their common ground, imagination. So the true believer must condemn both Darwin and Rushdie as "disobedient, irreverent, iconoclastic" dissidents from revealed truth.
The Amazon Omnivoracious blog interviews Scott Sigler about his new novel, Infected.

io9 writes about the new comic book Transhuman.


Evolutionary biologist and noted atheist Richard Dawkins is scheduled to appear in the current season of Dr. Who, playing himself. Presumably Dawkins has received acting tips from his wife Lalla Ward, who played Romana, companion of the Fourth Doctor. If Dawkins isn't your cup of tea, Nature Editor Henry Gee suggests some other "celebrity scientists and not-so-scientists" who might be right for a Dr. Who bit part. The current series premiered in the UK on April 5 on the BBC, and premiers in the US on SciFi on April 18.

David Eick (Bionic Woman producer/Battlestar Galactica writer-producer) is working on a proposed TV series based on PD James' Children of Men.

The new season of ReGenesis has started in Canada, and Eva Amsen of the easternblog blog is writing the Facts Behind the Fiction articles that accompany each episode. Very cool.


Shock Till You Drop reviews the new I Am Legend DVD, including the bonus feature "Cautionary Tale: The Science of I Am Legend".

Big Picture Big Sound reviews the new GATTACA Blu-Ray DVD, which includes a "featurette" on the science behind genetic engineering. i09 has some GATTACA "behind the scenes" trivia.

The new official "REPO: The Genetic Opera" web site has launched, with music, video and stills. (via Bloody-Disgusting)

The Ruins
("Terror Has Evolved") has a some evil plants, according to io9.

Ain't it Cool News reports on the remake of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

iveScience writes about the creatures in 10,000 BC.

Bloody-Disgusting lists "The 10 Worst Things That Could've Been in Brundle's Machine ... Besides a Fly" (ew)


Wired Science has the top 5 real biology concepts in BioShock.


Wednesday, April 09, 2008


The 1980s brought us cyberpunk, which featured computer hackers and crackers, self-aware artificial intelligences and man-machine interfaces. That was followed by biopunk, with its biotech hackers, extreme genetic engineering, and human cloning. So what's the next trend? Squidpunk!
Fiction that unlike New Weird, Steampunk, or Slipstream, is at its core not only about squid, but about the symbolism of squid as color-changing, highly-mobile, alien-looking, intelligent ocean-goers. As a powerful ecosystem indicator, the squid is a potent symbol for environmental rejuvenation. Squidpunk is almost exclusively set at sea and must contain some reference to either cephalopods or to anything that thematically relates to squid, in terms of world iconography and tropes. Squidpunk is never escapist or whimsical. It is always serious and edgy. This combination of a hard punk aesthetic with the fluid propulsion system common to the squid has produced a unique literary hybrid beloved by Mundanes and Surrealists alike.
As this promo video for Ann & Jeff Vandermeer's new anthology demonstrates, squidpunk is ready to conquer the SciFi world!

Wicked awesome!

(Yes, it's taken me more than a week to catch up with my blog reading.)


Unwelcome Bodies

"They call themselves 'body sculptors.' They take healthy people and turn them into monsters. Giancarla's a plastic surgeon too — one of the best, but not the best, and it sticks in that massive craw of hers. She only took me in to try to start a fad. 'Amputee chic.' It lasted about three months. Then she tried making burns fashionable." María Luisa rearranged her hair to try to cover more of her scar. "But will she fix me? No. She claims it's bad for business."
~ "The Last Stand of the Elephant Man"
There is something both marvelous and horrifying about the extremes to which the human body can be taken. Nebula Award-nominated author Jennifer Pelland explores those themes in her new short story anthology Unwelcome Bodies. As she described it to John Scalzi:

We already live in a time when plastic surgery and body modification are pushing the boundaries of what constitutes humanity. Right now, people are having surgery to change things as fundamental as their face or their gender. Are you the same person if you can’t recognize yourself in the mirror? If you have your labia and vagina turned into a penis? And what about the people who use extreme body modification to make themselves look deliberately inhuman, maybe by tattooing every inch of their skin, or by splitting their tongues, or having horns implanted in their scalps?

That’s happening now. What’s going to happen in the future as medical technology comes up with more effective ways to change our bodies? And on the other side of the equation, what about when things go terribly wrong with someone’s body? How does that change them in ways other than the obvious?

It's not just body modification that she explores. Her stories also touch on sex and disease and immortality - and the the sometimes terrible intersection of religious fanaticism and biology.

You can read several of the stories from Unwelcome Bodies online:

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Free Fiction from Gwyneth Jones

Nadeem was a Diaspora-denier. He would bore the socks off you explaining, interminably, how actually there was NO uncontroversial evidence that all planetary variants on the sentiend biped model, all the possessors of "numinous intelligence", capable of interstellar transit, were descended from a single species. He refused, passionately, to accept that the original species had been a hominid from the Blue Planet -a precursor of homo sapiens who had flourished and vanished, leaving only the faintest and most puzzling of traces. It's only a theory, he'd insist.
And yet the man was a scientist.
~ Gwyneth Jones, "The Tomb Wife", 2007
Novelist Gwyneth Jones has posted several short stories on her web site with multiple biological bits: sex and gender, evolution of the "sentient bipeds" that make up the "diaspora", and neural modification that allows interstellar travel.
  • "The Tomb Wife", originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 2007
  • "Saving Tiamaat", originally published in The New Space Opera; ed. Gardner Dozois
  • "The Voyage Out", originally published in Periphery: Erotic Lesbian Futures
  • "The Fulcrum", featured in CONSTELLATIONS; ed. Peter Crowther and The Year's Best Science Fiction 23; ed. Gardner Dozois
I also recommend her essays "Aliens in the Fourth Dimension", in which she writes about the aliens in her Aleutian novels - specifically, why she made them both humanoid and sexless hermaphrodites - and "The Brains of Female Hyena Twins", on sex and gender.

She talks about is reading conference proceedings (Differences Between the Sexes, ed. RV Short and E. Balaban), with the eye of a science fiction writer, as a source of story ideas.
I am, sincerely, in awe at the quality of some of the papers (so far as an amateur can appreciate them). But I'm a science fiction writer, not a scientist. I approach these essays as I would an article on the curious plight of Hubble's Constant. I'm looking for hooks and riffs; material I can use.

And that ability to take a snippet of science and turn it into an interesting tale is what makes SF so much fun to read (IMHO).

(via Jonathan Strahan's Notes from Coode Street via SF Signal)

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The Color of Alien Plants

The current issue of Scientific American takes a look at what plants on other worlds might look like. Of course talking about the actual shape of alien plants - or what we might characterize as "plants" - would be purely speculative. However, we can speculate as to the likely color of photosynthetic life on planets circling non-Sol-like stars, based on what we know about plants on Earth.
Light of any color from deep violet through the near-infrared could power photosynthesis. Around stars hotter and bluer than our sun, plants would tend to absorb blue light and could look green to yellow to red. Around cooler stars such as red dwarfs, planets receive less visible light, so plants might try to absorb as much of it as possible, making them look black.
In addition to the article, which is based in solid science, there is a slide show of an artist's fantasy of what those alien plants might look like.

There are also some related informational in that issue:
Of course the article doesn't really address the issue of whether a lifeform with photosynthetic pigments is necessarily a "plant". I don't think we should make any such assumptions.

Image: From the Scientific American"The Color of Plants on Other Worlds" slide show

The Science in Fiction Project

If you need inspiration to to read some good science-based fiction - either science fiction or "lab lit" - you might want to sign up for the Science in Fiction Project.
You might be asking yourself where you would even start with finding out about novels that are science-oriented. I didn’t know where to start either, so I googled “science in fiction” and found a great resource called At their site they talk about the very idea I had, and many of the books on their list are ones I had planned on reading at some point anyway. Some of these include Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, and Intuition by Allegra Goodman. It’s a great list to start from.
And, of course, you could alway check out some of the SF suggestions over in the sidebar.

Anyway, I've signed up and I'm keeping an eye on the reviews by other project members. I'll add a review of my own, once I actually get through one of the novels on my nightstand.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Astrobiology Library

Mike Brotherton has posted a list of books that he uses as reference in writing his space-based hard science fiction. His library covers space travel, humans in space, development of stars, and, of special interest here, astrobiology. Among the books he recommends:

Read this FREE online!
Full Book
PDF Summary
That looks like a pretty useful list. I'd add to that Chris Impey's recent book, The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe, which gives a pretty good overview of the possibilities of extraterrestrial life.

I'd just like to add that there are a number of free online resources for astrobiology information as well.
  • Astrobiology Magazine has news and some articles available online. They also produce an associated astrobiology podcast
  • The NASA Astrobiology site is good source for the latest astrobiology-related news, and if you have an astrobiology question, you can get an expert answer from their Ask an Astrobiologist service.
  • Last year the National Research Council published a report titled The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems. It discusses the chemistry of carbon-based life, alternative biochemistry, and exotic habitats that might support non-water-based life. It's technical, and it doesn't have pretty illustrations, but it covers some of the latest research - and it's free.

* Astrophysicist Drake is best known (to me at least) for the so-called Drake equation, which attempts to calculate the number of other civilizations in the galaxy with which we might hope to be able to communicate. According to Wikipedia, the current best estimates for all the variables gives a result of 2.3 - not many, given the vastness of space.
(link to Mike Brotherton via The World in the Satin Bag)


Friday, April 04, 2008

Ecology of Dune

SciFi Weekly reports that Frank Herbert's novel Dune is slated to be made into a movie once again, this time by Peter Berg, director of The Kingdom. According to SciFi, the move is still in the early planning stages:
The Berg Dune is now seeking writers, with the producers looking for a faithful adaptation of the Hugo- and Nebula Award-winning book.

New Amsterdam's Richard Rubenstein, who produced SCI FI's Dune and its sequel, Children of Dune, is also producing alongside Sarah Aubrey of Film 44, Berg's production banner. John Harrison and Mike Messina executive-produce.
It will be interesting to see what approach Berg will take to the movie. I think it's pretty safe to assume that it will have a very different feel from the 1984 version directed by David Lynch.

In this YouTube video of an interview that Herbert gave about the time the Lynch movie was released, he talks about charismatic leaders, and how the desert planet Arrakis (aka Dune) with it's highly desirable "spice" reflects some of the limitations of Earth's environment: valuable oil, and limited clean air and water, and problems with overpopulation.

One of the things I find fascinating about the Dune series is that the planet itself plays such an important role in the story. The Fremen have learned to live in the harsh landscape of Arrakis, yet dream of a future in which careful weather control will turn the desert green. There is a catch, of course. Arrakis is the only source of the drug melange, or "spice", which is both essential for intersteller navigation and is used by the wealthy to extend their lifespans. Melange is a byproduct of the life cycle of the great sandworms, which both created the desert and require the arid climate for their survival. A green Arrakis is one without sandworms - and without the spice.

Herbert based Arrakis on real desert ecology, having been inspired by the sand dunes along the Oregon coast. In a 1969 interview with Cal State Fullerton English professor Willis McNelly, he talked about his research that lead to the novel:

FH: [. . .] Sand dunes are like waves in a large body of water; they just are slower. And the people treating them as fluid learn to control them.

WM: Fluid mechanics, in other words.

FH: That’s it. Fluid mechanics, with sand. And the whole idea fascinated me, so I started researching sand dunes and of course from sand dunes it’s a logical idea to go into a desert. The way I accumulated data is I start building file folders and before long I saw that I had far to much for an article and far too much for a story, for a short story. So, I didn’t know really what I had but I had an enormous amount of data and avenues shooting off at all angles to gather more. And I was following them … I can’t read the dictionary, you know; I can’t go look up a word…

WM: (Laughter)

FH: I get stopped by everything else on the opposite page. But … so, I started accumulating these file folders, which I’ll show you later, and as a result, I finally saw that I had something enormously interesting going for me about the ecology of deserts, and it was, for a science fiction writer anyway, it was an easy step from that to think: What if I had an entire planet that was a desert? During my studies of deserts, of course, and previous studies of religions, we all know that many religions began in a desert atmosphere, so I decided to put the two together because I don’t think that any one story should have any one thread. I build on a layer technique, and of course putting in religion and religious ideas you can play one against the other. [. . . ]

Read the whole interview for more about Herbert's thoughts on ecology and the effect of humans on the environment, feudalism, religion, his writing process and more.

I think that wars fought over the control of rare commodities and changes in the environment are themes that are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s. However, I suspect the new movie version is more likely to be an action thriller with lots of explosions than a thoughtful allegory of our dependence on oil and Earth's changing climate. Actually, in my ideal version it would be both!

(Herbert video via The World in a Satin Bag; Image is a photo of Oregon Dunes by Artbandito on flickr)

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

David Brin on Uplifting Animals

French site ActuSF interviewed David Brin, and he talked a bit about increasing the intelligence of non-human animals:
ActuSF : You made also animals endowed with "conscience" as dolphins and chimpanzees. Do you think that one day science will go that far ?
David Brin : Yes, I do. But will we make them slaves, as shown by Pierre Boule or HG Wells ? Or will we try to make them citizens, as in my Elevation Universe ? First we must be the ones with a conscience !

ActuSF : How not to make too much anthropomorphism with these animals or ET ?
David Brin : You must study the research and talk to experts who work with these animals, in order to make sure this "essence" remains !

ActuSF : Is it possible to make them behave in a manner truly different and without taking humans as a point of comparison ?
David Brin : You can never do this perfectly, so I have my characters discuss this ! Some of them worry : "Am I becoming too human ?"
While he doesn't have a new novel set in the Uplift Universe currently in the works, he points interested readers to his 1998 novella "Temptation", which you can read for free at As he describes the story:
Completists eager for more in the Uplift Universe may be interested in reading the novella "Temptation," which appeared in Robert Silverberg's anthology Far Horizons: All New Tales from the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction. This work features the adventures of a female dolphin on the faraway world, Jijo, who must escape from two of her own kind and then penetrate a deeply dangerous ancient secret. This novella will be a core element of the next Uplift novel... when I get around to it (!)... and answers several unresolved riddles left over from Heaven's Reach.
His most recent novel is Sky Horizon, the first in a series of "Colony High" novels.

(via SF Signal; Image: "Dolphin Encounter" by Just Taken Pics on flickr)
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