Saturday, September 06, 2008

Biology in Science Fiction Roundup: September 6 Edition

Here are some of the bioscience and science fiction-related articles and blog posts I've been reading the past few weeks. It seems like there are a lot of entries this time. Is that a sign that summer is over? Or maybe I'm just not blogging enough.

Written Word

Watch the teaser trailer for Nancy Kress's Dogs at YouTube.

io9 rounds up novels in which intelligent design is truth:
This is the truly proscience version of ID theory: The notion that humans will eventually live in an ID universe, where our bodies and everything around us is designed. Only it will have been designed by us, in the service (hopefully) of bettering humanity. We won't be the playthings of some third party entity whose motivations are unclear. In the end, we will become our own intelligent designers.
Cheryl Morgan writes at The Bilerico Project about science fiction novels with transgender themes (via io9).

Nature Editor Henry Gee notes that the journal's short science fiction column, Futures, seems to confuse some people who are unclear on the whole fiction concept. If you have access to Nature online you can read the latest Futures, if not, you can read some of the past entries at

The Flowers For Algernon blog is republishing Daniel Key's classic novel in blog format. While the diary format of the original story is easily translated into blog format, the fact that the most recent post is at the top of the page (and the blogger doesn't have individual page posts) means that you have to scroll up to read, which is awkward. (via Metafilter)

Morgan Locke at Eat Our Brains points to data showing that the oceans are dying: Kate
Kate Wilhelm has a short story called “The Chosen.” It depicts the forests of the future, which have fallen silent. And still we mine them. This table is a glimpse at the reality that story predicted.
Lauren Davis at io9 tackles the question "When are Vampires Science Fiction?"


io9 rounds up the poor reviews of the movie version of Jose Saramago's dystopian novel Blindness

io9 also has info about the new French horror movie Mutants

Bloody Disgusting reports that director Guillermo del Toro has a number of new movies on his schedule after he completes The Hobbit, including remakes of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Slaughterhouse-Five, a movie version of Dan Simmon's Drood, and more.

SciFi Scanner writes about science fiction Venusians in book and film.

BoxOfficeProphets writes about the upcoming movie version of The Time Traveler's Wife

Wired interviews Leland Chee, keeper of the Star Wars Holocron - the database of all official information about the Star Wars universe. I didn't even know there was an Endor Holocust. Poor Ewoks.


The Science Not Fiction blog writes about the creepy crawlies from the Eureka mummy episode in "Putting the Crypt in Cryptobiosis"

Brian Switek @ Laelaps writes about the ridiculous situation where an episode of the History Channel's Jurassic Fight Club - ostensibly a science program - uses science fiction/thriller novelist Steve Alten as an expert on prehistoric sharks (presumably on the strength of his novel about one), rather than actual shark experts. The result is a show that's closer to fiction than science:
. . . even worse is that we hear the same old tripe about the possibility that C. megalodon is still alive somewhere in the ocean depths. I haven't studied the history of this claim in modern fiction in detail but it did come up in JAWS, and numerous "so bad it's almost good" novels have been penned on just this premise (i.e. the MEG series, Extinct, Quest for Megalodon, Carcharodon, From the Dark Below, and Megalodon. I won't even get started on all the direct-to-video "Meg" movies...). Alten, of course, is the person who tells us of this shocking news (not like he's trying to get a movie made on the premise or has another book about it or anything...). Brett Kent throws some cold water on the idea, but then we get another clip with Alten saying that it's "wrong to assume" that his favorite monster isn't still out there somewhere. Yes, yes, "teach the controversy" and all that...
io9 interviews special effects artist Dan Rebert, whose gives the scoop on the fang physiology he used for the new HBO series True Blood.

Other Media

Dinosaur Comics on what the prehistoric past might really have been like (dragons and unicorns and butt hands!)

Seed Magazine takes a look at the way video games are reshaping how we perform and promote science, particularly biology.

The LA Times has an article about the LA Opera's collaborations between film and opera, including "The Fly"

Cool Science

Irradiatus at Biochemical Soul has a great post on developmental biology, transhumanism and building a better human

Ask Metafilter collects examples of transhumanism in the real world - nothing quite as cool as the movies.

io9's Biogeek lists the unlikeliest futures for the human species.

Mo at Neurophilosphy writes about the neuroscience of magic, and points to the (freely available) article at Nature Reviews Neuroscience "Attention and awareness in stage magic: turning tricks into research" and accompanying videos of magician demonstrations from the "Magic of Consciousness Symposium".

TED has posted a video of Paul Rothemund's talk on DNA folding, a process he hopes to use to "create tiny machines that assemble themselves from a set of instructions"

Wired posts about a new gene therapy that stimulates growth of inner ear hairs. Loss of those hairs can cause a range of problems, from tinnitus to deafness, so this is an exciting result, even if it has only been performed in mice.

PZ Myers explains a recent paper that demonstrated the reprogramming of adult pancreas cells by the introduction of three transcription factors.

Engineers at MIT have developed a method of building microbatteries using self-assembling viruses.

Meanwhile, scientists at Caltech have created a "super-compact high-resultion microscope, small enough to fit on a finger tip." Not only is it small enough to fit on a fingertip, it's cheap: $10 for a mass-produced version.
In the future, the microscope chips could be incorporated into devices that are implanted into the human body. "An implantable microscope analysis system can autonomously screen for and isolate rogue cancer cells in blood circulation, thus, providing important diagnostic information and helping arrest the spread of cancer," says Yang.
Jake Young at Pure Pedantry writes about the recent review in Nature on anti-aging science. It's probably not good news if you were hoping for a pill to help you live to 200.

At io9 Annalee Newitz reports on a protein that can prevent telomeres - the "caps" at the end of chromosomes - from shortening over time. The result is cells that retain their "youth", which perhaps will someday be part of a longevity treatment.

Live Science suggests that there are evolutionary advantages to being a little bit mentally ill.

Dark Roasted Blend has photos of the most alien-looking place on Earth (via Posthuman Blues)

Watch a video of Michael Chorost speaking as part of the Authors@Google series about becoming a cyborg:
Michael Chorost became a cyborg on October 1, 2001, the day his new ear was booted up. Born hard of hearing in 1964, he went completely deaf in his thirties. Rather than live in silence, he chose to have a computer surgically embedded in his skull to artificially restore his hearing. This is the story of Chorost's journey -- from deafness to hearing, from human to cyborg -- and how it transformed him. The melding of silicon and flesh has long been the stuff of science fiction. But as Chorost reveals in this witty, poignant, and illuminating memoir, fantasy is now giving way to reality.
Keven at The Other 95% writes about a new species discovered in a piece of amber purchased through Ebay.

Robert Sawyer writes about the latest news on Neanderthals.

Scientists at MIT show how insects use trapped air bubbles to breath under water.

Ed at Not Exactly Rocket Science writes about a recent study that shows how European genes mirror European geography.

Scientific American has an article about animal intelligence and the evolution of the human mind.

a Nadder posts about the Aliens Among Us - life on Earth that is at least as strange as fictional extraterrestrials.



  1. "At io9 Annalee Newitz reports on a protein that can prevent telomeres - the "caps" at the end of chromosomes - from shortening over time. The result is cells that retain their "youth", which perhaps will someday be part of a longevity treatment."

    Yes it was interesting to catch that this week as I've been reading The Child Goddess by Louise Marley which is based on a similar premise. A synchronicity. It's a nice book.

  2. Darn you, I really didn't need any more books added to my "to read" list!


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