Friday, December 03, 2010

Medical aid on distant worlds

The colony sat at the edge of a river, under an evening sky of breathable air set with three brilliant, fast-moving moons. Beds of glorious flowers dotted the settlement, somewhere in size between a large town and a small city. The buildings of foamcast embedded with glittering native stone were graceful, well-proportioned rooms set around open atria. Minimal furniture, as graceful as the buildings; even the machines blended unobtrusively into the lovely landscape. The colonists had taste and restraint and a sense of beauty. They were all dead.

~ "Ej-Es" by Nancy Kress
The November issue of Lightspeed Magazine republishes Nancy Kress's 2003 short story "Ej-Es". The tale follows a member of a team of "medicians" that lands on a colony planet where the inhabitants have been wiped out by an unknown disease.

In an interview with Lightspeed, Kress explains the inspiration for the medical team:
The Corps is based on USAMRIID, the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases. This group has joined (and sometimes waged turf wars with) the CDC in fighting epidemics in third-world countries; they also have shared jurisdiction, with FEMA and the CDC, for any bioterrorist attacks here (potential turf wars).
Of course USAMRIID's web site makes it sound like they are quite chummy with the CDC. It's true, though, that the vaccines, antivirals and antitoxins developed by USAMRIID have been used to help people around the world.

I like the idea that when humanity does spread through space, there will be a medical organization equipped to help identify and fight the unexpected diseases we are likely to encounter.  I think it unlikely that viruses or microbes evolved on alien worlds to infect the local life forms would find humans to be good hosts, but who knows? That's why we'd need medical experts ready for the unexpected.

The other scientific aspect of "Ej-Es" is that the infections seem to have induced conversations with invisible companions.  In an accompanying article, neuroscientist The Evil Monkey takes a look at the science of how a brain malfunctions and seizures could lead to visions. He writes:
How is it possible for a sane, sober, rational human to see things that aren’t there, and that maybe don’t even exist? Because your mind is your reality, that’s how. And your mind only exists because your brain exists. And your reality only reflects REALITYTM inasmuch as the information your brain processes accurately represents the world. Which, of course, then begs the question: what happens to us sane, sober, rational humans when our brains misfire?
Read the article to learn how our brain affects our perception of the outside world.

Read "Ej-Es" by Nancy Kress


  1. I really love the english science ficitn novels - there are so many and so few, comparing in relation, to german science ficiton novels.

    Good luck with your writing!

  2. I really don't think that humans will reach other stars systems, at least in biological form, until at least a couple of centuries, if not much longer. I set all my interstellar exploration or empire stories at least five hundred years into the future. I may be wrong, and we may have a breakthrough in physics that has us traipsing the Universe in less than a hundred years. I just don't think so. What really gets me in speculative fiction is how most writers don't progress medical science to the same level as transportation or weapons technology. By the time of Star Trek (not that I think Star Trek will actually happen), the saying "he's dead Jim," should only occur if the poor saps brain is destroyed. Anything else up to and including destruction of the body should be repairable, as long as the brain is recovered in time. I feel sure that we will have solved the problems of nanotechnology well before we are going from star to star. In fact, we should have working nanotech even if we never get a working star ship. And nanobots could basically be used to combat anything that enters our systems that are not supposed to be there. So even in the unlikely event that a alien planet develops like compatible enough with ours that we could get infected with an alien bacteria or virus, and that the contagion proves to be deadly, our loyal nanoscale servants should have no trouble destroying the invading bugs.


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