Does anyone else find this as scary as I do?

June 25, 2009

According to Slashdot, a researcher at Stanford has successfully spliced light sensitive algae genes into human brain cells.  The cells can then be activated by laser light.  This is pretty scary on its own.  But here’s the money quote:  ‘Once the researcher attaches the other end of the cable to a laser, he or she has absolute and flawless control over that group of neurons.’

Holy #$%#!!!  Absolute control over someones neurons?!  What are they planning to use this for?  And even if there is some benign use in mind, how long will it take for some very malignant uses to be devised?  Sure, right now it requires being hooked up to a cable, which limits the potential for malicious use – at least they can only control a person’s mind in a lab.  But what happens when some other helpful scientist figures out how to control those neurons from a distance, or by remote control?

At least we don’t currently have a fascist president.  Silver lining, right?


Shared Worlds Interviews

June 20, 2009

Matt at Enter the Octopus is spreading the word about an interview conducted by author Jeff VanderMeer.  That lucky dog got to talk with 5 of scifi and fantasy’s top authors – Elizabeth Hand, Nalo Hopkinson, Ursula K. LeGuin, China Miéville, and Michael Moorcock – in a special interview to promote the Shared Worlds summer camp for teen writers, artists, and future game developers.  VanderMeer asked the other authors to talk about the most fantastic real-life city they know, the one that they based some of their fictional cities on.  Check out their answers here.  You get to hear from some awesome writers and help a good cause at the same time.

NASA plans to blow up the moon!

June 17, 2009

According to this articleon Slashdot (and there are lots more in various places – I just like Slashdot), NASA plans to set off an explosion on the moon that will create a 6 mile high debris plume so that they can look for water in the debris.

On the serious side, if they find a significant source water it would be another major step toward starting a real lunar colony, because water is one of the most important resources (right up there with air and soil – well, with hydroponics, I guess soil is less important) that are currently absent on the moon.

But, really, it’s very hard to be serious when you’re talking about NASA blowing up the moon.  I mean, have they thought about what could go wrong?  Two moons, anyone?  What would that do to our tides?  Ah, the imagination can run wild.  Thanks, NASA.

A new babysitter?

June 15, 2009

Pink Tentacle has an articleabout a robot that can read books.  The robot’s premiere had it reading a fairy tale, and the designers said that once they figure out how to put a little more feeling in its voice so it sounds, well, less like a robot, it will be ready for a job reading to children and the elderly.  Now they just need to program it to prepare meals, keep the kids (or grandma and grandpa) from wandering off, and put out fires – and it can take over babysitting duties!  Of course, it’s better than just sitting your kids in front of the tv and using that as a babysitter.

The Continuing Obsession with Rubber Ducks…

June 12, 2009

absolutely befuddles me.  And yet, there it is.  I am still getting 10 or more hits every single week just of people looking at my giant rubber ducky picture.  So for those ducky lovers out there, here are some sites devoted to our squeaky pals.


Agent to the Stars – John Scalzi

June 12, 2009

In my continuing effort to read every book Scalzi has published, I picked Agent up from my local library.  I actually read the foreword (normally I skip them – they tend to be boring) and was pleased to discover this is the first novel he wrote.  It is a funny story, with a lot of Scalzi’s typical humor, which was good since that is a large part of why I read his stuff.

Agent to the Stars is the story of humanity’s introduction to an alien race for the first time.  The aliens are highly intelligent, ethical, and just want to be friends.  The problem is that they look like our collective worst nightmare – talking piles of goo – and they smell worse.  They first became aware of humanity when they started receiving our television signals decades ago, and have been studying us based on tv ever since.  So, of course, when they get here to meet us, they are aware that they have a PR problem.  And what do you do when you have a PR problem in the television age?  You hire an agent to sell you to the masses in the best light possible.

Enter Tom Stein, an up-and-coming young agent in LA.  He gets the unenviable task of figuring out how to introduce humanity to these talking piles of goo that look like the bad guys in many a sci fi movie in such a way that humanity accepts themas friends.  He also gets to be the 2nd person on Earth to make contact with actual aliens (his boss at the agency being the first).  I’d say that’s a hell of a perk.

This is not an action book, and there isn’t a lot of high drama.  But it is fun, and funny, and a quick read for a night relaxing at home.  Or a day at the beach, which is where I read most of it.

The Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

June 3, 2009

The only previous Butler I have read is Lilith’s Brood, which was very definitely science fiction, so I was expecting a very definitely sci fi type of book this time too.  That’s sort of what I got…

The Parable of the Sower is set in a near-future dystopia where the United States has pretty much fallen apart.  There is rampant poverty, environmental disaster, homelessness, violence, and drug use, and the few who try to maintain the old way of life live in walled communities and venture out as little as possible.  The story is centered on Lauren Olamina, a 15 year old girl living just outside L.A. when we first meet her.  She lives in on of the poorer walled communities, but her community has food and water, and some of the adults even have jobs that pay money instead of food or other goods.  Lauren sees the trend toward ever increasing violence, and doesn’t believe the sanctuary of the walled community will last.  Her father is a Baptist minister, but she finds his faith unfulfilling in the face of the horrors around her.  She begins to develop her own religious belief system which she calls Earthseed. 

Lauren’s fears of her home being destroyed are realized when her community is attacked by addicts one night and the entire community is burned, and most of the occupants are brutally killed.  Lauren and two others escape from the wreckage, and decide to make their way north to what they have heard is a better area.  Along the way she continues to develop Earthseed and share it with others.

The book is sci fi in the sense that it is set in the future, and there are a few technologies that while possible today are not available.  However, there are no aliens swooping down on us – either for attack or rescue.  There are no super-technologies to solve all our problems, and no super-humans with special powers either.  There are only people, struggling to make it through a nightmare world, and occasionally trying to make it better.  With Octavia Butler’s writing skill and command of language to back it up, it’s enough.