One of my brothers-in-law, all of whom I respect highly, didn’t read much of my science fiction collection, OTHER EARTH, OTHER STARS (the link is to my web page about the book). He prefers science fact to science fiction. He loaned me a book he just finished, EVOLVING OURSELVES: HOW UNNATURAL SELECTION IS CHANGING LIFE ON EARTH by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans (the link is to the authors’ web site).
It is, indeed, a fascinating exploration of how humans have stacked the cards in our own favor, selecting plants and animals and modifying our surroundings and (intentionally or not) our own genetic interitance/expression. It goes on to discuss, in generalities and in detail, how we might further interfere with natural selection and mutation in order to tailor our biology to future circumstances.
The authors repeatedly remark on the ethical, moral, and philosophical questions that need to be asked and discussed and answered before we make some of these choices, which I think is both appropriate and consistent with the attitude of most scientists.
This brother-in-law puts his book on one side of a scale — the real stuff side — and my book on the other side — the la-de-dah make-believe side.
I content that story is exactly what these authors are talking about. Once upon a time, there were clever monkeys who could do this thing. One of them said, “Let’s talk about it first. If we do this thing, how will it affect us and our world and our children?”
What does story do, if it doesn’t address the ethical, moral, and philosophical questions implicit in certain persons being in certain situations? Even if the manner of addressing them is Should James Bond bed this woman before he shoots her?, the question is there to be asked and answered.
One of my stories, “Solo For Multiple Instruments,” presumes a colony on a planet with a dimension that impinges on human perception but doesn’t quite mesh. Science presumes that possibility. Story explores it imaginatively.
Another story, “Leaving the Turtle,” presumes a colony established by parthenogenetic females — able to reproduce without males so as to populate the colony more quickly. The ability is present in actual Earth animals, is possible to genetically program into humans, and all-female colonies have been proposed since women, in general, weigh less than most men. The story explores, imaginatively, one of the many human conflicts dependent from that. Don’t assume you know what it is — you’re probably wrong.
Another one, “Til Death Us Do Part,” is about how actual people might actually feel about traveling by Star-Trek-like transporters.
Science is about wonder, and so are stories. Stories — and good science — are also about humanity. Cold, hard, science without humanity is, at best, trivial and, at worst, monstrous.
That’s my story, anyway.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: What scientific breakthrough that’s taken place during his/her life most blows your main character away?
JaneJuly 4, 2016 at 9:10am
In 1969, during the moon landing, a fellow was interviewed who had witnessed the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Now, he was watching the first men on the moon VIA TV! He was sort of gob-smacked, and so am I … every time I think about it.
Well, other great discoveries:
Medical: Polio vaccine. Wiping out smallpox. And the biggies: Sewing your limbs back on when they get cut off!!
Discovered in my lifetime:
Pulsars. THe first signals detected were so regular, we all hoped they were alien signals. Turned out to be rapidly spinning stellar objects.
Expansion of the universe. Not just the first discovery, that it’s expanding (Hey, I was not born yet for this one), but the discovery that the universe began to expand faster several billion years ago!! Say what!!
Human genome. CRISPR. etc.
So much to olearn. So little time.
Tell your brother in law to read After the Ice, by Steven Mithen.
Marian AllenJuly 5, 2016 at 7:42am
I told him, Jane, and he repeated it as if he plans to look it up. The book he loaned us had a lot in it about the human genome and CRISPR, and the possibilities of altering our genomes to produce healthier, smarter, “designer” humans suited to space travel and/or life on a changing Earth. A great book for sf writers to mine for story ideas, actually! 🙂
Dan AntionJuly 4, 2016 at 9:17am
Stories are a magical way of teaching, explaining and entertaining all at once. Thanks for the mini-tour and thinks for branding the CBF16 badge 🙂
Marian AllenJuly 5, 2016 at 7:46am
I signed up for the blogfest, Dan — thanks for touting it.