Last night’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles brought into the foreground an idea that’s been floating around in the background of the Terminator franchise for some time: that the flesh-and-blood bodies that surround terminator exoskeletons are based on real people. In the future, a young woman called Allison Young falls into the hands of Skynet, and given that she looks exactly like terminator Cameron, we have a fair idea of how things are going to turn out for her. In the real world, how close are we to creating not just a generic individual, but a doppleganger of a specific individual?
One of the things I like about the Stargate franchise is that it shows the characters working to understand things, often over a course of episodes or even seasons, instead of just magically knowing it all–for example, it took a long time for the franchise to go from a few captured enemy spacecraft, through some buggy hybrids, plus a hefty technology transfer from a friendly civilization, to the human-built heavy cruisers like the Deadulus. This “show your work” style comes right from the 1994 movie that started it all, where archeologist Daniel Jackson was brought in to figure out the mysterious inscriptions on the first discovered stargate.
So it was a return to the franchise’s roots in more ways than one when Jackson made a guest appearance in Atlantis, looking for a long lost laboratory somewhere in the city. Read More
One of my favorite authors (and one of the most scientifically grounded around) is Ben Bova, who has recently published the third book in his trilogy about Mars exploration called Mars Life. The Biology in Science Fiction blog has an interview with Bova, where he talks about the possibility of life on Mars, and why he doesn’t like the idea of terraforming the red planet.
As reported by Technovelgy, The Atheon Temple of Science has opened in Berkeley, California. Created as an art project by Jonathan Keats, the Atheon is “a secular temple devoted to scientific worship,” reminiscent of the cloistered maths of Neal Stephen’s Anathem Even though “scientific worship” should be an oxymoron, in that the act of faith commensurate with religious worship is something very different to the skepticism that lies at the heart of the scientific method, the Atheon is an interesting experiment in just how much–or how little–meaning science can bring to our lives.
To paraphrase the Hold Steady, we like to stay positive. At Science Not Fiction, staying positive means that we don’t debunk (or nerdgas.) If the sonic screwdriver solves the problem, then by all means whip it out.
That being said, this show Fringe is seriously stretching us to the limit.
Now that we’ve gotten that off our chest, here are few other links to help lighten the mood:
Last night’s midseason finale of Eureka tied up a number of loose ends, and set up a number of new plot points for the second half of the third season, set to air sometime in 2009. (Incidentally, last minute struggles with the script for this episode were responsible for Eureka co-creater Jamie Paglia having to sprint through the San Diego Convention Center to make it on time to DISCOVER’s Comic-Con panel on the Science Behind Science Fiction.) One of the things that Sheriff Carter finds himself contending with is a “nanoparticle syntactic foam” that goes from foam to something harder than concrete in a few seconds—the ideal substance for sealing off the abandoned underground facility that has been featured throughout the season, but not something you’d want to spill on yourself.
Ever since the first Terminator movie in 1984, Terminator cyborgs have had the ability to duplicate the voice of any given human they hear, an ability deployed again in last night episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, when our plucky band of heroes has its cell phones intercepted. It’s not so far fetched — pretty much this exact scenario has been worrying real security researchers for some time.
The theme of HBO’s new series, TrueBlood, is based on a Japanese scientist’s invention of synthetic blood. The breakthrough allows vampires to “come out of the coffin” and progress from freakish villains to fellow citizens. (Just stop into a local TrueBlood bank for a snack, and humans are off the menu.)
Space Opera is one of my favorite sub-genres of science fiction, and in recent years has gained a new lease of life (I recommend reading The New Space Opera anthology for good snapshot of the current state of affairs). Like all definitions, saying what exactly is and isn’t space opera can be a highly subjective exercise, but for me, works of space opera all try for a certain grand sweep: the canvas is broad, often involving a good chunk of at least one galaxy. The themes are big–space opera is where entire space-faring civilizations can collide–and awesome technologies are frequently brought into play.
The sci-fi blog io9 recently announced the winners of their Mad Science Contest, in which they invited their readers to dream up useful or just really sweet ways to use synthetic biology. The two winners were:
Vijaykumar Meli, who laid out a plan for a bacterium that would improve the nitrogen fixation of rice plants, thereby decreasing pollution from fertilizer run-off and improving yield, which could save plenty of lives in the developing world. Meli says the technique could be accomplished using current technology, including parts from the BioBricks collection of standard biological parts.
Elliott Gresswell, who stumbled upon the fictitious lab notebooks of researchers who inadvertently create walking, nanotech-caused-gray-goo-living carnivorous trees, illustrated here by comic book artist Kevin O’Neill. (These fantastic monsters wouldn’t be too out of place with the space-faring fungus hats that Jaron Lanier has imagined in synthetic biology’s future.)
Hats off to the winners. (In Gresswell’s case, perhaps that would be, “Heads off”…)