I recently joined Meitar “maymay” Moscovitz and Emma Gross of Kink on Tap to discuss sex, cyborgs, and politics. In the podcast episode, entitled “Hymen on a Budget,” we have ourselves quite a little chat. Body modification and plastic surgery, the nature of personhood, sexuality and gender selection, and criminally dangerous sex all get their moments in the sun. And while I may not precisely agree with maymay’s statement “eugenics isn’t sexy,” I can’t thank Emma and him enough for having me on the show. Gender and sexuality studies are where my interest in transhumanism started, so it’s always good to get back to basics.
Just a heads up: The content is explicit, so if frank discussion of sexuality, bodies, and politics is upsetting to you or anyone who may overhear, I’d recommend not listening–or at least wearing headphones.
For those of you comfortable with whatever we may say, you’ll be happy you listened and even happier to discover Kink on Tap.
Image via J (mtonic.com) on Flickr
Once or twice before I’ve made a case for diversity as a hallmark of good science fiction. Regardless of one’s present political affiliations, we like our sci-fi casts to be a plurality of uncanny and unfamiliar characters. The future of our species is, in part, dependent upon how well we get along with other forms of sentient life. So which stellar explorers would earn the stamp of approval from the Rainbow Coalition of the 24½th Century? After weeding out (most) all-human crews (sorry BSG!) and some of the less well-known teams (sorry Bucky O’Hare!), I’ve come up with a top five list. We’ve got genetic mutants, alcoholic robots, holograms, bisexual aliens, snarky A.I., clones, cryonauts, cyborgs, and every variant of human being imaginable. Did I leave anyone out?
First, in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World, it was a T-Rex rampaging through downtown San Diego munching on house pets. Now aliens have stealthily invaded the San Diego Air & Space Museum. This particular invasion, however, was invited–the Air & Space Museum is hosting the Science of Aliens traveling exhibit: a fun mix of science and science fiction.
The exhibit is broken down into four areas:
The alien fiction section was small, and had a collection of movie props, videos, and sections devoted to Roswell and the Alien Autopsy video. Interestingly the content in the Roswell section was donated by the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, NM, so I felt it was slightly skewed in favor of the object that crashed at Roswell being of an extraterrestrial nature, while the content provided for the Alien Autopsy video practically screamed “THIS WAS A HOAX!”
Meeting the press during a recent visit to Tokyo, NASA Astronaut Alan Poindexter — Commander of recent Discovery ISS resupply mission STS-131 — was asked if there had been sex in space. His reply was succinct and left no room for ambiguity (though this photo does look pretty chummy):
We are a group of professionals. We treat each other with respect and we have a great working relationship. Personal relationships are not … an issue. We don’t have them and we won’t.
Hang on a second. I’m not sure that the concepts of “sex in space” and “professional” are mutually exclusive. I’m sure that, given what we’ve learned about human physiology because of spaceflight, that there are any number of cardiologists, internists, endocrinologists, OB/GYNs, and a whole host of other health-care professionals and researchers who would love to have physiological data taken of a couple before, during, and after a union in a microgravity environment. These researchers would be the Masters and Johsons, Kinseys, and perhaps even the Shere Hites of their time.
Science fiction without science is merely fiction. There are gray levels in how well the science is portrayed in television and cinema, however. For the third straight year, Discover Magazine and the National Academy’s Science and Enterainment Exchange hosted a science-of-science-fiction panel at San Diego Comic-Con, and this year’s theme was “Abusing Science in Science Fiction.” Each panelist provided two video clips from sci-fi television or cinema: one of science done right, and one where the science, well, wasn’t done right.
I’ve always maintained that in science fiction TV and cinema good science should be jettisoned in deference to drama as a last resort only–and then when you have all your other ducks in a row. If the science is solid in the large bulk of your work, we’ll make the leap with you when you get a bit more… speculative. Some works stick to grounded science well, some do not.
Therefore, for my clips, I chose two instances of the same type of event–the impact of a comet/asteroid with Earth — one done well (Deep Impact), one that could have been done better (Armageddon).
Ray Bradbury is the last living of the great early titans of science fiction, now that Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke have passed. He said he’s attended every Comic-Con since the first one, when he went to the El Cortez Hotel and spoke to a few of the 300 attendees that year. These days, 125,000 people turn out for Comic-Con every year, and I had to wait 30 minutes to get in to see Bradbury speak. He’ll be 90 in August, and he’s hard of hearing, but he’s still sharp, and he’s forgotten nothing.
The Bradbury panel featured Bradbury talking to his biographer, Sam Weller. I’m just going to share select quotes from his remarks. These are in order, but incomplete.
“The Internet to me is a great big goddamn stupid bore.”
“I got a call from a man who wanted to publish my books on the Internet. I told him, prick up your ears and go to hell.”
[Bradbury has met most, if not all, of the Apollo and Gemini astronauts.]
“All those astronauts had read the Martian Chronicles. When they were young men, they read my books and decided they wanted to become astronauts.”
Comic-Con gathered together the world’s top zombie experts not named George Romero to talk zombies. Unsurprisingly, they see our favorite brain-eating shamblers in radically different ways. I cobbled together their comments from throughout the panel to paint a picture for how each writer imagines zombies.
Max Brooks (World War Z): “Fast versus slow? Slow zombies are based on the hypothetical mobility scenario of necrotic flesh subjugated to high impact energy… and fast zombies suck.”
“The whole thing about zombies was the sheer size of the problem. The whole thing about monsters is you have to make a personal choice to go find them…you have to make a choice. With zombies, they come to you, and there is no safe place. That’s thing about zombies is they are global, it is big, it is all-encompassing. You could still make the right decisions, they would come for you, and it didn’t matter if you were a hot chick or a token black guy, you were dead.”
Mira Grant (Newsflesh Trilogy): “Zombies are humans enhanced chemically or by virus. Undead flesh eaters cannot be considered zombies. Only virologically or chemically enhanced humans can hold their heads high under the zombie name, preferably to better chew on your throat. I would posit they’d begin fast, then be reduced to the traditional zombie shamble, respirating the whole time.”
Carla Speed McNeil writes the Finder graphic novels, a work that in many ways blends science fiction and fantasy. With a hybrid work, she’s had to confront some of the definitional questions of the genres:
• Superhero comics are not SciFi. They’re stories of emotion and character embroidered with these scientific ideas.
• Fantasy and Sci-fi are both speculative fiction, but approached from different angles. Where Sci-fi builds on physics and chemistry and the laws of nature, fantasy, when done well, draws from the “softer sciences” (McNeil’s phrase) like sociology and anthropology. When I think about the fantasy novels I’ve read, at least the good ones, I think she’s spot on. Also, by this rule, superhero stories like Spider-Man and Superman are works of fantasy, not works of science fiction.
• I asked her thoughts on the question of breaking the rules that I raised in yesterday’s post. She pretty much admitted that one of the big problems is that a lot of sci-fi and fantasy writers simply don’t know the rules of science well enough to know when they’re breaking the rules. But she also agreed with Zack Stentz, in that she said she obeys “the rule of cool”: If it’s cool, you can break the rule. The art of the writing is making the rule-breaking not off-putting or boring.
A quick note for McNeil fans, she recently signed with Dark Horse Comics after years of self-publishing. She said the relationship is great so far, but still new. It’ll be interesting to see how or if the books change.
Spring boarding from Amos’ post on Thursday’s Discover panel, I want to delve into some unexplored tension. The panel focused on how science could make storytelling better, and it included a mix of scientists and TV writers.
Jamie Paglia (Co-creator of Eureka) conceded that sometimes he’s had to “stretch the boundaries a little thin for my comfort zone,” and he was somewhat abashed thinking of those moments. But Fringe producer Zach Stentz threw down the gauntlet.
“Sometimes you have to break the rules to tell the story you want to tell,” he said, and ran a Fringe clip in which Olivia and Peter realize that Bell has extracted memories from Walter’s brain by removing actual pieces of Walter’s brain.
“He literally had his memories removed,” Stentz said. “We knew when we wrote it that memories aren’t stored in a discrete portion of your brain.”
Which I thought was a pretty direct challenge to Kevin Grazier, Sean Carroll, and Phil Plait, all scientists trying to make the case that accurate science can ratchet up the tension and provide a more satisfying resolution.
Alas, the argument never got going, and it left me wondering: where’s the line between acceptable and unacceptable scientific rule breaking?