Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Domestication of Viruses

It's one of the big advances of our time. (And perhaps ironically, the most useful virus may turn out to be HIV).

But another virus is now showing promise. Remember polio? Thank vaccination for the fact that most of us can't. (And thank anti-vaxxers if any of us see it again, but that's a side issue).

Scientists have redesigned polio to make a virus called PVS-RIPO. This virus likes...cancer cells. And only cancer cells. It's erased or significantly reduced brain tumors...and not just in monkeys, either.

It's very likely that the "cure" for cancer will turn out to be an entire pack of redesigned viruses. And that the descendents of the virus that crippled Franklin D. Roosevelt will save a lot of lives.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: The Finisher by David Baldacci

The Finisher is yet another YA dystopia. I'm honestly starting to get tired of them - can we have some positive YA science fiction already?

It's well written and appears to be fantasy - I stress appears to be because the book is kind of strange and I'm not sure where it falls - with no help provided by the back cover or the imprint. The worldbuilding is solid so far.

Vega Jane is a young woman growing up in the town of Wormwood which, as everyone knows, is the entire world. Around it is the Quag, a forest full of monsters that can and do eat anyone who enters it. She works at the factory that makes everything used in Wormwood, putting the finishing touches on various objects to make them look handmade. With both of her parents in the town nursing home facility (apparently with dementia), she's also trying to look after her kid brother John.

Of course, the story's really about the truth behind Wormwood, the Quag and what might lie on the other side of the Quag...but in this first book we don't get to see anything outside of Wormwood itself. Which is more than enough - corrupt politicians, sorcery (or psionics, it's not clear), places people are forbidden to go and a divide between the rich and poor that might as well be a gulf. It's not a classic dystopia...from almost page one I feel as if Wormwood is more like, well, a concentration camp. There's no feel of "this is the way somebody thought society should work but they screwed it up" as in the best dystopias. It's more "these people are trying to control everyone, possibly for their own survival."

Where the book really falls down is the use of conlang. For example, Baldacci uses male and female instead of man and woman throughout, and then resorts to the hideous construction of "male-handled." Uh, nope. If you're going to use alternate terms for basic concepts like years, then they have to feel like words people will actually use. (Sessions? Really?) Instead of pulling me further into the world, the conlang threw me out of the story repeatedly. And the use of another word instead of human made me wonder if the people were human, except from the way they were described? Okay, I still don't know if they're human.

Despite this, there's some solid worldbuilding in here, an interesting heroine and absolutely no love triangles. He has to get points for that last.

Copy obtained at World Fantasy Con.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Watch Those Contests

I entered a writing contest. I'm not going to name and shame, but it appears they may have published people's work without an actual contract or payment.

Make sure you read the terms and conditions before entering a contest - in this case there were no formal terms and conditions, and from now on I'm going to be making sure there are some.

The most common scam is to claim first rights on - or even ownership of - all entries. This is often done by reputable organizations (for example, there's a reason I've never entered a National Geographic photography contest even though I consider myself a decent amateur photographer).

But now it seems you also need to watch out for ambiguities. Sometimes small writing contests are quite legitimate - I won the Enchanted Photoflare contest (and then stopped entering because I felt like I would be, in British terms, "pot hunting") and know that one's a good one.

Sometimes, they simply aren't.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


...the sci-fi horror trope about "superice" that freezes at room temperature.

It, uh, exists.

Under enough pressure, water will form a special kind of ice with square rather than hexagonal crystals. The stuff might have medical applications, but I can't help but think about a short story about a guy's nightmares while in cryo-sleep...

Source: http://en.yibada.com/articles/22485/20150326/2d-ice-discovered-exist-room-temperature-takes-square-shape-traditional.htm

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Year In Space

I'd just like to wish good luck to astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko.

These two men will be spending a full year on the ISS to assess the potential effects on human health of long duration space travel - such as a trip to Mars. (I'm a little disappointed they chose two men for the first experiment and I hope somebody will realize that we do need to repeat this with a woman - our plumbing is a little different, after all).

They will be looking at things like eyes (the shape of the eyeball changes in microgravity), gut bacteria, etc. Hopefully they won't have the kind of major problems that might delay our efforts to get off this rock until we come up with reasonable gravity simulation (from spin or otherwise).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Forcefields? Really?

Boeing has apparently filed a patent for a real, working forcefield.

Actually, they filed it two years ago and, of course, kept the details hidden. Apparently it relies on creating a "backwash" of sorts through rapid heating that dissipates the shockwave from the explosion. Kind of like how the Flash stopped the tsunami in that recent episode.

It's a transient forcefield, rather than "up shields" (And the source article seems to think forcefields are common in Star Wars, where they are almost never used. I think you mean Star Trek, people).

But it is a protective forcefield. And I am now wondering if the same principle - sending a wave of something out - might also be used to protect against radiation. Thoughts?

Source: http://www.irishexaminer.com/examviral/science-world/may-the-force-be-with-you-boeing-unveils-plans-for-a-star-wars-style-force-field-320177.html

Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Okay. I have to be honest.

I didn't like this book. It's much in the vein...very much in the vein of Richard K. Morgan's The Steel Remains, except with less cursing and casual use of slurs. I liked the one, so I should like this.

It boils down to the main character. Jal is meant to be a reluctant hero, but the way in which it's expressed means he comes over as somewhere between Adric and Luke at the start of A New Hope. Yeah. He whines.

The world is...odd. The use of historical names makes me want to put it in the Dark Ages, but it's clearly set after we nuked ourselves back to the Stone Age. Except...yeah. Instead of being cool, it's confusing. And while the magic system is interesting, it's not as well fleshed out as I'd like. The result was a book that felt as if it wanted to post apocalyptic science fiction - but ended up, for some reason, as fantasy.

It's well written. I'm sure some people, even a lot of people, will enjoy it - but it simply isn't for me.