Friday, November 17, 2017

Caves of Steel, Asimov, and the City

So...one of my favorite books of all time is Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel. For those not familiar with this classic - it's a fairly typical police procedural. A detective is assigned to a tricky case with an out-of-town partner that he initially doesn't get along with - pretty much a mystery trope.

Of course, this being a science fiction book, the out-of-town partner is a robot. R. Daneel Olivaw (who became a large part of the inspiration for a robot/android we are all familiar with - Data). It is set in a future New York City that has become a giant underground arcology overtaking most of New Jersey, in which people live a hive-like existence.

I won't say more because there may be people reading this who haven't read it. If so, get thee to a bookstore or a library. And send your mystery fans there too - The Caves of Steel is a great gateway drug to get mystery lovers into science fiction. It also has two equally fascinating sequels, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn.

This summer I finally made it to New York City, a trip I'd been wanting to make for years but somehow never got around to. Isaac Asimov was a New Yorker, and I decided to reread The Caves of Steel and its sequels with the current, present day city in mind.

Those who know anything about Asimov's background know that he suffered from a crippling fear of flying and never traveled far from the city of his birth. His hero, Elijah Baley...suffers from a crippling fear of leaving the underground cities, which he has to overcome in the sequels in order to solve the crimes. He has an ambiguous relationship with the City, which is sometimes called a womb to reflect the fact that it is a comfortable, safe space...which one must eventually leave. Earth and it's Cities are shown as a dead end.

That ambiguity of love and the desire to escape struck me far more in this re-read, but what hit me the most was that this could well have represented Asimov's own relationship with New York. His love for his city tempered by the fact that his fears would never allow him to be free of it. And this weaves into a larger fear that extreme urbanization could become a dead end from which humanity cannot escape.

Whether you agree with Asimov or not (and be aware, some of the population figures in the book seem laughable to us now, as do the 50s-esque gender relations), my extended reaction to this book reminded me of something:

There is something of the author in every character we create. There has to be.

But there is a lot more of Isaac Asimov in Elijah Baley than I thought.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Phoning ET

A while ago there was a Probability Zero in Analog entitled "The Ears Have It." In it various civilizations gave up on searching for intelligent life...because they were all listening.

Hence METI - Messaging Extra-Terrestrial International - SETI's cousin. And they just sent their first targeted message.

The target is a super earth 12 light years away. The content? Mathematical data and...music. (It's very likely music is a universal).

If anyone's there, we could get a response as early as 2042...

If anyone's there and they're advanced enough to hear it and respond, that is.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gene Editing

...inside the living body. It's being attempted for the first time. The subject suffers from Hunter's disease - which is incurable and, in the US, costs a ridiculous $100,000 to $400,000 a year to treat (I won't start on our health care system).

They're using a viral vector - a domesticated virus - to insert a good gene into his liver, allowing him to make the enzyme he hasn't been able to make. If the trial is a success it will give hope to the parents of children with the disease, who seldom survive to adulthood.

Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

In News Which Surprises No One...

...archaeologists have pushed the invention of wine back to about 5,980 BC in the Caucasus. Or rather, they've found evidence people were drinking wine then.

I suspect the actual invention was even earlier. And probably by accident. Somebody ate rotten grapes, got drunk...

...but humans do have this habit of making alcohol. We can't seem to resist the stuff.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Philcon!

First, thanks to everyone who bought books. I was vending, so didn't get to do as much con stuff as I'd like.

Thanks to everyone playing Cards Against Humanity too. You all rock.

Next year is still up in the air (I may not be able to manage both Philcon and World Fantasy) but we'll see what ends up happening.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fashion Police!

Come arrest the Doctor, stat!


Look at that - objectively it's soooo awful. Suspenders? Skants? I don't know if I want to cosplay her after all! (Esp. as I have no idea where I'd find skants like that and ya know, I can't sew).

On the other hand, there's something amazingly meta about the Doctor wearing TARDIS socks.

And the more I look at it, the more I hear Jodie Whitaker saying "Jelly baby?"

All of the new series Doctors have had fashion sense. It's kind of refreshing that Thirteen clearly doesn't. I think we're getting goofy, which the show could use. (And it also does neatly evade "I'm a woman now, I care about FASHION. Or subverts it"). The other thing I'm noting is that while Whitaker is obviously *wearing* makeup, it's natural makeup - indicating the Doctor *isn't*, which I like.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Sheep...

...can identify human faces, a feat also shown by horses and dogs.

I would reasonably assume that the same ability is also shown by cows, cats, pigs, water buffalo, camels...IOW, at this point I think we can safely say all domestic animals have developed the ability to recognize a human by their face (they used the same photograph test previously used on the other species).

Knowing which humans are nice and which are nasty (and the vet is automatically nasty) is an important survival value if you're going to hang out with humans.