Monthly Archives: February 2012

Synthetic Meat – Coming Soon to a Burger Joint Near You?

Well, maybe not all that soon – they’re predicting 10-20 years, which would fit nicely with our timeline for In the Shadow of Ares: Scientists Prepare Test-Tube Burger
Eat mor vat meat!

Starting with bovine stem cells, the Dutch researchers have grown muscle fibres up to 3cm long and 0.5mm thick. The fibres are tethered and exercised as they grow, like real muscles, by bending and stretching in the culture dishes. They feed on a broth of vegetable proteins and other nutrients, equivalent to the grass or grain diet of cattle.

 

At present the fibres are a pallid yellowish-pink colour, rather than the red of raw ground beef, because they do not contain blood, but Prof Post plans to improve their appearance.

Hopefully not by adding a bunch of dye to it.

The comments on the linked article are disappointingly luddite (and predictably smug  and preachy in the case of the vegetarians/vegans), but they did prompt me to wonder just how “natural” such synthetic meats might end up being. It’s a fair point that if you’re eating all the hormones and such required to grow the meat in vitro, it’s probably going to be less healthy for you than the real thing.

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How Much Is an Astronaut’s Life Worth?

Robert Zubrin asks that question in the February Issue of Reason Magazine.  Specifically, while acknowledging that astronaut’s lives are precious, he asks whether NASA is correct to insist that space exploration be as safe as possible:

There is a potentially unlimited set of testing procedures, precursor missions, technological improvements, and other protective measures that could be implemented before allowing human beings to once again try flying to other worlds.  Were we to adopt all of them, we would wind up with a human spaceflight program of infinite cost and zero accomplishment.  In recent years, the trend has moved precisely in that direction…

There are accepted methodologies to establish the value of a human life.  With a value assigned, resources can be assigned rationally, and mission risk can be evaluated objectively.  In short, one can determine if a potential sacrifice is “worth it”.

Readers know that In the Shadow of Ares deals with the issue of astronaut sacrifice.  What is important, Zubrin argues, is that those that risk their lives do so in furtherance of missions that have real value.

Someting like, er, a mission to Mars.

Denver Area Science Fiction Association February Meeting

Now that I have a little more free time on my hands, I’ve been looking for ways to get more plugged in to the local science fiction fan and author communities. To that end I attended DASFA’s February meeting this evening.

This month’s meeting featured a panel of three local authors, discussing the topic “Salty Language is In Effect: The Outré in Genre Fiction.”  The panel consisted of Jesse Bullington (The Enterprise of Death), Jason Heller (Taft 2012) and Stephen Graham Jones (Zombie Bake-Off  and It Came From Del Rio). The three were not strictly science fiction authors (second-world and various shades of fantasy), and the primary subject material is not something I’ll recount here on a blog with young-adult readers, but there were a few interesting takeaways applicable to science fiction:

  • If you’re waiting for a completely original story that nobody’s ever done before, you’re not going to find it — originality lies more in the presentation, the setting, the characters, etc.;
  • One doesn’t have to include gore, violence, sex, or other “outré” material to tell a good story, and conversely, it’s tricky to include such things in a way that doesn’t seem gratuitous, offensive, or (worse) creepy or sleazy;
  • Having something to say, in the sense of something political, moral, or  philosophical, isn’t a bad thing and perhaps even unavoidable in all but the most anodyne writing. A writer should however be sensitive to the audience and present both sides of such matters in a fair manner (yes, yes, stop giggling — I freely admit we are a little blunt in places in In the Shadow of Ares, but there are stylistic and trilogy-arc reasons for this, as you’ll see in the second book);
  • There are more genre authors and genre events in the Denver area than I had suspected, and this may be true of a lot of small cities.

The last point is perhaps the most valuable – aspiring writers can benefit from involving themselves with these events and the organizations behind them, through the opportunities the latter provide for peer review, mutual feedback, motivation, and marketing. Networking is essential when you’re e-publishing — sitting at home behind your keyboard watching your Kindle sales reports and hoping for the best isn’t going to improve your writing or your royalties.

“Darkship Thieves” – Not on Kindle?

Surprising, but true. I’m trying to read more new science fiction, particular SF with a libertarian slant (since we need more of that), so imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it’s apparently only available on dead trees. I thought Baen was all hip with the e-publishing nowadays.

Of course, my complaining about this is ironic, considering how many people have complained to me that In the Shadow of Ares is only available (for now) electronically. It took me a year, but I’ve gotten to the point that I’d almost rather have a Kindle version rather than the paper version of a book — fiction books, at least. I blame Cthulhu Chick: her H.P. Lovecraft collection led me to actually read the HPL stories I’ve had in book form for several years, and to get accustomed to using an e-reader extensively.

The Disappointment of “Star Wars”

Over at PJM Kathy Shaidle lays out Five Reasons Star Wars Actually Sucks.

Having seen large portions of several of the old and new movies over the Thanksgiving holiday, I can add one more to the list: Obi-Wan Kenobi is a despicable “hero”. 

Prior to the release of the prequels, I always had this impression of the character as being a wise and noble mentor to the young Luke Skywalker, a father figure whose efforts to help the latter learn his true nature and value are cut tragically short. In November I watched Episode 3 and most of Episode 4 back-to-back, and found Kenobi now comes across as dishonest and incompetent hack (or worse):

  • His incompetence and inattentiveness regarding the young Anakin’s training and his failure to recognize the blatant, flashing-neon warning signs of the latter’s willfulness and disobedience led to Anakin’s temptation to disallowed romance and his corruption to the Dark Side. He was too young, inexperienced, and headstrong himself to take on such an important and demanding task, but he did it anyway, even begged for it.
  • He walked away and left the maimed and burned Anakin to die, without properly finishing the job of killing him – finishing Anakin off was his responsibility, since his failures had led to Anakin becoming what he had become and because he was the one who had cut him to pieces. It was his duty to make sure the threat was eliminated, and having gotten to the point he did, and being a supposedly noble Jedi, it was his duty to exercise the virtue of mercy by finishing Anakin off instead of leaving him to suffer in agony for minutes or hours longer. This is where the “or worse” comes in – his incompetence let Anakin survive long enough to be rescued, but his leaving Anakin in agony revealed a cruel indifference to the latter’s suffering if not a vindictive satisfaction with it.
  • When he first meets Luke in Episode 4, he lies to him regarding the fate of Luke’s father. In hindsight, this is as much a self-serving lie to cover up his own involvement in Anakin’s fate as it is the white lie for the not-quite-ready-to-know-the-truth Luke that it always used to seem.
  • If we accept that his duty while in exile (as established at the end of Episode 3) was to conceal and protect Luke, how do we reconcile that task with the fact that Kenobi lived in a remote dwelling far away from the Lars farmstead, too far to keep watch on Luke, and that he had apparently never had contact with Luke for the first eighteen years of his life? Why was the Jedi master not training the boy from childhood to use the Force to protect and conceal himself incase he himself were to be discovered or to die? Again, incompetence…had Luke been better prepared, he would have been more effective in confronting the challenges that faced him.
  • When entering the cantina, Kenobi would have been smarter to have used his “Jedi mind tricks” to persuade Luke’s two harassers to leave him alone rather than to lop off one of their arms and thereby draw unwanted attention to himself and his companions. Incompetence, and another instance of indifference to the suffering of others (specifically, others he has maimed with a light saber).
  • Finally (though there are no doubt more instances to be found), Kenobi lies to Vader when he boasts that he will “become more powerful than you can possibly imagine”. It was all braggadocio – he never followed through on that threat.

It was all very disappointing to notice these elements in a character I used to like. But, it just goes with the territory when you’re talking about the Star Wars franchise.

UPDATE: Brian Preston responds, on behalf of science fiction fans. I should add for my part that I don’t agree with Shaidle’s attacks on science fiction as a genre, just with some of her criticism of the Star Wars movies. Some were good, and fun, but not great, and when you look at them with a critical eye towards character development and such, they really suffer.

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