Monthly Archives: July 2012
I was at a party the other day where it came up that I’m a science fiction writer. The guy I was speaking to seemed to deflate at my admission, as though I had just admitted to being a violent anarchist or something and found he no longer had anything to talk to me about. I added, for his benefit, that writing science fiction is not the sum of my whole life’s experience and that I have alternate interests. He brightened significantly at this, congratulated me, and added “cause, you know, some of those guys, that’s all they do.”
Now this was a party among many of my new neighbors, so it wasn’t really in my interest to start laying into the guy. Also, he seemed like a perfectly nice fellow and thought that was he was saying was genuinely complimentary. I did, however, want to ask him something: “Which guys? Please list for me all the geeks you know and describe how SF/F is all they care about. Let’s hear it.”
I’d bet real money that the dude doesn’t know a single one.
As a straight white Protestant American male, I really can’t claim any real idea of what it’s like to be discriminated against. I think, however, that the closest I come is being able to self-identify as a ‘geek’. I get really, really tired of people pigeonholing who I am, where my interests lie, what my knowledge consists of, and in what ways my social skills have formed as a result of me confessing an affinity for science fiction and fantasy stories. Even as geek-dom becomes ‘cool’, it has only become so as a kind of stereotype. To the world, if I tell them I like Star Wars and play role-playing games, they assume I’m Dr. Sheldon Cooper or, if they’re being charitable, his roommate Leonard. I’m not.
Sheldon Cooper is a socially dysfunctional, arguably autistic physicist with a host of emotional problems. He was picked on in high school, he’s a scientific genius, and he’s obsessed with comic books. Are there geeks like him out there? Yeah, there are a few, I’m sure. I can’t with any honesty say they’re all that common. There aren’t a lot of Howards or Rajs, either. Those characters are caricatures, picking the most embarrassing aspects of some folks in the geek community and condensing them into a trio of ridiculous people who bear passing resemblance to the actual population of geeks out there.
I am a geek. I play (and write) roleplaying games, I write science fiction stories, fantasy novels, like Star Trek, and have read widely in the specfic genres. I also am 6’2″, 200lbs and in pretty good shape. I was a varsity athlete in swimming in high school, earning a letter all four years, and am a reasonably good cyclist besides. I was a professional improv comedian for four years following college. I am a clear speaker, an engaging conversationalist, a good storyteller, and can pick up on most social clues as well as anybody else. I am not afraid of women, am married to a beautiful woman, and also have many female friends. I like camping, I’m a decent sailor, I know how to start a campfire, and I can perform all the standard physical labor-type things men like to thump their chests over. I don’t know a hell of a lot about computers and am not terribly interested in technical specifications of obscure computer components. I don’t have an i-anything and my cell phone is practically five years old by now.
I’m not exceptional. Many of the geeks I know are performers, nurses, athletes, and so on. Some of them study martial arts, others are great dancers, and still others seem to have a never-ending rotation of attractive women they are dating/sleeping with/whatever. They are as likely to love football as anybody else. They play Dungeons and Dragons and aren’t ashamed of it, and it has no deleterious effect on their lives. The idea that it is somehow requisite that those who enjoy stuff like that are some kind of basement-dwelling troglodytes is, frankly, offensive.
Thing is, though, that not enough geeks are actually offended by it. We often ascribe to the ‘high school cafeteria’ model of society, wherein we slot ourselves into a particular clique and stick to that table, unwilling to travel across the aisle for fear of sticking out. Now, granted, I will concede that many geeks fit into various aspects of the geek stereotype, but few of them are so one-dimensional as to be defined by all or even most of them. You can’t say those things about them with any more accuracy than you can say, for instance, that all Irish people are drunks or all Italians know people in the Mafia or all Asians are bad drivers. It just isn’t true, and adhering to those beliefs is ignorant.
Perhaps I shouldn’t complain. For the first time in my life, there are decent odds I can point out that I write science fiction or that I play roleplaying games at a party and folks will be actively interested in what it is and why I like it. Geeks enjoy a certain mystique these days, it’s true. Mystique, though, isn’t the same as acceptance.
I love airships. For those of you savvy enough, you might have gleaned as much from the subtitle of my blog (“Hooray, what fun, it’s time we flew!”). It’s a quote from a Shel Silverstein poem, “Ickle-me, Pickle-me, Tickle-me Too.” The first verse goes like this:
Ickle-me, Pickle-me, Tickle-me too,
went for a ride in a flying shoe.
“It’s time we flew!”
Said Ickle-me, Pickle-me, Tickle-me too.
And off they go, into the wild blue yonder. Higher and higher and higher, eating mulligan stew and trying not to fall out.
And they never come back.
Airships manage to combine my love of boats and the romance of flying. I’d love airplanes if they weren’t perpetually designed for people shorter than 5’9″ and smell like old carpet. An airship, though, is like sailing, but in the sky. You’ve got the open air, a deck to stroll around, a wonderful view, and your own cabin/hammock to sleep in when you need a nap. They probably even have a cook or a galley. Then off you go, wherever you want, to have adventures of whatever kind you can manage.
Now, there are a variety of practical concerns with the idea of airships as ‘sailboats in the sky’. Chiefly, their main problem is how to steer if you’re using windpower to ‘sail’ through the air. The only thing that keeps a sailboat from going sideways is a keel or centerboard of some kind, but you can’t do that on an airship and have it work, since it isn’t interacting with a second medium (like the water or the ground) to keep it pointed in a particular direction. Blimps are only steerable because they use mechanical engines to propel them and then use fins to direct the flow of air over their hulls. Honestly, the Final Fantasy airships, with their helicopter-like propulsion model, seem the most practical in the fantasy setting.
In the real world, though, we once had dirigibles. Zeppelins. The great leviathans of transatlantic flight. It is a real shame the Hindenburg (and the US’s decision to keep the world’s helium to itself through the 30s/40s/50s) had to ruin that mode of travel. Yeah, it might take longer, but for those of us who sometimes like to travel for the journey itself, an airship gracefully floating across the Atlantic, like a cruise ship in the air, would be a real treat and would beat the hell out of those damned sardine-can airplanes they shoe-horn you into. I’d even bet they’re more fuel-efficient (or could be made so), since their engine power doesn’t need to keep them aloft so much as keep them moving. Heck, with inert helium as a lifting force, they’d be rather unlikely to crash. They could drift, certainly, but they wouldn’t be dropping from the sky like a stone.
In any case, the time of the zeppelin is past and, with the world’s supply of helium dwindling rapidly, it is unlikely to return. I curse my luck a bit at this and am filled with jealousy everytime I see Indy and his dad fleeing Germany aboard a zeppelin in the Last Crusade.
Still, I guess there’s always flying shoes…
I saw GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra the other day. It was on television and nothing else was on, just to defend myself a bit. I caught it somewhere in the second act or so and managed to watch the entire thing, even though it had commercials. I did it more as a thought exercise than because I was enjoying the movie.
Years ago, when it came out in theaters, a couple friends of mine were going to see it and were excited. “Have you seen it yet?” they asked me. My answer was no, I haven’t seen it specifically, but that I had seen it before, and so had they. I then told them the approximate plot of the movie, based largely off of the trailer and what kind of movie it was. Now that I’ve seen the film, I am (dis)pleased to see that I was, for the most part, exactly correct. I even predicted who would betray whom and when and more-or-less why, the location of Cobra’s secret base, and the general timbre of the final battle.
I was able to do this for one reason and one reason alone: Star Wars. The original trilogy, Lucas’ masterwork, has had a
pervasive influence on how big budget action/sci-fi movies are made pretty much since the original trilogy completed with Return of the Jedi. The GI Joe movie was worse than most. They had the super death fortress, the guys getting thrown down pits full of lightning, the big gun turrets (and, by the way, why would you install underwater gun turrets on your secret arctic base? Isn’t that sort of a waste of resources? How often will you be attacked by fleets of mini-subs?), the Death Star-esque super weapon, the plucky band of
X-wings minisubs going head-to-head with Cobra TIE fighters minisubs, and even the race against the clock to keep the doomsday weapon from
destroying the good guys’ base. It was so re-hashed it was embarrassing. Even the sets looked extremely similar.
GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra might be a particularly egregious example, but there are plenty of others. Avatar and its pseudonatural mysticism, for instance, or Independence Day and its multi-layered battle to destroy the enemy superweapon before it destroyed home base. There are lots of others, too. Now, some of this is understandable and, to some extent, inevitable – the reason Star Wars is so popular is because it, itself, is drawing upon very old adventure story tropes. It isn’t necessarily bad, either - there are always ways to make tropes fresh and fun and interesting. Tropes can create a kind of conversation among works, a progression of innovation and growth within a genre, in the same sense that one can write a variety of waltzes or marches or bluegrass music and not be boring or uncreative.
GI Joe, though, wasn’t doing this. It wasn’t even interested in being interesting, per se. They were being formulaic for the sake of safety. The producers were investing vast sums of money into that film and they wanted a guaranteed return on that investment. The best way to do that, of course, is to mimic those properties which did just that. In this case, that means Star Wars. In a fit of irony that boggles the mind, Lucas himself opted to mimic his own work in Episode I to attempt to achieve the same effect. He didn’t add anything new, though, and he failed to gain the audience’s sympathies for the characters which, itself, undermined the entire enterprise. He couldn’t escape from his own shadow.
It is important, though, for writers (screenwriters or otherwise) to escape from the shadow of Star Wars if writing a story in that genre. Joss Whedon, for instance, managed to do it well in Avengers and Firefly. It can be done. It should be done, so that the geeks of the universe aren’t constantly pandered to by Hollywood with more formulaic nonsense which, honestly, we shouldn’t indulge. I’m not going to call for a moratorium on doomsday weapons or giant space battles or swordfights near power generators, but I think we can all ask ourselves to strive to go a bit further than the minimum when trying to amaze and stupefy the audience. Right?
I’m not going to touch what happened in Colorado. It’s monstrous, and I have things I want to shout the same as everybody else. Shouting, though, is seldom wise and never calm, and wisdom and serenity are most important in the face of terrible acts.
So, to shift gears a bit and steer us away from the immediate and into the realm of the metaphorical (as is the wont and duty of every spec-fic writer), let us consider Superman and Batman. Of the two, Batman is much, much more popular. He has the best stories, the best writers, the best of everything. To call him ‘better,’ though, is to betray a cultural bias, not state a fact. Batman and Superman are poles on a spectrum of behavior. Their goals are identical, their heroic roles in society are similar, but their philosophical underpinnings are fundamentally at odds.
Criminals are, by nature, a superstitious, cowardly lot. To instill fear into their hearts, I became a bat. A monster in the night. And in doing so, have I become the very thing that all monsters become – alone.
All societies posit values through the heroes they idolize, and Batman is no different. If he is popular, it is because he scratches something we want scratched. So, what is that thing?
Batman is an avenger. He fights crime with terror. He responds to criminal threats with threats. He is the visceral, essential wish-fulfillment of a society which has lost hope in the goodness of its own societal framework. When you look at the news and recoil in horror at the terrible thing some jackass has done to someone else and you feel that deep, cold knot deep in your guts – that’s Batman. Batman would go and kick that guys ass. He’d break every bone is his goddamned body until he was weeping with terror and begging for mercy. And then, because Batman (because we) is the hero, he gives it to them. He gives it to them, though, with a promise: I’m letting you go, but if you ever…
Batman doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t pull punches. He doesn’t hold hands. He’s a regular guy who’s made himself superhuman by dint of his own personal obsessions, which is itself a perverse reflection of the American Dream. He devotes his massive wealth to populist causes, but we know and he knows and everybody knows that the real work to improve society happens on the street. That’s what we go to see – Batman making the people who terrify us quake in terror. His mania is our release; his story is stress relief for the modern urbanite who fears for their safety.
He’s also identifiable. He’s flawed, lonely, and mortal. We see ourselves in him more readily and wish to be him with more ease. His life seems at once idyllic and adventurous – wealthy, carefree playboy by day; courageous, brilliant hero by night. Every kid’s dream, right? Even once we grow up and see the cracks in Wayne’s psyche, we still find Batman’s life appealing. That says something about us. Something very important.
They can be a great people, Kal-El–they wish to be. They simply lack the light to show the way.For this reason above all – their capacity for good - I have sent them you… my only son.
~Superman, the Movie
Superman is different; Superman is not us. Superman is held to a higher standard than Batman. If Batman fails somehow, if corruption continues to spread despite his efforts, if he beats the Joker unconscious and the Joker lives to kill again, we accept this as part of Batman’s humanity. He doesn’t need to be perfect. Superman does and, to some extent, Superman is.
Superman’s the nice guy with the great physique and the gleaming smile who does the right thing, all the time. He works hard for little pay as a reporter, trying to tell people the truth. When he stops crime, there isn’t much fuss – they can’t stop him, they can’t harm him. He walks into the bank, bends the crooks’ guns in half, and marches them off to jail. He does this in plain sight; he is not frightening. He doesn’t use tools like terror or cruelty, even against those who deserve it. He smiles a lot. He’s chivalrous to women. He tells the truth.
Superman is not as popular as Batman, and it should come as little surprise that it is because of what Superman represents, ultimately, to the viewer. In Superman stories, it isn’t Superman who fails or makes mistakes. He is not culpable, morally or otherwise, in the terrors that afflict Metropolis. This is distinct from Batman who, as a wealthy person and a regular human being, is de facto embroiled in and responsible for the society in which he lives. The Kryptonian (and country farmboy) is not so tainted by the stains of humanity and the big city. He is a faultless paragon; if anyone has failed or made mistakes, it is us. While Batman holds up a shadowy mirror in which we may examine our own faults, Superman stands on a pedestal as an exemplum of what we ought to be.
Ironically, there is something harrowing about this. It’s all well and good to indulge in your darker side with Batman, but appeal to your lighter side? Ask you to do the right thing? Demand that you take the high road, like Superman does? We sneer at that. Some of you are sneering at that right now. “Oh, well, being good is so easy when you’re Superman!” you say, or “Superman doesn’t get dirty because the writers don’t let any dirt stick!” Well, maybe you’re right, or at least partially. The writers don’t let dirt stick to Superman, true, but expecting dirt to stick is simply cynicism. Superman sees in us something good and light and honorable and asks us to bring it out (it is not accidental, the Christian overtones in that quote I put up there). That’s hard work. That’s deeply dangerous thinking. Superman isn’t stress relief or visceral satisfaction, he is inspiration. He is a call to be better people.
It is telling to me that Batman is so much more popular than Superman. It isn’t just because Batman has had the better choice of talent (remember, the talent is attracted to his story, same as us), but also because we think we live in Batman’s world. We don’t have to, though, which is what Superman has been trying to tell us all these years. As a character created as a reaction to the Nazi brand of Fascism (which also built its power upon certain strategies Batman might recognize), he stands in direct opposition to visceral action as a result of that cold feeling in our guts. That feeling makes us love to escape into Batman, yes, but we mustn’t forget Superman, since his is the world and he the example that we all, ultimately, want to become.
Gaming properties are frequently getting revised and reinvented. For those of us old enough to remember the 1st Edition of Dungeons and Dragons and its cludgy rules or the original Metal Gear and just how freakishly difficult that game was, we’ve seen versions of our favorite games, both tabletop, pen and paper, and electronic, come and go. There have been ups and downs, granted, and some old editions so weighted down with nostalgia we have difficulty escaping them (2nd Edition AD&D, anyone?), but no matter what we think of it, whatever version of a game we’re playing now will, eventually, be replaced.
Recently, one of my favorite games – Warhammer 40,000 – entered its 6th Edition. Games Workshop, the publisher, has taken to revising its core rule system every five years, give or take. I started in 2nd Edition, which was an incredibly detailed game, but so monstrously complex and poorly balanced that I really don’t miss it, despite the nostalgia of playing chaotic battles on my basement floor or in my friend Bruce’s garage. This edition change, likewise, I find to be a fun and interesting shift in the rules. It rebalances things a bit, changes the overall dynamic of the game, and makes a stale game suddenly new and full of excitement. In most cases new editions do this rather well, assuming the development team has been able to identify that central thing that makes the game what it is.
What I find regrettable (though sadly inevitable) is the sheer number of nerds on the internet that throw absolutely gigantic hissy-fits over the idea of their old game being ‘replaced’ with the new one. This doesn’t really happen (to my knowledge) with video games much, but with RPGs and strategy games it happens all the time. Case in point, take this post or others of its like regarding the 5th-6th ed changeover. Wander around Warseer if you want to see some massive bitching.
While on the one hand I understand the displeasure with change – everybody hates change – sometimes I have to wonder at the bitterness here. For one thing, these edition changes usually leave the essential parts of the game in-tact. In 6th Ed Warhammer 40K, you can still amass giant armies of superhuman space marines to crush aliens. In 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, you can still gather together with your friends to slog through dungeons and slay dragons for treasure. Where is the problem? Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from going back and playing an older edition of the rules if you find the change less fun for some reason.
I think, on some level, the problem with these edition changes is that folks get caught up in the minutiae of a game – certain mechanics they are familiar with and certain rules exploits they rely on exploiting to succeed. The idea that now, suddenly, their comfortable little world is overturned and the have to re-learn what they’ve learned (like some reviled n00b!) is shocking and terrifying. In this sense, one can see an edition change for an RPG or strategy game as a tiny reflection of the real world, which also has a tendency, from time to time, to knock us out of our comfortable perch and force us, through hard work and creativity, to find a new one. I daresay, then, that edition changes and the upheaval they bring to the gaming community are good for the emotional development of your average introverted geek. They learn to adapt; they grow up a bit.
If only all of us had hobbies that do the same.
Okay everybody, bear with me for a minute as I heap some love upon the 1982 movie, Conan the Barbarian.
Conan is a legitimately great movie. I could write a dissertation on that movie. Dammit, I should write a dissertation on that movie. But not now, not here. Suffice to say that the John Milius tale of a orphaned boy sold into slavery and his long, dark road to revenge is one of the most compelling tales of human will and the ironies of human suffering I’ve ever watched. This movie is, I feel, Schwatzenegger’s best performance of his career, and he mostly has Robert E Howard and John Milius to thank.
But enough of the gushing – let’s get into the details. What drives the original Conan movie (I didn’t see the remake; it looked terrible and, furthermore, it’s a movie that really didn’t warrant remaking, anyway) is one thing: The Riddle of Steel. The Riddle goes something like this:
Crom, the Mountain God, possessed the secret to make steel – a strong, silvery metal that is also flexible. A race of giants stole the secret from Crom and, in his wrath, the mountain god crushed them. He left the secret of steel, however, on the battlefield, for men to find. At the start of the movie, Conan’s Father says:
The secret of steel has always carried with it a mystery. You must learn its riddle, Conan. You must learn its discipline. For no one – no one in this world can you trust. Not men, not women, not beasts…
[Points to sword]
This you can trust.
The very next day, Conan’s father, mother, and all his people are slaughtered in a raid. He and the other children are sold off to slavery. Conan himself is tied to a mill wheel for his entire childhood, until he becomes literally as strong as an ox. And so begins his story.
The Riddle of Steel is just that – a Riddle. Conan’s father does not know the answer. Conan lives most of his life under the illusion that the true ‘discipline’ of steel is a fine sword and a good suit of armor. It’s wealth, power, the trappings of glory, a fine horse and a full flagon of wine, all of which might be won by a good blade and the skill to wield it. He is, however, wrong.
There are two characters in the movie who know the answer, or at least guess at it. The first is King Osric:
There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father’s love for his child.
Osric, once a powerful northern barbarian just like Conan, now sees what his steel has earned him: nothing. He is helpless against his daughter’s betrayal. His only hope is to use the wages of his steel – his wealth – to get Conan to somehow bring his daughter back. He is weak, and he doesn’t know how it can be done. Of course, Thulsa Doom is the one who truly understands the Riddle. When speaking with Conan, he says this:
Steel isn’t strong, boy, flesh is stronger! Look around you. There, on the rocks; a beautiful girl. Come to me, my child…
[coaxes the girl to jump to her death]
That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Such a waste.
That is the ultimate trick to the riddle. Steel is nothing without flesh. Power over the flesh is power over steel, by definition.
Even when told, Conan cannot accept the answer to this riddle. When he finally gains his revenge, when he casts down Thulsa Doom and destroys his snake-cult, he is left brooding on the steps of the Mountain of Power, trying to consider the implications of his ‘victory.’ We do not exult in Conan’s revenge and neither does the barbarian. He has not really ‘won’ anything – all he can do is sit there and consider his loss. What does it mean, now that Doom is gone and Conan’s great revenge is completed? Is he better off? Has anything really changed? He, perhaps, can be seen to be ‘free’, but free to do what, exactly? Steal? Pillage? Conquer a kingdom like Osric’s? Indeed, later in Conan’s life, he does all these things. But so what?
One of the many, many reasons I love this movie is because it shows revenge for what it is: empty and cold. Those who would trade an eye for an eye do not understand the Riddle. The key to the world is not held in a blade, but it is held within yourself. The film is full of people who, on some level, are trying to answer this riddle for themselves - they try to find something external to themselves, something that will grant them power or safety or peace or wholeness. Osric and his riches, the snake cultists and their religion, Valeria and her search for love, Conan and his desire for revenge. None of them find the answer, because they are looking in the wrong place. As Conan sits and broods, does this dawn on him? I do not know.
This struggle is a universal one. All of us are seeking the answer to that great Riddle – how do we get what we want? How do we become great? The great majority of us are looking, ultimately, in the wrong place. We should look within for that power, for what else do we have more complete control over than ourselves? Conan’s struggle in life is an exaggerated mirror of our own struggles. We are shaped by our pains and our tragedies and our victories alike, and the realization of this is important. Even as we read this - even as I write this – we nod and say ‘yeah, totally, I get it.’ But we still don’t. We don’t really understand, just like Conan does not. We look around us and see bleakness and tragedy and emptiness, but we are missing those things that are truly fulfilling and which aren’t forged from steel but, instead, from our own flesh and blood. This is the Riddle of Steel; this is, ultimately, the Riddle of Technology itself.
As you’ve likely heard by now, there’s been big news in the particle physics world this past week. CERN managed to discover a Higgs boson particle. Why is this a big deal? Well, my physics knowledge is fairly basic, but from what I gather, the Higgs boson is the particle that gives things mass. In essence, it is the thing that makes physical matter possible. This, as you can imagine, is a HUGELY important little particle. Without it, the world as we know it would not exist. Hence, it’s been called ‘the God Particle’.
In the Higgs boson, science fiction authors across the world suddenly have new and interesting ways to envision the future. Already, folks have been discussing the applications of the Higgs, and this is just the beginning. The Higgs boson gives hard sci-fi authors ways to explain FTL travel, antigravity, teleportation, and a bunch of other things without having to resort to the discovery of ‘handwavium’ on some distant world or the use of wishy-washy science babble to explain wild concepts. This is a really cool time to be writing hard scifi.
(Note to self: start writing more hard sci fi)
It’s always interesting to see what science fiction sees as the technology of our future. It is almost always colored by what they thought, at the time, was the Next Big Thing. In Asimov’s Foundation series, for instance, he present nuclear power as the gateway to things like hyperspace travel, personal energy shields, advanced industrial cutting equipment, and host of other things. Heck, they even irradiated their dishes to clean them. Today, such advances seem either irresponsible or ridiculous, mostly since we know a good deal more about nuclear power than we did and know that it wouldn’t be terribly useful in many of those applications, and mostly because the average person doesn’t want to die from radiation exposure.
Earlier than that, HG Wells used balloons to explain time travel in The Time Machine, theorizing that travel through time wasn’t substantially different than any other kind of travel–we simply lacked the technology to move forth dimensionally at will, just as man kind lacked the capacity to move in the third dimension at will until the advent of the balloon. Likewise, in War of the Worlds, the Martians arrive here in ballistic capsules that are fired from Mars to Earth from, presumably, very large cannons. This would demonstrate the Victorian era’s skepticism towards rocketry as a useful science. Oh, how wrong they were.
But, of course, this sneering down our nose needs to be accompanied with a fair amount of humility. We’re also probably wrong, you see. Predicting the future is never a good gamble, and what we thing will be the Next Big Thing today might very well be a complete bust. Likewise, that gadget we’ve left by the wayside or decided to ignore (e.g. nuclear fission) might, in fact, be the very thing we find solves a myriad of problems in years to come. There is simply no way to tell, since science isn’t the kind of field that obeys deadlines or gives up its secrets easily. This is, ultimately, why I think all avenues of scientific research should be pursued. Someday, when we least expect it, the silliest thing we can imagine will wind up being the most important thing in the world.
I mean, c’mon, if I told you in 1982 that, in thirty years, they’d find a little particle that makes everything around you ‘actual’ and it was only found by creating a giant racetrack for subatomic particles at a cost of billions of dollars, you’d be skeptical. Then you’d probably watch something on Betamax, just for irony’s sake.
New rule for human nature, folks: As soon as we figure out how to do something, somebody, somewhere, is going to do it.
This, to my knowledge, is inevitable. It’s as constant as the sunrise. Can anybody think of a discovery that, once made, wasn’t used? Some of them, granted, were only used for a short time or didn’t catch on or whatever, but some guy tried it out, guaranteed. If it turns out it was crap or nobody found it useful or something ‘better’ came along, we switched. Perhaps we forgot about the old thing. But somebody, somewhere was guaranteed to give it a whirl at least once.
So, here we are with this article from the Activist Post wringing its hands over genetically constructed/modified children. Two things I have to say about that:
(1) This was bound to happen. It will keep happening until such time as we find something better to do with our energy or, for whatever reason, genetically ‘constructed’ children become unpopular as the ‘results’ of this activity become somehow negative. No amount of saying ‘don’t do this’ before the fact is going to stop it. Delay it, maybe, but not stop. We only stop doing things afterwe’ve tried them out and melted our faces.
(2) The article contains a phrase I find massively worrying. Here it is (emphasis mine):
In other words, these genetically modified babies — if allowed to mate with non-GM humans— could potentially alter the very genetic coding of generations to come.
Whoah, whoah, whoah! “If allowed to mate?” What the fuck is that supposed to mean? These are people, right? Granted, born in an unconventional fashion, but still people. They can mate with whomever they want. I don’t care how much you hate the idea of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), these individuals are alive. They are (or will be, hopefully) living, breathing, thinking human beings. No Chicken-Little, Luddite, jackhole gets to say who they sleep with or whether they have children. Unless their children are going to be bursting out of people’s chests a-la Alien and running about eating space-bound shipping personnel, nobody gets to dehumanize them by dictating their reproductive rights.
Science fiction has been down this road before, folks. It frequently ends with the super-intelligent genetically modified humans kicking our asses all over the planet, or the intelligent apes wiping us out, or we wind up building GMO ghettos somewhere and start setting up sterilization clinics and all kinds of other monstrous shit. Ugh! No.
GMOs are coming, folks. They’ll be here soon. They are going to be the next generation of pets. They are going to allow us to keep eating stuff when the rest of the planet dies and the oceans are empty of everything but plankton and jellyfish. They are going to become our friends and our neighbors and our soldiers and our leaders. It’s gonna happen, or at least science is going to give it a try.
If you’re scared, that’s normal – big technological changes are always scary. It isn’t going to be all roses and buttercups, either – I don’t intend to say that it will. What is most important about it, however, is that we do our best to utilize this new technology in a positive way. We should embrace it and figure it out and try to wrestle it into something that won’t be monstrous or dangerous or terrible. The best way to make sure that can’t happen is to freak out, marginalize, and rail against it. Then, the only people who want to work on it are the fringe scientists, the rogue states, the irresponsible corporations, and the criminals. That, my friends, doesn’t work out well for anybody.