Putting the Sci in SciFi

I keep an eye on some aggregate news sources for the weird and wonderful coming out of the fields of science. It fan be a fantastic (heh) way to generate story ideas. For the truly absurd, check out the igNoble awards annually.

For story ideas, how about this one: imagine a world where Lydia the tattooed Lady was a finely attuned machine… wearable Electronics that can be drawn into the skin.

I mean, one of my teenagers draws on herself with a sharpie all the time. To very vivid embarrassment when she forgot that she had a PT appointment where she had to wear shorts… her therapist was quite impressed she’d managed to draw intricate designs on the soles of her own feet. Now, what if those were sigils, er, circuits? Technology sufficiently advanced, etc…

the possibilities abound for cyberpunk, far future tech, or even bleeding edge tech… who would be the first to adopt this sort of technology?


On a darker note, there’s the efforts currently ongoing to breed a better cow. Or rather, no cows at all. Less cows, at any rate… they are breeding bulls that could produce majority bull offspring. 

there are kinks in that already. It seems there is still a roughly 50/50 split in M/F offspring. But many of the females possess ‘male characteristics’. They are working on refining the genetic engineering. Aside from the obvious hitches in producing largely sterile livestock, what about humans?

there are cultures that values boy babies over girls. To the point of infanticide. With this ability to edit out girls before they are even born, what do you think? What kind of a story comes after it’s adoption, illicit or government mandated? A generation or two later? Remember that sterility effect…

Shudders. Science is sometimes not ‘can we?’ But ‘should we?’

Check out The Violet Mouse, a short story I wrote inspired by similar science and conversations from my molecular biology labs.

12 thoughts on “Putting the Sci in SciFi

  1. As I recall, there’s an entire Bujold novel–Ethan of Athos–that revolves around an all male society and the trouble they run into when (I think) the female genetic material they store to grow babies is stolen/sabotaged in some way. And then the titular character ends up needing the help of a mercenary (who happens to be female). It’s not one of my favorites, so I only ever read it the once. (Not my favorite mostly because it didn’t have Miles in it. I liked Ellie just fine, but she wasn’t Miles)

    1. Yes, they needed eggs. And the female mercenary donated a bunch of hers, but the all male society was because they were monastic(?) and women were supposed to be evil influences. So this woman does a kind sacrificial act and totally confused Ethan.

    2. A better Bujold example might be the main series, where sex-selection technology has let Barrayar choose to have sons to the point where they make modern China seem like they have a healthy balance of the sexes (as I recall, something like 80% of kids in Miles and Ivan’s generation are boys). As far as I know, there aren’t any books directly revolving around that fact (although A Civil Campaign comes close), but it’s an underlying tension at least through the point in the series I had read.

    3. Ethan of Athos began as a monastic ideal but they quickly found out that following generations wanted to have sex and would have it with whomever was available. A monastic order still existed but most people thought they were odd. They didn’t use donated eggs, they had ovaries that produced eggs which over a great deal of time began to fail. The donation was of a whole ovary. Ethan did, indeed, find Ellie (?) very confusing.

    4. Elli Quinn of the Dendarii Mercenaries was sent to Kline Station to track down some Jacksonian bioengineering prototypes. It was her first independent assignment, and she wanted to impress Admiral Naismith by doing a great job.

      Athos ordered new ovarian cultures from a highly reputable biological supply company on Beta Colony, but what they got was a mess — whole ovaries, some senescent, some diseased, some not even human. Ethan was sent to Kline Station to find out what happened. He had no idea why two Cetagandans kidnapped him, shot him up with fast-penta and asked the most bizarre questions, nor why he was rescued by this mercenary — a WOMAN!

      Their missions turn out to be most strangely connected, and dangerous…
      Mark: “Oh, yes. I’ve met several of his girlfriends, in fact. The most appalling bunch of bloodthirsty amazons you ever saw. God, they were frightening.”

  2. The first Cordwainer Smith story I ever read had the premise of a “boys only” society: The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal. The titular Commander Suzdal encounters a society that has turned hatred of humans who have both sexes into their key virtue, to the point of luring in others in order to kill them for the crime of not being the sexless males they are.

    The whole story was odd to my junior high school age self (it is in the Brian Aldiss anthology Galactic Empires which I got at a grocery in Wyoming so I can date when I read it). I have the complete Smith short fiction in the queue, so I’ll be revisiting it later this year.

    1. There was also A. Bertram Chandler’s ‘Spartan Planet’ — a whole planet populated by men unaware of the existence of women. A ship with a mixed-sex crew presents a large cultural shock.

      Then there’s the anime series VanDread, about a star system in which men and women have been segregated onto separate planets for a hundred years. Constant propaganda has them on the brink of war, the men refurbish an old starship to gain an advantage, it gets hijacked by women pirates and makes a loooong wormhole jump to escape a missile attack. That’s when the story REALLY gets going…
      “Wow, it’s a real alien!”

  3. That does seem a bit sketchy. I do like the idea of vat grown or printed meat; it will make off-Earth places that much easier/better to eat in; not sure there is much point to it on-Earth.

    There’s an author (sure, now I need to look him up…), Laurence Dahners, who makes one small tweak to something then Space Operas the heck out of it to see where it leads. He tends to end up with super heroes (simplifying immensely), but it is interesting to see where the extrapolation goes. And if you’re reading this, I’m waiting for your next book; I’ve caught up.

  4. Oh, they figured out a way to make Martins* without needing a male twin!

    That sounds like it might cause trouble, eventually, if the gene enters the general breeding pool– but no more than other nasty recessives.

    Applying it to people is obviously a problem– but I’m honestly tired of stuff that boils down to “humans aren’t mere animals” and “you can’t treat people like animals”; unless it’s really entertaining enough to be come hugely popular, it won’t even get read by the folks who need that pointed out, and there’s a decent chance the point will fly over their heads. 😦

    I wonder if they got the idea from trying to figure out how, exactly, the sharing-a-womb thing triggered changes in cattle?

    I hope somebody is looking into getting dairy cattle that can be used as beef more effectively. The sex sorting on semen to get mostly heifers is great for improving herds, but burger king can only handle so much ground beef.

    *also freemartin, or free-martin, no idea the origin of the name, mom was the 4H leader so we ended up with a LOT of bottle babies, most of the female ones half of twin calves, so I am quite familiar with them.

  5. In Robert Chilson’s novel Men Like Rats the aliens who had invaded Earth introduced into the world a sub-species that the wild humans called “demons”. The demons resembled human beings, but were all male and would only produce male offspring when they mated with human females.

    It was intended as a form of biological pest control–the demons were intended to supplant the wild humans and then go extinct from lack of females.

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