April 10, 2004

Are renegade biologists the majority?

Review of Genometry (Ace Science Fiction, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois).

How many renegade biologists are there? If Genometry is to be believed, about half of all biologists must be ready to escape their labs to unleash chaos and transformation on the world. Of the 11 stories in the collection, 6 involve a renegade biologist in one way of another.

(some slight spoilers below)

Why? Because we fear what is not under control, and biology is experienced as being less controlled than anything – it is our messy bodies, the indomitable forces of nature. There is a common assumption that nature will always triumph over any kind of planning, a deep doubt sprung from long experience and romantic faith.

Biotech is also in the hands of people we do not know or have no reason to trust. If biotechnology had been a common activity like gardening we would likely not fear it as much, even if there were a few outbreaks of nastiness every year thanks to absent-minded little old ladies or malicious kids. Just like we accept driving around in the deathtraps called cars but worry about flying.

Together they produce the renegade biologist image. Unlike the mad scientist of old, they are often driven by idealistic visions. The biologists of the “The Invisible Country” (Paul McAuley), “The Kindly Isle” (Frederick Pohl) and “Chaff” (Greg Egan) all refused to work for the system and for aims they considered unethical, and instead escaped to spread their own brand of salvation. The never-seen culprits in “The Pipes of Pan” (Brian Sableford) could also plausibly be driven by some idealistic vision to upset a social order they find suffocating.

To some extent this is just a clever plot twist; the renegade turns out to be the good guy. It can still provide the frission of ethical doubt about their actions and the sense of wonder of the resulting transformations. But it is also a sign that science fiction authors are less interested in dystopian uses of genetics than they used to be. It is a trope that has been overused and entered common consciousness to the extent that it is uninteresting. It is far more interesting to turn it to good uses, that become surprising. Of the 11 stories four show genetic modifications of humans as having at least some potentially good uses, while only three focus on the downside. The rest are somewhere in-between, in the confusing landscape where many possibilities open up and humanity has to figure out how to enfold them in culture.

”Written in blood” (Chris Lawson) is IMHO the best story in the collection. A wonderful little package of religion, tolerance and biology with a personal approach (my only issue is whether the code used isn’t a translation too). It shows how technology can be adapted to culture, but also how culture is affected by the knowledge and possibilities given by technology. Unlike the other stories the real punch comes from the simplicity of the technology – no viral plagues, no radical re-engineering. It is doable today.

The renegade biologist will become a tired trope just as the mad scientists soon. As we see more biotechnology close up, we will start to recognize that it is not something controlled solely by who knows the science and holds the test tube, but by a complex interplay between many different interests. There is no need for renegade individuals when there are motivations as strange, beautiful and horrible among corporations, governments and little old ladies.

Posted by Anders at April 10, 2004 05:35 PM

I just discovered that Chris Lawson has a nicel little page up about the code used in his story:

Posted by: Anders at April 10, 2004 07:06 PM

by way is and.

Posted by: daughter incest at August 3, 2004 12:06 AM

IPv6 range. by Red.

Posted by: rape pic at August 3, 2004 12:07 AM

possible is he an.

Posted by: bestiality pics at August 3, 2004 12:07 AM

Possibly and — indicate.

Posted by: taboo incest forum at August 3, 2004 12:07 AM

to Internet, them. latest.

Posted by: free incest movies at August 3, 2004 12:07 AM

to satisfied configure Service.

Posted by: free rape video at August 3, 2004 12:07 AM

If quickly start Debian.

Posted by: real rape at August 3, 2004 12:07 AM

and is Users up,".

Posted by: eel sex at August 3, 2004 12:07 AM

continue unicast use have.

Posted by: bestiality stories at August 3, 2004 12:07 AM