Via Ken Macleod, Pippa Goldsmith of the genomics forum has launched a competition for short stories concerning genetics themes:
Can we truly control our behaviour and exercise free will if our genetic makeup influences our behaviour and the choices we make in life?
Can we blame crime on genes? Who should hold information about our genes? Who should have access to it? What should be the priority, public safety or personal freedoms?
Can an understanding of genes help feed people in developing countries? Do the advantages outweigh the risks?
Max 3000 words, closing data 31st March, £500 first prize – check it out.
[image from Winfairy on flickr]
The ever-interesting Yorkshire Ranter makes a good point (nearly a month ago, but nevertheless…) that certain elements of retail behemoth Tesco’s logistical setup bear a theoretical resemblance to Soviet-style command economies:
An unremarked-on aspect of the 1.5% interest rate cut last week. Namely, are we already living in a near-real time planned economy, as Stafford Beer foresaw? It sounds like I must be joking. But how else are we to interpret Sir Terry Leahy’s trip to see the Bank of England and the Treasury? Tesco boasts that one in every eight pounds spent in the UK passes through its tills; this bit is always in the papers. They rarely mention their huge management-information system, except to the trade.
If you wanted close to real-time information about the consumer economy, I can’t think of anything that would work better.
It’s quite a leap of the imagination, but this segues very nicely with Ken MacLeod’s recent comment on the future of IT security. MacLeod suggests that we are seeing a move in politics away from decentralised, bottom-up, market-based solutions and towards centralised, top-down, state-based solutions:
What if right now, we’re at a moment when trends that looked inexorable have reached a turning point? What if the common sense of the age is about to flip from free-market capitalism to state-regulated capitalism? Of course, turning that into actual policy won’t happen overnight, or smoothly – too much political legacy code – but if it does happen then over the next ten years or so we’ll be in an age of big government projects, some sort of new New Deal. We’d find ourselves back in the day before yesterday‘s tomorrow.
Further reading with decidedly SFnal tones includes operations systems specialist Stafford Beer‘s Project Cybersyn for the Chilean government and the USSR’s five year plans.
[image from kevindooley on flickr]
Quite old, but still relevant, here is an exerpt from a brief comment by author Ken MacLeod on the “new enlightenment” and the divisive debate surrounding global warming and environmentalism:
In science fiction, the key challenge is thinking about questions of the future. Some of the tools we have for thinking are broken or blunted. The climate change issue is a good example.
It’s difficult for the informed lay person even to decide if there’s a problem or not. The difficulty lies not in the complexity of the science, but in the subversion of the institutions of science, communication and democracy.
The role of the interest groups involved, whether it’s the energy corporations or the environmental campaigners, has been to accuse the other side of doing what the other side accuses them of doing – namely, subversion.
MacLeod may not be a climatologist but he makes a good point about the basic nature of the argument.
[image from geraintwn on flickr]
If you’re looking for an intelligent contemporary science fiction novel that keeps focused on the near-future, you could do far worse than grab a copy of The Night Sessions, the new book from Ken MacLeod.
There’ll be a review here at Futurismic fairly soon, but in the meantime MacLeod‘s publishers Orbit have a brief blog post where he delivers the “elevator pitch” for The Night Sessions:
The Night Sessions is a crime novel set in 2037. It’s also an SF novel that asks the question: what if we finally got fed up with the influence of religion on politics, education, and law, and decided to drive it out of these areas for good?
They’ve also provided a hefty opening section of The Night Sessions as a free-to-read extract. Go read it, then come back and tell us what you think in the comments.