Monday, 26 November 2018

Stop staring out the window - we have reached our destination

Recently, my mind has been turning to the idea of the meshing of soft flesh and sharp-edged technology, the enhancement of the body with the products of engineering.

Bizarrely, at first glance, it doesn't fit comfortably with any of Wikipedia's list of science fiction themes - I had expected some Latin-derived catch-all term - but I suppose it's covered by artificial organs.  However, that's slightly narrower than I had in mind as, to me, it implies a like-for-like exchange for what you're (meant to be) born with, functionality-wise.  Whereas I'm thinking of implanted and integrated devices that give you more than you started with.  Or, maybe, organs cover more ground than I'd usually credit.

I did follow the links to biohacking, in case that was the bon mot I was seeking, but that instead took me to lots of interesting things that can be done with the penis.  Genital bisection, inversion or headsplitting, anybody?

Why this mental meander?  Perhaps it's a byproduct of the challenge of making 365 story submissions in the year (day 329, and I'm only at 318!), that I end up reading virtually every set of submission guidelines, and things like Blood Bound Book's 'Crash Code' ("Let’s talk voluntary amputations so we can wear cybernetic limbs as fashion statements") stick in the mind.

Or possibly I've been considering the themes that crop up in my own writing; I find myself often dropping the word 'corneascreen', alluding to some in-eye head-up display, Google Glass-cum-contact lenses arrangement providing all sorts of data and information, hosed straight to the eyeball.  Curiosuly, Google doesn't give any results for 'corneascreen' as one word, so I guess that makes it copyright little 'ol me.  You read it here first.

It's also one of the few sci-fi tropes that we have in the real world; one that had a major red letter day on 2nd December 1982 when William DeVries carried out the first artificial heart transplant - or, at least, the first where the new organ stuck around for any length of time.  Pacemakers and prosthetics came before, of course.  And now, in 2018, we have the microchips Three Square Market have been implanting into employees.  I thought that was our Orwellian future - no, turns out it's our Orwellian present.

I've struggled to think of examples in sci-fi where the enhancement is used voluntarily, to put the human body ahead of the pack, rather than, repairing what's been lost or disabled.  I did find these examples, all of which, apart from Dune, were unknown to me.  Not quite sure where, say, Steve Austin or Robocop would fit in that spectrum; bit like taking your Ford Focus to the garage to find they've put an F1 engine under the bonnet.

So, what's the point that I'm stumbling towards?  Well, here's a trope that I think should be more common than it is, because we've already made advances in the real world unlike, say, faster than light travel, but isn't.  Why?  You'd think we'd be able to push the direction of travel forward, take it to its logical conclusion.  You'd think that characters having parts of their body lopped off and replaced and upgraded would be all over the genre.

But I've realised that the direction of travel that I'm string up is a blind alley.  And I suspect that's what any sci-fi author realises as soon as he tries to put flesh on his story.

If you haven't worked it out for yourself yet, ask yourself why integrated televisions and DVD players fell flat on their face?  Why do you only find washer/dryers in poky student flats?   For a variety of reasons, but mainly because when one element fails you don't want to throw the whole thing away.  Likewise, people want the freedom and flexibility to upgrade one element without needing to trade-in the rest.  Imagine now having had the functionality of a bleeding edge iPhone integrated into your body in 2010.  You'd be a laughing stock.

That sci-fi genre stalwart, the sweating surgeon carefully joining wires to neurons, is as weak a link as the ones he's making.  Why?  Because we already have magnificent interfaces between technology and wetware.  They're called our fingers and eyes.

Just take a walk around any city as we head towards the second decade of the twenty-first century.  Thousands of 'em, staring at their screens as they walk, many with headphones.  This is what the melding of flesh and technology looks like.  Really looks like.  It's already here, integrated through our existing, superbly adapted interfaces: fingertip, eyeball and eardrum.

So, unless you're dealing with somebody who doesn't have use of those interfaces - and all hail those working in biomedical engineering, with the possible exception of the ones who made Oscar Pistorius rich and famous and able to afford firearms - the future is here.  So, stop staring out the window, we've reached our destination: we've perfected the integration of carbon-based flesh and silicon-based technology.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Nice buns!

Sat the kids down the other week and made them watch The Dam Busters.  It's part of their heritage, and their grandfather was in the RAF during that little local difficulty between '39 and '45.  (Not, '41, pur-lease.)

My sales pitch was that this is one of the key sources for Star Wars, but I didn't elaborate, wanting them to spot the parallels between the bombing runs on the dams and the rebels' attack on the Death Star for themselves.

But, in reality, I think they may have thought I was merely referring to Mrs Molly Wallis' hairstyle, Barnes' missus clearly a distant descendant of Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan.

Princess Leia's characteristic hairstyle.jpg

In fairness, I'm not the first to spot this, (but I can't find any proof that I'm not the second - surely not?!).  The only other reference Google led me to was this excellent blog posting, which provides an analysis of the genesis of Star Wars from movies like The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron, and signs off on exactly the same coiffure-related point.