Microbial Life in Meteorites?

Microbial Life in Meteorites?

Photo Credit: National Geographic

What are the chances that microbial life exists in meteorites or the asteroids from which they broke off?  Scientists have already found that some forms of life can live in the vacuum of space.  In addition, the Tardigrade can live in space for up to 10 days, taking in radiation far beyond what a human could withstand.  This article from 2011 talks about a rare type of cyanobacteria that was found fossilized in a carbonaceous meteorite.  These are the types of articles I researched when I was planning my upcoming novel Symbiote, set for release in September 2014.

In my novel, I posit that alien parasites can indeed survive in or on a meteorite as well as the journey through our atmosphere.  I consider this speculative fiction, as the science is certainly leaning this direction, with life possible on meteorites and asteroids, but not being conclusively proven yet.  In Symbiote, I go into the implications of this, of what it would mean for the Earth if such a thing were to occur.  From there, the novel transgresses to more of a soft science fiction, in which I explore one possibility of an alien parasite and what it could do if it came in contact with a human.

Think of this: We come into contact with millions of kinds of bacteria in the course of our lives and some of them make us sick.  Some of them could make us die.  But some of them are necessary for digestive function.  The line is thin but it is there.  The major question throughout the novel is whether or not the alien parasite is truly that, or if it is in fact symbiotic.  What changes would occur in the human body if it came in contact with this extraterrestrial microbe?  Would it change who we are?  To find out, you’ll have to pick up a copy when it comes out next month.  Until then, I’m open to questions or comments on the possibilities of us actually finding life on a meteorite that falls to Earth.

Human Cloning Ethics in Orphan Black

I had the pleasure of binge watching the first two seasons of BBC America’s Orphan Black on Blu Ray over the past week, and found myself ruminating over the ethics of human cloning.  For someone not familiar with this series, this is hardly a spoiler as the tagline for the first season is “A Clone Is Never Alone.”

The series begins with Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany), a grifter, seeing a woman who appears to be her doppelganger commit suicide on a train platform.  Sarah then assumes her identity and is thrust into a plot that goes far deeper than she realizes.  Soon she meets several other women who look like her and it is revealed that they are clones (All played by Tatiana Maslany, wonderfully too I might add).  One of the many great science fiction aspects of the show is rooted in a debate that’s been ongoing ever since the first cells were cloned decades ago.

[The following section may contain minor spoilers of Season 1 and possibly Season 2 of Orphan Black]

This post is not meant to be a review of the Orphan Black TV series, though in case anyone was wondering, I loved it.  Instead I wanted to focus on the scientific aspects of the show.  For instance, if someone were to clone a human being and that child made it to full term, would their process for doing so be patented?  If it were, would they have a patent on that human being?  How much control could they exert over that person?  Would they have a legal right to be able to monitor their “creation?”  These are a few of the questions that came up in the series, though there are many more that I would need to get into more back story to relate.

The show focuses more on the questions about what to do after this process has already occurred and there are clones in the world.  The question of SHOULD a human being be cloned is not really at the forefront of the date.  They’re here and there are many of them.  An exact number isn’t known.  What should be done about it and what rights should the clones have is at the forefront of the debate. Various factions treat the clones with varying levels of respect.  The Dyad Institute, which in part created the clones, seems to be interested in the science of it, though they most certainly have ulterior motives.  There is a group religious extremists called the Proletheans who for the most part believe the clones should be destroyed.  It is also revealed that the military has been involved at various points in time.

If human cloning were to be revealed to exist today, I think the way it’s portrayed in Orphan Black would be very accurate as to some of the types of groups involved and how the different clones would react (some take it better than others).  As far as my opinion on human cloning, I believe it should be restricted to regrowing specific body parts/organs by way of stem cell lines and 3D organic printing and that cloning involving full term babies should be illegal.  The ramifications far outweigh the possible benefits.  Soon, groups could form that aim to clone their leader or to clone a ‘master race’ and we’re down a rabbit hole we’ll never get out of again.  Imagine if terrorists could clone their leaders and raise them to lead the next generation of terrorists.  They would look identical and soon they could be labeled a prophet and their face is blasted everywhere.  It would be a nightmare.  That said, if clones were to exist already, I think we would have to treat them like anyone else and pass legislation that guarantees their human rights.

I do believe we need to be careful where we tread in regards to this science.  We want to make scientific progress that allows people to live longer, healthier lives.  At the same time, there are so many questions that are unanswered regarding the technology.  Orphan Black brings up the fact that what if numerous people had the same DNA or fingerprints.  I can hear the criminals in the courtroom crying that their clone did it.  What are some of the questions this brings up for you?  Do you believe human cloning should be legal, patented or otherwise?


Three Authors Who Inspire Me

I found this great question floating around on the interwebs, so I’ll try my best to answer it.

“Who are the three authors who most inspire you or your writing?”

1. Philip K. Dick – I love his work.  Author of 44 novels and 122 short stories, he was an incredibly prolific writer when he died at the young age of 53.  He is best known for the novels and stories that would become the hit films Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, and more.  Beyond the sheer number of original stories he produced, he wrote about authoritarian governments, drug abuse, reality, parallel universes, androids, and the future in general, just to name a few common themes.

One reason I love his work is that he was able to tell a story quickly, without sacrificing detail.  Most of his novels were around 220 pages in paperback, which in my opinion is perfect for a science fiction novel.  By doing so, he was able to express more ideas, taking his readers to more worlds and more alternate realities.  For the most part I strive to keep my novels around the same length for that reason.  I have far too many ideas in my head to bloviate for 500 pages in each novel.

2. Kurt Vonnegut – Vonnegut was a master of satire and dark humor.  Probably best known for his novel Slaughterhouse Five, about the fire-bombing of Dresden, I actually like some of his more obscure works even better.  Novels like Deadeye Dick delve into the minutiae of how Hitler might not have come to power if not for his art teacher, who told him to quit and try something else.  Vonnegut creates characters that interweave his novels regardless of the non-related plots.  A character in Deadeye Dick might be a cousin of a character in Breakfast of Champions.  Vonnegut tries to tie the world together in a way we can understand by trying to remind us that we’re all related in one way or another.

I am guilty of trying to emulate some of his style with regards to narration, which I really used heavily in my debut Science Fiction novel Memory Leak.  Vonnegut was such a master of the English Language, that he could break rules for the sake of breaking them, flaunting the standard way of doing things just to prove a point.  When people would try to correct him, I imagine him sitting back and laughing.  His views on the hypocritical nature of society is something I believe more authors need to incorporate into their writing.

3. Ernest Hemingway –  Like Dick, Hemingway kept most of his novels and stories short, which I appreciated because I felt I could spend more time analyzing his meaning rather than making it through a story.  Call it ADHD…  As an example, in The Sun Also Rises, one of my favorite books, Jake Barnes takes a woman for a ride in a taxi through Paris.  If you were a casual reader, you might have thought it took forever to get to the destination because it was far away.  In reality, if you mapped it out, Jake was directing the cabbie to take the longest route, which took them all around Paris, just so he could spend more time alone with her.  I try to put ‘Easter Eggs’ like this into my writing for the reader who cares enough to find them.  There are many more nuances to The Sun Also Rises that Hemingway doesn’t come right out and say.  In a novel that’s only about 250 pages, there are a lot of subtle aspects to it.

I understand that Hemingway was misogynistic and hyper-masculine which puts some people off to him.  What I respect is that he told things how they were according to his feelings.  It’s a trait I try to portray in some of my characters.  For instance, in my upcoming novel Symbiote, Detective Yuri Markov is a bit of a misogynist, has strongly held political views, and is about at secular as they come.  These are not my views, they are the views of my character.  I think any good novel has people with varying beliefs and value systems.  Some of my readers might relate to him, while some might relate better to his partner, Detective Karen Hall, a tough female cop who often buts heads with him.

Who are your favorite authors who inspire you or your writing?  Leave a comment in the space below or tweet me @TrevorSSchmidt