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Posts Tagged ‘DayBreak Magazine’

Memory RNA after all?

Today I’m experiencing that common occupational hazard for the science fiction writer: Learning that a new scientific discovery has rendered something I wrote obsolete.

I’ll let Tamara Craig, the narrator of my 2010 story “No Dominion” from DayBreak Magazine, explain:

Nearly a century ago, an experiment with flatworms seemed to show that memory was stored in RNA and could be transferred from one organism to another. But the experiment had been an unrepeatable fluke — pardon the pun — and later research showed that memory worked in a completely different way, unfortunately for the science fiction writers who’d embraced memory RNA as a plot device.

(This passage is trimmed down a bit in the version soon to be reprinted in Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman, since that collection’s editor thought the references to SF writers were a bit too meta and distracting.)

What I wrote there was based on memory and was roughly correct. In the late 1950s and early ’60s (“No Dominion” is set in 2059), a researcher named James V. McConnell spent years experimenting with memory in planaria (flatworms), doing things like cutting them up and testing if their regenerated tails retained the memories of their original heads, and — most famously — grinding them up and feeding them to other flatworms. McConnell’s research did seem to show that some learned behavior was passed on by what he proposed to be a form of RNA storing memories created in the flatworm’s brain. It’s true that there was never enough reliable confirmation of his result to establish it as true, and the scientific establishment dismissed McConnell’s findings, although they did inspire a lot of science fiction about RNA memory drips or memory pills as a technique for quick-learning overnight what would normally take months or years. However, it seems that there were some experiments that did appear to replicate the results. There just wasn’t enough consistency to make it definitive.

Apparently, there’s been some renewed experimentation with McConnell’s theory in the past few years, showing promising but uncertain results. What I read about today was a new result, involving snails rather than flatworms:

http://www.sfn.org/Press-Room/News-Release-Archives/2018/Memory-Transferred-Between-Snails

Memories can be transferred between organisms by extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from a trained animal and injecting it into an untrained animal, as demonstrated in a study of sea snails published in eNeuro. The research provides new clues in the search for the physical basis of memory.

Long-term memory is thought to be housed within modified connections between brain cells. Recent evidence, however, suggests an alternative explanation: Memory storage may involve changes in gene expression induced by non-coding RNAs.

A more thorough article about the result can be found at the BBC:

‘Memory transplant’ achieved in snails

Now, this doesn’t mean the original memory RNA idea was altogether right. This experiment involved injecting the RNA into the blood of the snails rather than feeding them ground-up snails. And the result probably needs to be repeated more times and studied more fully before it can be definitive. But it does suggest that I was wrong to insist that memory “worked in a completely different way.” It’s possible that memories are stored, not in patterns in the synapses of nerve cells, but in RNA in their nuclei, which has an epigenetic effect on the neurons’ gene expression and therefore their behavior and structure.

Of course, all these results show is that very simple reactions to stimuli can be transferred. There’s no evidence that it would work for something as elaborate as the kind of declarative memory and knowledge that the passage in the story was discussing, or the kind of procedural memory and skills often transferred by memory RNA in fiction (e.g. foreign languages or fighting techniques). Perhaps those kinds of memory are partly synaptic, partly epigenetic. Maybe there’s something else involved. So Tamara’s lines in the story may not be entirely obsolete, just a little inaccurate (forgivable, since she’s a cop, not a scientist).

So I guess it could be worse. It was a minor part of the story anyway. And the actual research itself suggests some interesting possibilities. The articles say that learning more about memory creation and storage — and perhaps memory modification and transfer — could help treat conditions like Alzheimer’s and PTSD. If so, then it’s unfortunate that McConnell’s results weren’t taken more seriously half a century ago.

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Announcing AMONG THE WILD CYBERS — and the return of the Green Blaze!

At last, I’m able to make my first new project announcement in over a year. Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman, a story collection reprinting nearly all of my previously uncollected short fiction, will soon be published by eSpec Books. And I have even better news: the collection will also feature a new, never-before-published novelette starring Emerald Blair, the Green Blaze, in her first print appearance since Only Superhuman!

Among the Wild Cybers will be available in both print and e-book form, and will be crowdfunded by a Kickstarter campaign that eSpec will soon be launching, probably later this month. The collection, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, will include all my short fiction from my default/Only Superhuman universe, plus the bonus story “No Dominion” (“bonus” meaning it was the only one left over and I didn’t want to leave it uncollected). The title comes from the first story appearing in the collection, “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” but as it happens, the majority of the stories do feature cybers (AIs) in some capacity, though only three focus on them heavily.

Emerald Blair, "Green Blaze"

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

The new Green Blaze story, “Aspiring to Be Angels,” is an 8000-word novelette depicting a key moment in Emerald Blair’s Troubleshooter apprenticeship. I know, I know – prequels. Not as exciting as a sequel would be. But Emry’s superhero training was a part of her backstory that I didn’t manage to include in OS’s flashback chapters; I tried to include it, but I ended up skipping over it for the sake of the novel’s flow. “Aspiring” allows me to fill that gap, and to explore the process by which Emerald Blair became the Green Blaze. Doing a prequel also allows me to bring back Emerald’s mentor Arkady Nazarbayev and delve further into his hero-sidekick relationship with Emry.

In some ways, though, “Aspiring to Be Angels” is more a horror story than a superhero story. It’s not gory or anything, but it’s more dark, bizarre, and creepy than my usual work. It’s something of an homage to the anime Serial Experiments Lain. But don’t worry, it’s also an integral part of Emerald Blair’s journey, true to her character and her world. And I’m hoping it’s just the beginning of her continued adventures, in one form or another.

Another story in the collection, “The Weight of Silence,” might as well be new for most readers, since the online magazine where it appeared, Alternative Coordinates, ceased to exist less than a year after the story’s publication. AC did have a printable PDF edition, as I recall, so there may be a few print copies of “The Weight of Silence” out there somewhere, but I doubt there are very many. So it’s been effectively a “lost” story for nearly seven years, and I’m glad it will finally be available again.

This will also be the print debut for two of my stories that have previously appeared only online, “No Dominion” and “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing.” Both stories are still available online as of this writing (see links on my Homepage and Original Fiction pages), but between them, “Aspiring to Be Angels,” and “The Weight of Silence,” half of the stories in Among the Wild Cybers are appearing in print for the first or nearly the first time. Which means, hopefully, that “Dominion,” “Caress,” and “Weight” will finally get added to my Internet Speculative Fiction Database author page. Apparently their editors don’t pay much attention to online publications, although they do list my Star Trek e-novellas.

I’d originally expected that the stories in Among the Wild Cybers would appear in chronological order, but Danielle and I decided instead to arrange them for the best reading experience, so no two adjacent stories would be too much alike. Here’s the tentative order, with original publication dates:

  • “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Dec 2000)
  • “Aspiring to Be Angels”                     (new)
  • “Twilight’s Captives”                         (Analog, Jan/Feb 2017)
  • “No Dominion”                                   (DayBreak Magazine, June 2010)
  • “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide”     (Analog, Nov 1998)
  • “The Weight of Silence”                     (Alternative Coordinates, Spring 2010)
  • “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”    (Analog, June 2016)
  • “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing”   (Buzzy Mag, Nov 2014)

There will, however, be an appendix providing a chronological ordering of the stories and an overview of the future history they occupy – including a few new bits of history and worldbuilding that haven’t appeared in print before. In writing that material, I even thought of a way to tweak a part of that history so that a couple of stories have a stronger connection than they did originally.

Between them, Only Superhuman and Among the Wild Cybers will contain the entire published OS continuity to date. If you also buy Hub Space, you’ll have all my published original fiction so far except for “Abductive Reasoning,” which came out too recently to be included in ATWC (which didn’t have room for it anyway). But that’s all right – having a story still uncollected gives me an incentive to keep writing more so I can build a second collection. Hopefully this time it won’t take 20 years to do it.

I’ll provide the link to the Kickstarter page once it’s available. Keep an eye out for updates on publication date, cover art, etc. I’m so glad I can finally post news about this book!

New ANALOG story coming: “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”

I’m pleased to announce that I recently sold another novelette to Analog Science Fiction and Fact. It’s called “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad,” and though the Agatha Christie nod is intentional, the primary reference is to a different kind of railroad… well, you’ll see. But yes, this is a murder mystery, my second after “No Dominion” — although that was more a police procedural, while this is a proper whodunit with clues hidden in plain sight. But not everything is as it seems, and there are a couple of pretty major surprises.

“Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” is also my first Analog story in 15 years that isn’t set in the Hub universe. In fact, it’s going back to my main original universe, the one my first two Analog stories occupied. It takes place in the same colonized Solar System setting as Only Superhuman but about 15 years earlier, and it connects indirectly to the backstory of one of that novel’s major characters. (That’s because I wrote an earlier version of this story years ago and cannibalized it for ideas when fleshing out that character’s past.) A hint: The story involves the nature of artificial intelligence and the ethics of AI rights.

No word yet on the publication date, but I’ll let you all know once I find out.

Earth: A nice place to visit…?

In my last post, I talked about the interactive Google Maps thingy at the end of “No Dominion” on its DayBreak Magazine page.  It occurred to me that “No Dominion” is the only one of my published original works that could have a Google Maps page, since it’s the only one that’s set even partly on Earth.  And the first draft of it was set on a habitat in Earth orbit!  In fact, of my five published original stories, only the latest two, “The Weight of Silence” and “No Dominion,” are even set in the Sol System.  “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” and “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” are set within ten parsecs of Earth, respectively en route to and at Gamma Leporis.  “The Hub of the Matter” and its upcoming sequel “Home is Where the Hub Is” are set near the center of the galaxy, 40,000 light years from Earth, and at various other locations within a volume 300,000 light-years in radius around that point.

What can I say?  I like space.  It was Star Trek that introduced me to science fiction, and the original show never went to Earth except in the occasional time-travel story.  And space is just so much roomier than Earth.  The tastes of the prose SF community turned away from “space opera” for a while, though that’s somewhat reversed itself by now, but I never lost my preference for it.

Ironically, my first published Star Trek tale, SCE: “Aftermath,” was set primarily in San Francisco and, I believe, pretty much entirely within the Solar System (other dimensions notwithstanding).  However, I think the only things I’ve written since then that are actually set on Earth (at least from the perspective of the viewpoint characters) are a few pages toward the end of The Buried Age and the briefing in the first chapter of Greater Than the Sum (although the prologue of Over a Torrent Sea opens in orbit of Mars).  My upcoming Star Trek DTI novel will probably spend more time on Earth than any of my other Trek fiction, although it features quite a lot of other locations as well.

I was going to say “than anything I’ve had published to date,” but then I remembered my X-Men and Spider-Man novels, both of which are set entirely on Earth (alternate timelines notwithstanding).  However, my original idea for the Spidey novel had Spidey travelling to another planet; I liked the idea of getting him out of his comfort zone (and, admittedly, more into mine).  It was decided it was too much of a departure for the character, but I’m still hoping I’ll get a chance to tell that tale someday.

Interesting discussion of “No Dominion”

Over on the TrekBBS Trek Literature forum, where we occasionally also discuss non-Trek literature by Trek authors, I’ve been having an interesting discussion with a poster called David cgc about “No Dominion.”  He saw the story very differently than I intended, but those can be the most interesting replies.  The discussion begins with this post and continues from there.

It can really surprise you the way people interpret what you write sometimes.  After my very first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” I got a few letters from people assuming that what I’d presented as a just and necessary outcome was in fact a gross miscarriage of justice and should serve as the trigger for an interstellar war.

Meanwhile… I think I made things tough for editor Jetse de Vries with “No Dominion.”  The stories on the DayBreak Magazine site all feature an interactive Google Maps window at the end of the story, showing the key locations… but I didn’t really specify where Onogoroshima, the artificial-island arcology setting of the story, was located, beyond “in the Philippine Sea.”  He ended up placing Onogoroshima in the Bonin (aka Ogasawara) Islands, about 200 km north-northeast of Iwo Jima, placing it right on the edge of the Philippine Sea.  I guess that counts.  And it’s reasonable to put it close to Japan, seeing as how it’s named for the first island in Japanese mythology.

The other “No Dominion”-related location tags on the interactive map thingy are the University of the Philippines (in connection with the Filipina character Rosa Manzano, who could’ve been an alumna of that institution, though I didn’t specify), Brisbane Airport (for the origin point of DCI Craig’s flight to Onogoroshima), and Pittsburgh, for Charles Trendler’s hometown.  That’s thorough.

I don’t know if there’s a way to link directly to the map; just click on the link above to “No Dominion” and scroll to the bottom.

Seeing the locations from all the different DayBreak stories together on the same interactive map makes me wonder how many of these stories could actually fit together in a common reality.  Generally that’s not a likely proposition unless the writers or their editor consciously arrange it, since there are so many different ways of imagining the details of future technology, chronology, society, politics, etc.  Still, it’s an interesting thought.  Surely, in an anthology dedicated to optimistic futures, there would be some common threads.

“No Dominion” now online!

Well, that didn’t take long.  “No Dominion” is now up at DayBreak Magazine.  Here’s the direct link:

http://daybreakmagazine.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/daybreak-fiction-no-dominion-by-christopher-l-bennett/

No “Dominion” yet?

I’m sure my legion of loyal fans (all 5 or 6 of you) are wondering why “No Dominion” didn’t show up on DayBreak Magazine on its scheduled debut date of June 11th.  Apparently there’s been a bit of a delay, but I can tell you that the process is underway; I’ve been working with the editor on the final copyedits.  So I expect it should go live soon.  Once it becomes available, I’ll post the permalink to the story’s page.  And of course there will be the usual website update with “behind-the-scenes” discussion and annotations.