Communion Of Dreams

Ol’ Blue Eyes.

Actually, they’re not that old. Recent genetic research shows that a single mutation less than 10,000 years ago is responsible for blue eyes:

One Common Ancestor Behind Blue Eyes

People with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor, according to new research.

A team of scientists has tracked down a genetic mutation that leads to blue eyes. The mutation occurred between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. Before then, there were no blue eyes.

“Originally, we all had brown eyes,” said Hans Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Copenhagen.

There’s a nice explanation of science behind understanding the genetic change and how it can be traced back to a single individual. And this closing bit:

“The question really is, ‘Why did we go from having nobody on Earth with blue eyes 10,000 years ago to having 20 or 40 percent of Europeans having blue eyes now?” Hawks said. “This gene does something good for people. It makes them have more kids.”

Nah – it just makes us more attractive. 😉

[Minor spoilers ahead.]

The reason I mention this discovery is how it shows such a trait can propagate out through the human population quickly. And that of course relates to some of the conjecture I have in Communion of Dreams about the development of psychic abilities in the same kind of time frame.

Interesting stuff!

Jim Downey


Escaping the ghetto?

I was able to catch a bit of this morning’s Weekend Edition Sunday on NPR, and heard an interesting interview with first-time author Camille DeAngelis about her novel Mary Modern. You can find the story here, and there’s a link to the audio archive.

What caught my attention particularly was when host Liane Hansen asked DeAngelis whether at any point in the publishing process it was suggested that her novel belonged in the Science Fiction category. In the course of the discussion (starts at 3:00 in the audio file) DeAngelis expresses the opinion that in recent years so-called literary fiction has come to include more fantastic elements “because people want to exit ordinary life, and you get kind of tired about reading about missing children and cheating spouses and all that kind of thing.”

I’ve written previously that the term “Science Fiction” is too often used as a pejorative, that SF is a ghetto from which it is difficult to escape, and that the distinction between Science Fiction and more mainstream ‘speculative fiction’ is arbitrary at best. Communion of Dreams certainly *is* SF – but like Mary Modern, it has a much broader appeal than to just the Star Wars crowd.

Anyway, catch the interview if you can, and maybe put Mary Modern on your reading list. I know that when I’m able to think clearly again I’m going to have to give it a try.

Jim Downey

Couple of quickies…
August 8, 2007, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Predictions, Quantum mechanics, Reproduction, Science, tech, Writing stuff

…of the “hey, science just took another step in the direction of my novel” variety:

First, a possible glimpse into how the putative new physics of Communion might develop, with this item titled “Scientists solve the mystery of levitation.” From the article:

Scientists at the University of St Andrews have created “incredible levitation effects” by tinkering with the force of nature that normally makes objects to stick together.

The Telegraph reports that Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin have worked out a way of reversing this force, called the “Casimir” force, so that objects are repelled instead of being attracted.

Now, the Casimir effect has been known for a long time – about 60 years – and is a manifestation of quantum theory. As I’ve said before, the math is completely beyond me, but the notion that it is possible to experimentally reverse the effect indicates that manipulation of the energy field at that level is not just a theory. This may well open up access to such phenomena as zero-point energy, and a refinement of the understanding of the structure of ’empty’ space.

[Spoiler alert.]

Secondly, and also related to one of the main subplots in the book, is the announcement that Japanese scientists have pushed the cloning of mammals further with the production of a clone of a clone of a clone of a pig:

The male pig was born at Tokyo‘s Meiji University in July, said Hiroshi Nagashima, the geneticist at the university who led the project.

Earlier attempts to clone animals for several generations were problematic. Scientists had thought that was because the genetic material in the nucleus of the donor cell degraded with each successive generation, Nagashima said.

This degradation is exactly the sort of problem I have for my subplot, and would be a major hurdle to overcome for anyone who was trying to clone humans.

Interesting . . .

Jim Downey

Picking and choosing.

There was a very interesting segment on the Diane Rehm show this morning about how reproductive science has advanced considerably in the last few decades, and the impact that is having on both individuals and society. In the course of the discussion, the participants touched on a number of issues both of interest to me personally, and pertaining to Communion of Dreams.

In this post in March, I discussed the genetic disease which runs in my family, and how that helped inform my decision not to have children. At the time I entered the normal child-rearing years, the appropriate testing wasn’t available. Now it is. And while I could still make the decision to have children, my wife and I are content without those additional responsibilities.

Anyway, in the course of the discussion on Diane Rehm’s show, there was mention of the fact that couples seeking IVF treatment have the option to perform genetic testing on the individual embryos produced by the procedure, and could then select which embryos to have implanted with the hope that they would quicken and grow. Huxley’s Brave New World is potentially here with this level of scrutiny and selection.

So, what about Communion? In it, I stipulate a history of a pandemic influenza, which kills hundreds of millions, and leaves most of the surviving population sterile. But here I left off from my usual attention to scientific detail, in not specifying exactly what the mechanism in effect was. Because, knowing full well the potential that modern medical science has to offer, I thought it might be a simple answer to just have non-sterile couples producing lots of viable embryos using current IVF tech, and then have those embryos implanted in host mothers, thereby circumventing the threat of human extinction. Like the parents who can now pick and choose which embryo has the greatest potential for survival, I made my own selection of what plot mechanisms were most viable. (Please note, I am not trying to equate the two!)

This is something that all writers have to do: make decisions on what to include, what to exclude. Science fiction writers have to do more of it, since in theory you can decided to invent just about any new technology or science to suit your purpose. But for me, I try to establish a given technological level, and see what makes sense within those constraints. According to most who have read the book and responded to me (either in person or in comments here), I did a pretty fair job in resolving most of the issues. But I know that in this particular case, I pulled a little sleight of hand, and my own sense of honesty pushes me to acknowledge it.

Jim Downey