Hacking Darwin presents an evenhanded look at the future of genetic intervention from a non-scientist’s point-of-view.
The first “test tube baby” was born using IVF in 1978. The human genome was fully sequenced in 2003. CRISPR, a method to cut and paste different genetic code into DNA, was developed in 1988 but first used on human cells in 2013. The combination of these three advances will soon allow IVF embryos to be selected for freedom from disease, hair/eye color, and gender. The ability to select based on IQ, longevity, or personality styles (i.e., extroversion or agreeableness) will soon follow. Basically, our DNA will become an IT product that can be hacked in ways we haven’t even thought of yet.
There are many ethical issues inherent in this ability. Would only the rich be able to afford the cost of manipulating their offspring to be smarter than poorer offspring conceived the old fashioned way? Would one “look” be so popular that races are effectively wiped out? Would this allow an entire generation to be wiped out by a new disease for which they are not protected by natural selection? Will we trust artificial intelligence to make humans that are smarter than even they are?
Hacking Darwin is a thought-provoking treatise on decisions that will need to be made soon to achieve the best results in the future with genetic engineering. The best part of this book is the author’s easy-to-read style. He uses examples of people in the future casually selecting their baby’s height and IQ. There is nothing so technical here that an average fiction reader cannot understand, or worse, have to Google.
Perhaps it is because I’m a book blogger but I think this book would be a great resource for writers looking for ideas for a plot. There are a lot of unspoken “what ifs” in here. Would the genetically engineered younger children dominate the naturally made older ones? Would the smarter children be able to outsmart their parents? Could a disease wipe out a world made up of Kardashian clones? I’m not even an author so imagine what a real author could think up. For that reason, plus this is just a fascinating and well-written book, Hacking Darwin deserves 5 stars! I can’t wait to read it in twenty years and see how close or far it is from the truth then.
Thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Quantum mechanics is Beyond Weird, which is why this book’s easy to understand explanations, with minimal math, is such a great read.
The first mention of quantum occurred in 1900 during prosaic research on emitted heat. This accidental discovery was to change physics and also our understanding of the universe.
Quanta is neither wave nor particle and can be both inside and outside a box like Schrodinger’s cat. Does the inability to understand something logically make it untrue? Of course not. However, does it smell like the ancients use of ether to force their math to work? Maybe…
If you have any interest in science, the inability of scientists to explain the weird behavior of quantum mechanics is fascinating. If you have ever wanted to be Galileo discovering the Earth circles the Sun, there is an obvious task for you to take on. I suspect that the elusive Unified Field Theory will also be found by an amateur who has no fixed ideas of how physics should work. Or perhaps someone who enjoys science mysteries that are Beyond Weird. 4 stars!
Thanks to the University of Chicago Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Whether you write mysteries, fantasy or science fiction, Putting the Science in Fiction is an exceptional way to avoid factual errors. But it is also just a great way to catch up with current technology trends.
When your spaceship dramatically explodes into a fiery cataclysm, scientists everywhere are screaming (with laughter). Of course, in space, no one can hear you scream. However, you should also know that without oxygen, you know like in outer space, fiery explosions can’t occur. To avoid giggling scientists, read this book.
The range of subject matter within Putting the Science in Fiction is impressive. From simple lab protocols to poisons, genetic engineering, mental health issues, disasters, rocket science, biology, computer science and more, this book has something for everyone. Each story is written by an expert in their field. Most are less than ten pages long.
Even for non-writers, some of the misconceptions exposed are fascinating. Walt Disney probably wasted his money freezing his head. Most of the Terminator series is impossible. However, the storm trooper’s pulse (really an intermittent laser) cannon has already been tested successfully by the US Navy. Unfortunately, Luke’s lightsaber is a non-starter as are all of the rebel’s ships. I guess we know who really would have won the (star) war.
Okay, I admit it: I am a total nerd. I absolutely loved this book. I am planning to use it at parties to debunk (okay, maybe ruin) popular movies. However, even as a non-writer, Putting the Science in Fiction gave me at least five great plots for a future bestselling novel. Unfortunately, it won’t be written by me. Perhaps you will write it so I can have the pleasure of seeing my idea in print. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Writer’s Digest, and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Upgrade Soul is a thought-provoking new graphic novel about the nature of humanity and the dangers of technology.
Hank and Molly are rich and elderly. They decide to do an experimental medical treatment that promises to make them young and healthy again. Problems occur. Ethical questions arise. What does it mean to be human? Is it the mind or the body that defines humanity? What is the impact of the changes brought on by aging? The unexpected turns of the plot are the best part of Upgrade Soul. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say more.
Wow, I adored this philosophical graphic novel! It makes the reader think about many profound issues that resonate long after the novel is finished. It also won a Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity in Comics. Upgrade Soul is highly recommended. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Lion Forge, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Page-turner is so overused that it has become trite. Here is how I felt about Obscura by Joe Hart. I…COULDN’T…PUT…IT…DOWN! Literally! I was reading my kindle at stop lights, during boring parts of a telephone conference call at work (with my office door closed of course) and when I should really be sleeping. The plot is completely different from what I usually read. It is a mystery but set in the future that included copious comingled science fiction and science fact.
Humans are increasingly becoming victims of a vicious type of dementia that resembles quick onset Alzheimer’s. Dr. Gillian Ryan’s husband falls victim to it. When their daughter also catches it, Dr. Ryan, a neurologist, tries to find a cure using rats. When her funding is cut, she takes a wild gamble on a six-month trip into space to try to find a cure for an even more virulent version of the disease by using human subjects in her trials.
Unfortunately, revealing any more of the plot would be a spoiler. The best part of Obscura are the wild twists in the plot. What is causing the disease to become more intense in space? Will Dr. Ryan find a cure? What will happen to her daughter?
This book is superb. It is recommended to anyone who wants to read an intriguing rollercoaster ride with a scientific bent and a near future setting. 5 stars! At the time of this review, this excellent read was available on Kindle Unlimited. It is definitely worth picking up!
Thanks to the publisher, Thomas & Mercer, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Lengthy meandering summary of research studies about aging.
The Happiness Curve is found worldwide in both males and females and even in apes. The curve shows that people get decreasingly satisfied with life (the definition of happiness used here) from age 20 to their early 50s. After bottoming out, their happiness grows until old age diseases occur sometime in their 80s. Studies cited conclude that at around 50, people get more realistic about what they can still achieve. This jolt to reality is painful and may result in the stereotypical mid-life crisis of divorce, career change and sport cars. A few people may have an ascending line or a V curve depending on their life experiences. Therefore, it is possible to avoid the common depression of mid-life but it is harder then than during other phases of life.
I wanted to like and recommend this book. However, I didn’t and I can’t. The Happiness Curve is full of personal experiences of the author and people he met. I don’t think they added anything other than more pages. Please just get to the information promised in the book’s summary. 2 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Thomas Dunne Books, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Complex and completely different from other thrillers, the Last Equation of Isaac Severy is highly recommended.
Isaac Severy is a famous mathematician. Now retired, he is still working on his last equation: how to use chaos theory to predict Los Angeles traffic. As the book opens, Isaac is preparing a breakfast for two in his home. The next day Isaac is found dead in his hot tub along with a set of live Christmas lights with a single bulb crushed. His death is accepted as a suicide. At his funeral, his adopted granddaughter, Hazel, opens a cryptic note from Isaac mailed the day before his death. Isaac tells Hazel that he is only the first of three people soon to die. He commands her to destroy the work he left behind in a mysterious room 137 and deliver his last equation to the elusive John Raspanti. Hazel is advised to not involve other members of the family or the police. Isaac states that he selected Hazel for these tasks because she would be the least likely to be suspected. He says that he cannot do the tasks himself because he is being followed.
Isaac’s note leads Hazel on a merry chase through literature, mathematics and physics. Hazel works with various family members while trying to follow the instructions in Isaac’s puzzling letter. Neither Hazel nor the reader can identify who is a hero and who is a villain. This book has a multitude of side plots. What is the elusive and wealthy P. Boone Lyons after? Why is a physicist who has been dead for sixty years attempting to contact Hazel?
Ostensibly a thriller, the family dynamics are almost more intriguing. Phillip is a tenured physics professor at CalTech. However, his opportunities of winning a coveted Nobel prize are slipping away and his best years are behind him. Tom is released from a long prison term. Why was he in prison and how does that relate to Hazel and Gregory’s fear of his release?
Since the family relationships are rather confusing, I created this handy family tree.
Since Isaac’s work is with chaos theory, it follows that the reader truly doesn’t understand what is going on until almost the end of the book. It is reminiscent of the movie Chinatown, where there are a multitude of plot layers that don’t cohere until the end. I like that uncertainty but some may not. However, the resolution definitely is worth the wait.
The Last Equation of Isaac Severy is a brilliant tour-de-force from a debut author. It is highly recommended to thriller readers. It would also appeal to fans of quirky family dynamics like those in movie, The Royal Tenenbaums. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Touchstone Books, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
More like Ocean’s Eleven than The Martian but still a 4 star read!
The only similarity between Artemis and The Martian is the main character’s inventive use of science to solve their problems. Jazz is a smuggler on Artemis, the sole city on the moon. She is whip smart but just wants to get rich quick with minimal work. When an opportunity presents itself, Jazz is in. Jazz needs to use all her resources including her intelligence to complete her well-paying scam.
The planning and execution of Jazz’ plan is fascinating due to the use of real science to achieve her goal. Jazz is a great character that feels genuinely different for a caper plot. Some of the science is enthralling–reusable condoms, gizmo Apple Pay/iPad knockoffs, remote-controlled HIB climbing spiders, etc. Overall, a great read for caper fans and a good read for everyone else. 4 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Crown Books, and NetGalley for a review copy.