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Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: Fringe Science

Fringe Science
Parallel Universes, White Tulips, and Mad Scientists
Edited by Kevin Grazier
BenBella Books
This one I picked to review, forgetting I'd already bought it, attracted to the sound of tantalizingly possible or possibly dubious science.  Out of touch with pop culture, I didn't realize that Fringe was a TV show.  By watching the pilot episode, I remedied that lack and have a sense of what issues the book addressed. The program, like the book, does cut some broad territory.

The first three essays relate with the series' genre, with growing relevance.  David Dylan Thomas says that "Paranormal Is the New Normal" and that the show is focused on SF.  An interesting point but it may go on too long.  Amy H. Sturgis provides literary ancestors to the Fringe, some of which will send me flipping through classics, but it offers no profundities.  Paul Levinson concludes this trio saying the Fringe is "The Return of 1950s Science Fiction", describing examples from Alfred Bester to Philip K. Dick.  Levinson digs a little deeper, explaining how the show's aspects fit into the larger scheme.

Max Tegmark and Mike Brotherton discuss parallel universes.  Tegmark's contribution, the more technical of the two, had me on the edge of my seat, both in fascination and in confusion.  I'm not sure if it's the author or reader's fault, possibly a little of both.  What's cool, though, is that the author explains three types then argues for and against them.  Mike Brotherton, on the other hand, is more user-friendly guide to earlier, parallel-universe TV programs, stories and comic books.

The meatier articles, for my money, treat human biology (and time, below).  Garth Sundem's "The Malleability of Memory" treats the problems that come with memory.  He discusses which of the show's ideas are mistaken and which work.  Memory can be manipulated--through wording and through convincing someone that something that did not occur, actually did.  Memory, Sundem points out, isn't stored in one place, either.  While regrowing memories is unlikely, you can trigger memories, la Marcel Proust's tea-soaked cake or another food or sound.  Interestingly, rigid believers are easier to brain-wash.

In "Fringe Diseases" Jovna Grbic also tells what the show got right and wrong, explaining why.  This one is largely familiar, but that may be since my education was in biology, chemistry, and medicine.  Surprises are still here--from designer diseases to slime-mold robots.

Brendan Allison's "The Fringes of Neurotechnology" brings us the latest and future developments that interface the human mind and technology--BCIs, brain-computer interfaces.  Is mind reading possible?  Not yet, not close.  Mind control?  Not really.  But the possibilities are dealt with.

Stephen Cass treats time travel.  Is it possible?  What is time?  In order to build a time machine, we'd need a better understanding.  Cass discusses how wormholes and other methods of getting to the future.

Amy Berner discusses cows (agriculture, cloning and huma-cow chimeras).  Nick Mamatas wins the prize for the most unusual pairing:  Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary in "Walthered States" where the two famous gentlemen of the sixties and seventies represent Walter from two different universes.  Robert T. Jeschonek talks about the ethics of experimentation.

This eclectic collection is sure to tickle a couple of your fancies.

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