Analog: Science fiction and fact (March 2009)

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Original title: Analog: Science fiction and fact (March 2009).

Title of this edition: Analog: Science fiction and fact (March 2009).

Author: David Bartell, Jerry Craven, Carl Frederick, Robert J. Sawyer.

Gender: Fantasy / Science Ficction.

Saga: Analog : Science fiction and fact.

Editorial: Orion Books.

Edition year: 1, 2009.

Prizes: …

Synopsis [Warning: Spoiler]: As the title suggest, this journal is composed of science fiction stories and facts. I will only write about the science fiction here.

Cavernauts (David Bartell): The exploration of the moon Callisto has lead to the discovery of one of the biggest caves in the solar system. Now it is the task of two cavernauts to go there and rescue the last patrol. While going deep into the cave, they discover that the cave is being drained trying to find diamonds.

After the first death (Jerry Craven): Something has happened to the exploratory patrol and now it is time for Clayborune to try finding them. Prosecuted by the native extraterrestrial race, Claybourne is forced to join them in a ritual. After the ritual, he discovers that what happens to the exploratory patrol was that they become trees. They reach a level of immortality, but sacrificing their conscience and ability to move. He has to escape, but because of the ritual, he is becoming a tree himself. In the end he manges to scape and discovers that it was all a worm that modifies the host to suit his necessities.

Lifespeed (Carl Frederick): A fencer and scientist discovers a substance that can accelerate the neural processes within the brain and hence make you react faster and as a consequence, is like the world moves slower. This allows him to be a better fencer, but at the cost of a boring life (everything just happens too slow).

Wake: Conclusion (Robert J. Sawyer): Caitlin is a blind girl with genius level at maths. Now, by using a experimental device, she is able to see again, but the device also enables her to “see” the web and to communicate with a conscience being that has arisen in the background of the net.

Personal Review: Before commenting about the individual stories, just to mention that this journal belongs to the BookCrossing initiative, so it will be back to where I pick it up and it will be available for more people to read it.

Cavernauts (David Bartell): I like this story for two reasons, the first one is that it doesn’t try to explain the difficult bits, like space engines or how to get to Callisto, and the other one is that it explains a lot about cave exploration. So, it is has a good balance that makes you enjoy it and feel like a real cavernaut (after all, if you are a cavernaut, you will probably know a lot about cave exploration and nothing about how spaceships works, which makes sense). It is nice also that the story includes references to internet and how everybody is connected 24h 7 days a week. However, it fails to anticipate some kind of cave mapping like for instance the one used in Prometheus.

Such kind of systems is currently being used in consoles and is becoming more and more popular, so it doesn’t require too much speculation to anticipate its use in a situation like the one described in the book.

After the first death (Jerry Craven): This books reminds me about old Sci-Fi movies, where a rocket is sent to unexplored territory with a team of brave people inside. What I’m trying to say, is that the “unexplored” situation is quite difficult to achieve. Before ever approaching another planets, it is expected to send probes, satellites and even robots. Later on, when it comes the time to face-to-face encounters (which might be very dangerous due to virus, chemical incompatibilities and even bacteria…), it will be only under very restrictive protocols. For instance, right now, despite we know there might be liquid water on Mars, the robots are not allowed to go find it, because they might carry earth micro-organisms that can contaminate that water.

Lifespeed (Carl Frederick): The brain main element is the neuron. Communication between neurons takes place through diffusion of chemical entities called neurotransmitters. Communication inside a single neuron takes place through an electrical pulse which is generated by change in ions concentration inside an ion channel. This two methods are not bad when executed a couple of times, but when they are repeated a thousand times, or when they require to travel a long distance, then they are extremely slow. That is the reason for the existence of myelin. Myelin covers part of the axon and basically speeds up the electrical pulses through the axon.

So, since this myelin cover in the axons is what affects more the speed of the signals, then it is not a bad idea trying to change it for another material that speeds up signals even more. This is quite complicated, and I’m not sure if there is anything else compatible with the est of the chemical reactions within the brain, but if there is another substance, then changing the myelin will need a gene therapy, since it is encoded in the genes what covers the axons. So, in principle, it might be possible, but extremely complicated. It will be something possible only through a massive team and collaborations between several groups, certainly not something a single scientist can do alone without anybody knowing what he is doing.

Wake: Conclusion (Robert J. Sawyer): This is only the last episode of a much bigger story, but is fine since there is a synopsis of what happened before. I would say that most of the blindness problems arise from lack of communication between the eye and the brain, hence more than needing a new eye, what is needed is an implant to close the gap. However, this is faster said than done, it requires to connect nerves to electronic devices, and that is not easy. On the other side, communication between an electrode and a nerve is being studied at the moment and we might by only a couple of years away from achieving it.

So, the eyePod part is ok… but sending the data back to Japan from United States will create such a big delay that the devices will not be functional (even with signals travelling at the speed of light it will add about 80 ms delay just fro travelling plus the time spent in the network nodes).

ligth speed

This problem with speed opens what might be the biggest problem with a conscious mind in the “back of the network”. This entity will be much more slower than a human (even if it is more intelligent). It is difficult to quantify how much slower, but it will take light about 120 ms to travel around the world. That is a significant part of a second, and it will take several signals to cross the world only for synchronization (which is an important part of how the brain works).

So, the eyePod part is ok, the conscience mind living in the network, despite being used quite a lot in novels… sounds quite impossible. At least as something that can think as we do or even faster. It could be more intelligent, but it will be slower.

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