Posts Tagged ‘science’

EP396: Dead Merchandise


About the Author…

A firm believer in the “apply butt to chair, then fingers to keyboard” philosophy, Ferrett Steinmetz writes for at least an hour every day – which helps, he promises. He is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award, for which he remains stoked.

Ferrett has a moderately popular blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, wherein he talks about bad puns, relationships, politics, videogames, and more bad puns. He is the creator of the most popular and comprehensive online purity quizzes (this one’s for sex, but he’s also done them for roleplaying and Livejournal). He’s written four computer books, including the still-popular-after-two-years Wicked Cool PHP.

He lives in Cleveland with his wife, who he couldn’t imagine living without.

About the Narrator…

Kathy Sherwood resides in a (probably only figuratively) magical forest in North Central Florida, with her significant other, two dogs and two cats.  She also hosts alternative rock show Not Quite Random on 88.5 WFCF–Flagler College Radio.

Dead Merchandise
by Ferrett Steinmetz

The ad-faeries danced around Sheryl, flickering cartoon holograms with fluoride-white smiles. They told her the gasoline that sloshed in the red plastic canister she held was high-octane, perfect for any vehicle, did she want to go for a drive?
She did not. That gasoline was for burning. Sheryl patted her pockets to make sure the matches were still there and kept moving forward, blinking away the videostreams. Her legs ached.

She squinted past a flurry of hair-coloring ads (“Sheryl, wash your gray away today!”), scanning the neon roads to find the breast-shaped marble dome of River Edge’s central collation unit. River’s Edge had been a sleepy Midwestern town when she was a girl, a place just big enough for a diner and a department store. Now River’s Edge had been given a mall-over like every other town — every wall lit up with billboards, colorful buildings topped with projectors to burn logos into the clouds. She was grateful for the dark patches that marked where garish shop-fronts had been bombed into ash-streaked metal tangles.
The smoke gave her hope. Others were trying to bring it all down — and if they were succeeding, maybe no one was left to stop her.

Rotting bodies leered out at her through car windows, where computer-guided cars had smashed headlong into the collapsed shopfronts that had fallen into the road. Had the drivers been fleeing, or trying to destroy the collation unit? She had no idea.
The ad-faeries sang customized praises to each auto as she glanced at the cars, devising customized ditties about the ’59 Breezster’s speed. Sheryl needed speed; at her arthritic pace, walking through the women’s district might tempt her into submission.

Given that the ad-faeries suggested it, driving was a terrible idea. River’s Edge had been so gutted by bombings that she’d have to drive manually — and it was already hard to see through the foggy blur of chirping ad-faeries, each triangulating her cornea’s focal point to obscure her vision for the legal limit of .8 seconds. They elbowed each other aside, proffering chewy pomegranate cookies, diamond-edged razors, laser-guided wall-bots that would paint her house a new color every day.
She had no use for them. She’d burned her house down, leaving Rudy’s body underneath the pile of engraved stones with her sons’ names on them.

She had to pass through the two main shopping districts to destroy the collation center at River’s Edge — and if she did that, then she could free Oakmoor, then Daleton, and then who knows where?  But they’d kill her if she weakened. (Continue Reading…)

EP395: Robot


About the Author…

Helena Bell is a poet and writer living in eastern North Carolina.  She has a BA, an MFA, aJD, and LLM in Taxation which fulfills her lifelong ambition of having more letters follow her name than are actually in it.  Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Clarkesworld, Shimmer, Brain Harvest and Rattle.  Her story “Robot” is a nominee for the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Short Story, and her website is www.helbell.com.

About the Narrator…

Eleiece Krawiec lives in a suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana. She began voice acting in early 2007, discovered how much she liked it, and is still going strong. She’s voiced (and continues to voice) characters for Star Trek: Excelsior, Star Trek: Outpost and a variety of characters for Misfits Audio.

Robot
by Helena Bell

You may wash your aluminum chassis on Monday and leave it on the back porch opposite the recyclables; you may wash your titanium chassis on Friday if you promise to polish it in time for church; don’t terrorize the cat; don’t lose the pamphlets my husband has brought home from the hospital; they suggest I give you a name, do you like Fred?; don’t eat the dead flesh of my right foot until after I have fallen asleep and cannot hear the whir of your incisors working against the bone.

This is a picture of the world from which you were sent; this is a copy of the agreement between our government and theirs; these are the attributes they claim you are possessed of: obedience, loyalty, low to moderate intelligence; a natural curiosity which I should not mistake for something other than a necessary facet of your survival in the unfamiliar; this is your bill of manufacture; this is your bill of sale; this is a warrant of merchantability on which I may rely should I decide to return you from whence you came; this is your serial number, here, scraped in an alien script on the underside of your knee; the pamphlets say you may be of the mind to touch it occasionally, like a name-tag, but if I command you, you will stop.

This is a list of the chores you will be expected to complete around the house when you are not eating the diseases out of my flesh; this is the corner of my room where you may stay when you are not working; do not look at me when you change the linens, when you must hold me in the bathroom, when you record in the notebook how many medications I have had that day, how many bowel movements, how the flesh of my mouth is raw and bleeding against the dentures I insist on wearing.

The pamphlets say you are the perfect scavenger: completely self contained, no digestion, no waste; they say I can hook you up to an outlet and you will power the whole house.

You may polish the silver if you are bored; you may also rearrange the furniture, wind the clocks, pull weeds from the garden; you may read in the library any book of your choosing; my husband claims you have no real consciousness, only an advanced and sophisticated set of pre-programmed responses, but I have seen your eyes open in the middle of the night; I have seen you stare out across the fields as if there is something there, calling you. (Continue Reading…)

EP394: Good Hunting


by Ken Liu

Read by John Chu

About the Author…

I’ve worked as a programmer and as a lawyer, and the two professions are surprisingly similar. In both, one extra level of indirection solves most problems.

I write speculative fiction and poetry. Occasionally, I also translate Chinese fiction into English.

My wife, Lisa Tang Liu, is an artist. I’m working on a novel set in a universe we came up with together.

Things I like: pure Lisp, clever Perl, tight C; well-designed products, the Red Sox; sentences that sound perfect in only one language; math proofs that I can hold in my head; novels that make me quiver; poems that make me sing; arguments that aren’t hypocritical; old clothes, old friends, new ideas.

Labels that fit with various degrees of accuracy: American, Chinese; Christian, Daoist, Confucian; populist, contrarian, skeptic, libertarian (small “l”); a liminal provincial in America, the New Rome.

About the Narrator…

John designs microprocessors by day and writes fiction by night. His work has been published at Boston Review, Asimov’s and Tor.com. His website is http://johnchu.net

Good Hunting
by Ken Liu

Night. Half moon. An occasional hoot from an owl. The merchant and his wife and all the servants had been sent away. The large house was eerily quiet. Father and I crouched behind the scholar’s rock in the courtyard. Through the rock’s many holes I could see the bedroom window of the merchant’s son. “Oh, Tsiao-jung, my sweet Tsiao-jung…” The young man’s feverish groans were pitiful. Half-delirious, he was tied to his bed for his own good, but Father had left a window open so that his plaintive cries could be carried by the breeze far over the rice paddies. “Do you think she really will come?” I whispered. Today was my thirteenth birthday, and this was my first hunt.

“She will,” Father said. “A _hulijing_ cannot resist the cries of the man she has bewitched.”

“Like how the Butterfly Lovers cannot resist each other?” I thought back to the folk opera troupe that had come through our village last fall.

“Not quite,” Father said. But he seemed to have trouble explaining why. “Just know that it’s not the same.”

I nodded, not sure I understood. But I remembered how the merchant and his wife had come to Father to ask for his help.

_”How shameful!” The merchant had muttered. “He’s not even nineteen. How could he have read so many sages’ books and still fall under the spell of such a creature?”_

_”There’s no shame in being entranced by the beauty and wiles of a _hulijing_,” Father had said. “Even the great scholar Wong Lai once spent three nights in the company of one, and he took first place at the Imperial Examinations. Your son just needs a little help.”_

_”You must save him,” the merchant’s wife had said, bowing like a chicken pecking at rice. “If this gets out, the matchmakers won’t touch him at all.”_

A _hulijing_ was a demon who stole hearts. I shuddered, worried if I would have the courage to face one.

Father put a warm hand on my shoulder, and I felt calmer. In his hand was Swallow Tail, a sword that had first been forged by our ancestor, General Lau Yip, thirteen generations ago. The sword was charged with hundreds of Daoist blessings and had drunk the blood of countless demons.

A passing cloud obscured the moon for a moment, throwing everything into darkness.

When the moon emerged again, I almost cried out.

There, in the courtyard, was the most beautiful lady I had ever seen. (Continue Reading…)

EP390: Cerbo un Vitra ujo


By Mary Robinette Kowal
Read by Veronica Giguere

Discuss on our forums. 

Cerbo un Vitra ujo
By Mary Robinette Kowal

Grete snipped a diseased branch off her Sunset-Glory rosebush like she was a body harvester looking for the perfect part. Behind the drone of the garden’s humidifiers, she caught a woosh-snick as the airlock door opened. Her boyfriend barreled around Mom’s prize Emperor artichoke.

Something was wrong.

The whites showed around Kaj’s remarkable eyes, a blue-green so iridescent they seemed to dull all the plants around them. “Mom and Dad got me a Pass to a down-planet school!”

The blood congealed in her veins. Kaj would leave her. Grete forced a smile. “That’s the outer limit!”

“I didn’t even know they’d applied. Fairview Academy—game design.” His perfect teeth flashed like sunshine against the ink of space.

“It’s wacking crazed. Should’ve been you, you’re a better hack than me.”

“I’m already entitled to school.” Grete winced as the words left her mouth. Like he didn’t know that. He was the middle of five children, way past the Banwith Station family allowance. She picked up the pruning sheers to hide the shake in her hands. How would she live without Kaj? “So, I guess you got packing to do and stuff.”

“They provide uniforms. All I’m taking is my pod with music and books. Zero else.” Kaj slid his arm around her waist and laced his long, delicate fingers through hers. “And I want to spend every moment till launch with you.”

She loved him so much, it hurt. Grete leaned her head against him, burning the feel of his body into her memory. She breathed in the musky smell of his sweat and kissed his neck, sampling the salt on his skin.

After a moment, Kaj hung a chain around her neck. The metal tags hanging from it were still warm from his body.

“What?”

“Dogtags, like they used in the oldwars. I put all my bios on there so you’d remember me.”

“Kaj Lorensen, don’t think I could forget you.”

But if he was away at school, he might forget her. She studied her rosebush and freed the most perfect rose with her sheers. She held it out to him, suddenly shy.

He kissed the rose and then her palm. Grete sank into his gaze, lost in the blue-green of his eyes. (Continue Reading…)

EP387: Perspective


By Jake Kerr
Read by Julian Bane

Discuss on our forums. 

 

PERSPECTIVE
By Jake Kerr
 

The worst part about picking my son up from the police station was the walk to get there. I hadn’t been outside in years, but it was still the same–the drab gray of the smog-stained overcast sky, the decaying concrete, the stench of gasoline, urine, and who knew what else. But thanks to Jeffrey there was a new assault to my senses–black molecular paint permanently defacing an already wretched city.With every step I could see his work–his “tags” as the police called them. They were all different, and there was no rhyme or reason as to what he would vandalize–the sides of buildings, street surfaces, retailer kiosks, even windows. The randomness made catching my son a difficult task for the police, but catch him they did, and now I had to walk these vile streets to bring him home.

I paid the bail, followed the directions to processing, and waited for my son. The policewoman there was polite and offered me a seat, but I stood. I wasn’t in the mood to relax, and Jeffrey needed to see how angry I was. So I waited, arms behind my back, staring at the door that led inside.

His head hung low as he walked out. He glanced up at me and then lowered his head again. “Hi, Pop,” he mumbled. I didn’t move. He walked over and added in a whisper, “I’m really sorry.”

“You lied to me.” I grabbed his right hand and pulled it up between us. “These black stains aren’t paint, Jeffrey. That is your _skin_. It was the price to pay for your job, you said. I’m painting ships with a new kind of paint, you said. You made the stains sound like a worthy sacrifice.” I tossed his hand down.

“Pop, please. Let’s talk about this at home.” He looked around the room, shifting from one foot to the other.

“Yes, we will discuss this at home.” I turned and walked out the door. He followed. I walked the streets again, Jeffrey shuffling behind me. I focused on the concrete at my feet, unable to bear looking at his work. My hands were clenched tight enough to turn my knuckles white, so I shoved them in my pockets.
(Continue Reading…)

EP385: The Very Pulse of the Machine


By Michael Swanwick
Read by Amy Robinson

Discuss on our forums. 

 

“The Very Pulse of the Machine”
by Michael Swanwick

Click.

The radio came on.

“Hell.”

Martha kept her eyes forward, concentrated on walking. Jupiter to one shoulder, Daedalus’s plume to the other. Nothing to it. Just trudge, drag, trudge, drag. Piece of cake.

“Oh.”

She chinned the radio off.

Click.

“Hell. Oh. Kiv. El. Sen.”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Martha gave the rope an angry jerk, making the sledge carrying Burton’s body jump and bounce on the sulfur hardpan. “You’re dead, Burton, I’ve checked, there’s a hole in your faceplate big enough to stick a fist through, and I really don’t want to crack up. I’m in kind of a tight spot here and I can’t afford it, okay? So be nice and just shut the f*** up.”

“Not. Bur. Ton.”

“Do it anyway.”

She chinned the radio off again.

Jupiter loomed low on the western horizon, big and bright and beautiful and, after two weeks on Io, easy to ignore. To her left, Daedalus was spewing sulfur and sulfur dioxide in a fan two hundred kilometers high. The plume caught the chill light from an unseen sun and her visor rendered it a pale and lovely blue. Most spectacular view in the universe, and she was in no mood to enjoy it.

Click.

Before the voice could speak again, Martha said, “I am not going crazy, you’re just the voice of my subconscious, I don’t have the time to waste trying to figure out what unresolved psychological conflicts gave rise to all this, and I am not going to listen to anything you have to say.”

Silence.

(Continue Reading…)

Science Future: Aggrandize Aptitude


This time on Science Future: Various stepping-stones to human augmentation.

Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires us to create our future. So we look to the future of science to find our next fiction. We look to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery from the viewpoint of the science fiction reader, discussing the influences science and science fiction have upon each other.

Aggrandize Aptitude

Last month we were treated to a story about human performance. EP318: The Prize Beyond Gold by Ian Creasey was about a human with incredible abilities surrounded by transhumans with mediocre abilities. It took place in a world where humans regularly modified their bodies beyond what we consider to be the human normal but focused on one human who hadn’t and might not and yet still had the chance to exceed all of them.

Yet the story was cheating in asense for the protagonist already had a capability that far exceeded that of the standard human template. So much so that he was under constant surveillance for the possibility of actual augmentation. The stealthiest augmentation for one competing in sports today is drugs. In the future, the definition of drugs might be expanded beyond simple chemical concoctions. Rohit Talwar, the founder of Fast Future Research, gave a talk at Intelligence Squared’s If conference about the possibility of digital drugs via direct manipulation of brain chemistry using transcranial magnetic stimulation. One could only assume this kind of manipulation would be extremely hard to detect. No chemical traces and nothing invasive or even ingested. Except that in The Prize our protagonist had his doppelgänger, which was an atomic scale simulation of himself. This copy could easily have been used as both a training and surveillance device.

It is hard to believe the precision needed to copy someone down to the atomic level could be easily done via external sensors and implants would obviously not be allowed for competitive reasons but they likely used a more advanced version of this system. Researchers led by the California Institute of Technology have created a series of microchips that can quickly and inexpensively assess immune function of a human from one single cell harvested from their body. With a device like that, occasionally sampling the body for a drop of blood and building a clone that could forecast the physical changes one might undergo after eating cake seems almost feasible.

The Gift focused more on the possibility of human enhancement. Changing a the body to give one abilities that they could never hope to achieve within a human genetic code. Two of the enhancements referenced were increasing intelligence and empathy. The brain is a complicated organ in charge of many things that we don’t understand and the idea of enhancing seems far off. Repairing it, less so. There is promising research in the field of cybernetics that helps repair brain damage. Created by Theodore Berger and his team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and researchers at Wake Forest University, a neural prosthesis is able to restore  a rat’s ability to form long-term memories after they had been pharmacologically blocked. This is the first step to augmenting something like intelligence and empathy.

But what if dramatic enhancement was not really what someone like Michito was looking for? Well a discovery by Columbia University Medical Center researchers may lead to a better understanding how to fundamentally change the human body in subtle ways. They have shown that not all traits passed on to offspring without the use of DNA but instead naturally occurring viral agents called viRNAs which modify the creature’s RNA. RNA acts like DNA’s messenger in the body, relaying the code. So if the RNA is modified, then the DNA of the being is effectively bypassed. This kinda of science could be harnessed to create a slightly faster person or creating large-scale immunity against difference diseases.

Obviously research into human augmentation continues, be through a biological, technological, or chemical means. Stories like The Prize Beyond Gold will continue to give us reasons to achieve new and different levels of augmentation. Afterall, most of us will never be Michito but we could possibly be better than him.

There are two ways of being happy: We must either diminish our wants or augment our means – either may do – the result is the same and it is for each man to decide for himself and to do that which happens to be easier. – Benjamin Franklin

Myth: Deadly Throwing Knives


The hero is cornered by the bad guys! Thinking quickly, she pulls out a brace of throwing knives. She flips the knives at two of her attackers. They go down, one clutching the knife embedded in his chest, the other lying still with a knife in his eye.

Stop doing this. Writers, moviemakers, everyone — just stop. Unless your hero is also wielding a magical get-out-of-physics free card, thrown knives don’t work that way.

One of the most important aspects of a weapon is its stopping power. That is, its ability to stop your attacker in his tracks and render him incapable of hurting you any more. Some weapons, such as pepper spray, do this by inflicting severe pain and blindness. Others, like a sword, inflict enough physical damage to make further attacks impossible. Thrown knives are usually shown to be the latter sort of weapon. In reality, thrown knives have negligible stopping power because they lack three crucial elements: Mass, velocity, and accuracy.

It takes quite a lot of force to push a knife through skin and muscle and bone. The force with which a weapon hits its target is determined by its mass and its velocity. Knives are relatively light — an alleged throwing knife that I borrowed from a friend weighs only 50 grams (~1.8 oz). The heaviest knife in my collection still only weighs 310 grams (~11 oz). Throwing spears are far heavier. This modern example weighs in at 1134 grams (2 lbs 8 oz). A person who uses a knife in hand-to-hand combat benefits from the ability to put their body weight behind each thrust. A thrown knife, on the other hand, has only its own weight to work with. When you see a thrown knife in a movie that has buried itself up to its hilt in the bad guy’s chest, what you are seeing a cliché with no basis in reality.

Light projectiles, such as bullets, have to rely on the other side of the equation: Velocity. The muzzle velocity of the popular 9 mm cartridge is usually around 400 m/s* (and this round is still not considered powerful enough for self-defense by many experts**). Compare this to a fastball, which travels at around 40 m/s — a speed that is still far above what can be achieved with a thrown knife. In fact, the fastest speed I could find for a thrown knife was only 16 m/s! The essential difference between the thrown knife and other ranged weapons is its lack of mechanical advantage. Bows use the energy stored in the curve of the limbs. Guns use chemical energy stored in gunpowder. Atlatls and slings are essentially big levers, multiplying the reach of the thrower’s arm and thus the speed with which the dart or stone is thrown. A throwing knife, in contrast, relies solely on the velocity that a human arm can give it.

Finally, there’s the question of accuracy. Even a light, slow projectile can be deadly if it hits its target in just the right way. Pointy projectiles — bullets, arrows, darts, and spears — travel pointy-end-first, making them aerodynamic. They often spin on their long axis for stability, like an American football. Knives, on the other hand, spin end-over-end. This creates comparatively large amounts of wind resistance. Thus, a thrown knife will lose what little velocity it has very quickly, making it next to useless at long range. The end-over-end spin also means that a knife spends very little time with its pointy end towards its target. Even a talented knife thrower is more likely to hit her target with the side or the butt of the knife rather than its point when the target is moving, as in a melee. Combine that with the knife’s limited range, and your hero would probably be better off walking up to the bad guy and stabbing him in the face.

My favorite depiction of how thrown knives could be used in hand-to-hand combat is in Steven Brust’s Taltos series. Our hero, Vlad, frequently gets himself into scrapes where he’s outnumbered by people who are bigger than he is. One of his tricks for winning these fights is to throw a knife. The flying piece of pointy steel makes his opponent flinch, giving him an opening. He does not expect the knife to hit the person point-first, and he certainly doesn’t count on the knife to kill anyone. Killing someone with a thrown knife is not impossible. It just isn’t something that a character can rely on in a life-or-death situation.***

Even with years of training, throwing a knife is still slightly less effective for self-defense than throwing a large rock (rocks are cheaper, heavier, and sometimes more aerodynamic). Please, the next time you’re arming your hero or her sidekicks for combat? Leave the throwing knives at home. They’re silly, they’re clichéd, and physics doesn’t work like that.

* This number is a rough approximation. Actual speeds will vary by load and barrel length. However, it’s still way faster than a knife.
** I will not indulge in the fast & light bullet vs. heavy & slow bullet debate here — .45 ACP still goes way faster than a knife.
*** Hunters who use throwing knives are usually after small game, like rabbits and squirrels. They also use very heavy knives.

Podcast Review: Astronomy Cast


Astronomy Cast is one of the most informative and entertaining science podcasts that I have found to date. The chemistry between the hosts would be enough to make me keep listening, even if the subject matter wasn’t fascinating. Astronomy Cast episodes are short and focused, usually on a single aspect of the larger universe in which we live.

The hosts of Astronomy Cast are Dr. Pamela Gay, a professor of Physics at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and Fraser Cain, publisher of Universe Today. Dr. Gay is the kind of scientist that somehow never makes it into the movies. Her sense of humor and her joyful enthusiasm for science make her an easy person to listen to and to learn from. She picks brilliantly gonzo phrases to describe her topics, and she never hesitates to let the audience know where the gaps in current scientific theory lie.

Astronomy Cast’s motto is “Not only what we know, but how we know what we know.” They don’t just recite facts. That would be boring. Instead, Fraser Cain acts as the audience’s stand-in, asking questions and trying to understand the concepts that Dr. Gay describes. He insists that Dr. Gay justify the opinions of modern astronomy. Often they will work through a topic, like black holes, from the first mathematical thought experiment right up to the most recent physical evidence of black holes eating stars. Astronomy Cast highlights the most important aspect of science: That it is a process, and one that inherently self-correcting.

The library of old Astronomy Cast episodes is huge. A new listener could spend days listening to old episodes in order, or pick which episodes to listen to based on subject matter. The Astronomy Cast website is set up to aid the listener in doing just that, with the episodes classified into groups like “Amateur astronomy,” “Planetary science,” and “Space flight.” The episodes themselves are short, usually no more than a half an hour, and are well-paced and edited so as to make it seem that the hosts have stayed on topic the whole time.

As a non-scientist and a science fiction writer, I have found Astronomy Cast to be an inspiration. Dr. Pamela Gay and Fraser Cain have a great time recording the episodes, and it’s easy to be sucked into their enthusiasm. They aren’t afraid to explore the furthest implications of the theories they describe — one of Mr. Cain’s favorite phrases is “but what if?” They make me want to spin science concepts into stories, and they explain the science well enough that I feel confident when I’m staring at a cursor on a blank screen.

I highly recommend Astronomy Cast to anyone who wants to learn about astronomy, or anyone who just wants to listen to two unapologetic geeks talk about the science they love. The content is, I believe, appropriate for both children and adults. Their website is www.astronomycast.com, or look them up on iTunes.

Science Future: Portable Power


Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires our future. To discover these influences, we look to the future of science, to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery and links it back to science fiction in order to discuss these influences and speculate on the future of science fiction.

Portable Power

Mobile and ubiquitous computing is one of the hot spots of commercial research and it has been slowly invading our science fiction for years. Almost every one can refer to at least one person, if not themselves, who carries the internet around in their pocket and nearly every space faring race seems to have easy access to huge databases of information just by saying or thinking the word “Computer”.  Today, most lunch-break trivia arguments can be settled, if not very quickly, before the bill has arrived. That is until the battery runs out. Even to the most casual user of digital devices, occasionally having to disconnect ourselves from our external memory and constant updates, to let our little glowing boxes recharge, causes anguish.

Batteries by Tomblois (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)What would help alleviate this pain and suffering? Maybe if it didn’t take so long to recharge a battery. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found a way to use nanomaterials to recreate battery cathodes at a nano-scale that can charge up to 100 times faster than current commercial batteries but still power your netbook just fine. It helps explain why we never really see our protagonists pulling out their hyperspace coms and cursing that they forgot to leave it on the charger over night.

You still need to get power from somewhere, however, and some scientists at MIT have delved into biotechnology and developed an artificial leaf that will absorb a gallon of water and bright sunlight and produce enough electricity to power a house in a developing country for an entire day. The leaf works by simulating a form of photosynthesis, where in it breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen and then uses those two elements to produce electricity. Imagine spaceships sailing through the solar system covered in artificial leaves that not only power our ships but also camouflage them in case they fly through a space forest.

If you’re not big into the flora fashion, Doctors at GeorgeTech have created one of the first commercially viable nanogenerators. That is to say they’ve created a flexible chip about the a quarter of the size of a stamp that generates electricity through simple movement. It does this by taking advantage of a nanowire property known as piezoelectric, or the ability to generate electrical fields when mechanically strained. Research suggests that five of these chips can output the same amount of power as a AA battery. Combined with the batteries above, this means that joggers and outdoor enthusiasts never have to worry about being disconnected from the internet ever again! Not a lot science fiction authors saw that one coming.
Bzzt

So does this mean that the lack of plugs, chargers, and batteries in our science fiction has been author oversight or author foresight? Science fiction likes it technological gadgets from laser rifles to portable shield generators to omni-tools but rarely do we see a person of the future angry over forgetting to charge their light sword. Ubiquitous energy seems to be the theme of the future and it’s fiction. But the issue of power has many reprocussions. Science is bringing us a future of full of miniaturized safe energy to help power our increasingly mobile lifestyles in a decreasingly large world. This might lead to stories that focus on the dehumanization, re-humanization, or even digitalization of human society. Either way power will always be an important part of science fiction even if most of science fiction chooses to ignore it.