Discussion Board Archives: July 2006

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VITALS OUTSIDE REFERENCES
Posted By: Fredrick L. Hoffman, Ottawa, Illinois, USA - 07/30/2006 11:03:08 PM

I usually try to read your works in the order they were published, but I just recently got around to reading VITALS.
Your scientific material is, as usual, educational and thought-provoking. However, your references to terms and other quotations could use a little correction for any future editions.
The term is "FLOAT like a butterfly; sting like a bee" by Mr. Ali.
It was Sgt. Schultz, not Colonel Klink, who used the phrases "I know nothing" and the paraphrasing you used.
I believe Mudd's women were androids, not pill-takers, but I'm not positive about that.
Looking forward to your future work-products.
Fred Hoffman

Response: VITALS outside references
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/31/2006 11:46:34 AM

Thanks, Fred! I believe your Mr. Ali correction is indeed correct. And Sgt. Schultz as well. Good catches. However, Mudd's womwn were indeed enhanced by pills, not androids. I plead my characters' ignorance, as always--I knew this stuff all along...

ANVIL/FORGE
Posted By: Vinnie, Hollywood...FL ;-) - 07/28/2006 10:09:28 AM

Mr. Bear,

still reading your books. Was waiting to see if Sci Fi channel was going to do anything, but as I've just read...

Otherwise, just checking in. I do this on ocassion wondering if the WB still has "dibs" on the movie rights for Anvil/Forge and if they're doing anything about it.
But I guess if they haven't asked you to write the "third chapter" yet, then things must still be in the "dead zone."

Take care.

Response: Anvil/Forge
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/28/2006 11:56:48 AM

Still under option. Studio engaged in "silent running."

WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG?
Posted By: Loni Rogers, Renton, WA - 07/26/2006 12:28:29 PM

About six years ago my microbiology teacher recommended the class read Darwin's Radio for fun. I didn't, teenagers you know? So I finally get to take it off of my list of books I should probably read. I managed to finish it and Darwin's Children in four days. I hate sounding cliche but I really didn't want to stop reading.
As far as the political criticism goes I think people really need to get past that and just realize that it's part of the story regardless of the fact that it's based in reality (sort of.) My only real complaint with the way things ended is Dicken. What happened to him? Other than that I didn't see any loose endings. I thought you did a really good job, to the point where I'm not dying for a third book (but I'd love to read it if you did decide to write one.)
Lastly, thank you. It's rare that I come across a book that makes me realize how interested I am in microbiology and genetics, which is probably why I've changed my mind about what I want to major in so many times. After reading your books I got my own epiphany and essentially doing anything other than biology would just be work. Thank you again for such a thought provoking and well written story.

Response: Why did it take me so long?
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/26/2006 12:30:59 PM

Thanks, Loni. Studying biology right now is both exciting and immensely rewarding. Good luck!

SEATTLE FLIGHT
Posted By: Nedra Black, Conway, SC - 07/20/2006 11:51:54 PM

Hi Greg: I met you many years ago on a flight to Seattle. Recently at a Bible Study the subject of science fiction came up and I mentioned I had met an author of best sellers once, but failed to get an autograph. I wrote your name down at the time, but couldn't recall it. Anyway, when I saw it listed with other authors on the "Famous Science Fiction Authors" (www.adherents.com)website, I knew I had the right one. I still don't read science fiction, but after reading the website's description of your stories: "...masterfully incorporating religion into much of his fiction" my interest was peaked. Do you still live in Seattle? My daughter and family still live there so I may bump into you again some day on a plane. Sounds like you're having a very successful life, and I wish you much luck in the future. Nedra Black

Response: Seattle Flight
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/24/2006 11:29:50 AM

Thanks, Nedra! As you can see on the weblog, we're still discussing those aspects--religion and science and where they intersect. Hope you're enjoying Seattle!

GOOD BOOKS
Posted By: Martine Amy, Jersey C.I - 07/20/2006 05:52:21 PM

Hello Greg

Just want to say your books are great.

I love Eon it is a book with so many possibilities.

Your novels overflow with creativity.

Kepp them coming.

Thanks from your avid reader

Martine



Response: Good Books
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/24/2006 11:26:59 AM

Thanks, Martine! When I was writing EON, I stopped dreaming for a few months until I finished the novel. Then--wham! A night full of dreams. Not sure what that means, but it's intriguing. I'm dipping deep into the old creativity well with "City at the End of Time." Kind of exhausting, actually!

EPIPHANIES IN DARWIN'S CHILDREN
Posted By: Paul Shen-Brown, Arcadia, CA - 07/20/2006 03:40:24 PM

When I first read Kaye Lang having an epiphany, my first thought was that she was having some kind of oxytocin reaction to Stella - that somehow Stella was unconsciously working to make Kaye into a more suitable mother, in much the same way as the masks. The fact that it continued after their separation made me wonder. Then when she had the MRI scans done, she asked the guy who ran the machine what her scans were closest to, and he pulled up a scan of a baby nursing. Was that a dead giveaway? Oxytocin, which creates many of our most powerful experiences, including some (like childbirth) that people perceive as among their most spiritual experiences, would have been flashing through the brain of that baby in the scan, and just possibly wiring neurons to create and enhance the human instinct for human contact. Was this what you had in mind, or was there a different reason for Kaye's MRI to look most like a suckling baby? I can see other, more symbolic interpretations as well.

Thanks,

Paul

Response: Epiphanies in Darwin's Children
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/24/2006 11:23:54 AM

An ingenious hypothesis, Paul, but for me there are no scientific answers here. Not yet, and perhaps not ever. Kaye's experience is genuine--whatever caused it. And let's not forget the Shevite girls' small revelation at the end. (Some biologists have suggested to me that Kaye was affected by her virus--but of course epiphanies occur to people around the world, every day, in real life.)

Response: Epiphanies in Darwin's Children
Posted By: Paul Shen-Brown, Arcadia, CA - 07/24/2006 12:49:08 PM

When you write that there are no "scientific" answers here, and that Kaye's experience is "genuine" it kind of begs some deep philosophical/epistemological questions. Chemicals create our every thought and experience, that much is pretty clear. But that says nothing about how these chemicals reactions came to be in the first place. I heard an interview on the radio this weekend with one of Timothy Leary's seminary students that brought up the same issues. Did God make hallucinogens as a means of communication with Him (or It - I don't see why someone powerful enough to create a universe should be limited by human conceptions of gender)? Are the chemicals in our heads put together to facilitate divine experiences? Or are these things just illusions of impersonal laws of nature? These are questions scientists can't answer, since the scientific method is limited to the natural world. Which experiences are deemed "genuine" and which are merely products of chemistry is an issue taken up differently in different cultures. Isn't this part of the issue with Kaye's first husband's suicide? There's so much food for thought in those two books...

Thanks again,

Paul

Response: Epiphanies in Darwin's Children
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/24/2006 01:20:43 PM

All excellent points. But as I pointed out in the novel, no one has yet done a scientific study of actual epiphanies--very tough to capture, and almost certainly impossible to perform in double-blind! But the best bet would be to replicate and improve upon what Kaye does--when she's epiphanic (is that a word?) she submits to MRI, and when she is not, she re-submits. Might be an interesting study. Blood chemistry should also be checked, of course. But would we know what to look for? In the meanwhile, your speculation is as good as mine!

Response: Epiphanies in Darwin's Children
Posted By: PaulShen-Brown, Arcadia, CA - 07/25/2006 12:53:20 PM

Some things are just about impossible for humans to test,like Kaye's (or anyone else's) epiphanies. But then,we have often surprized ourselves with what we could test, like the efficacy of prayer or the placebo effect in faith healing. But we have still left the original question unanswered here. When you chose to make Kaye's MRI match an MRI of a suckling baby,what were you thinking? I mentionedone of the neurotransmitters that is most responsible for human sociability (with its isomer, vassopressin in men,and the MAOs, as far as I know). A more symbolic (analogical) interpretation might be that God acts as our mother, providing love and comfort along with sustenance. I liked the emphasis you placed on unconditional, non-judgemental love. That kind of confuses gender, though, since Kaye insists that her caller is a masculine presence. I have no problem with that, personally, as you can probably guess from what I wrote before. I'm just interested in finding out what you were thinking about when you put those ideas together on paper. This stuff stimulates imagination.

Thanks again,

Paul

Response: Epiphanies in Darwin's Children
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/25/2006 02:07:11 PM

That would make your job much too easy, Paul! I'll leave this one unanswered for now.

Response: Epiphanies in Darwin's Children
Posted By: Paul Shen-Brown, Arcadia, CA - 07/27/2006 02:50:16 PM

Curses, foiled again!
I was just hoping for some good conversation about neurochem, evolution, and Everything. Like you said to Loni, this is one of the most exciting fields to be in right now.

Later,

Paul

TRIGGER FOR DARWIN'S RADIO?
Posted By: Paul Shen-Brown, Arcadia, CA - 07/17/2006 02:56:57 PM

Hello again,
Sorry to write so many times on the same day, but I forgot that I had a question about Darwin's Radio. Exactly what triggered it? You allude to stresses and stress responses in the book, but never make it very clear. The sequel didn't make it any more clear. Though I'm making my living as a school teacher, my mind will always be looking through the lens of anthropology. I'm sure you know that older paradigms in anthropology placed huge emphasis on imbalances between population and resources as agents of change. However, they limited themselves to the most easily quantifiable resources, mainly food. Long before I started reading about neurochemistry, I contended that we have to account for emotional resources, and stresses on these. The extreme degree of pheromonal ellaboration in the Sheva children suggests exactly that. So why did it all start in Georgia, 200 years ago? I would expect to see a change like that in places like South Central LA (where I teach) or, more horrific still, Romania in the waning years of the Ceauceascu (did I spell that right?) years. What do you think?

Response: Trigger for Darwin's Radio?
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/17/2006 04:13:44 PM

This gets back to your point about brainwashing, in a way. Time matters. Most of Europe and Russia and the Balkans were subjected to intense pressure both in terms of resources and stress through much of the twentieth century. But--as you also point out--the stress of social maladaptation is practically universal in modern humans. SHEVA events begin first in Eastern Europe as far back as the 1960s, perhaps even earlier, but eventually, spread world-wide. And the gene rearrangements have been working their way through to wide expression for many centuries, probably even thousands of years. Long-term stress alters gene expression. And it also activates viral expression. Is there a biological mechanism which can "measure" or quantify stress on a genetic level, and then, react to that stress in a pre-evolved fashion, using "units" of phylogenetic traits selected from a genetic "toolkit"? That's the most basic question in DARWIN'S RADIO.

DARWIN'S MOVIE DEAL
Posted By: George lee Stuart, Lismore Australia - 07/17/2006 12:27:24 AM

Hi
I was looking to see if Darwin had got to the preliminary movies stage. Telekinetic elves with blue blood! Who is running the Sci-Fi channel these days?

Maybe you could write a Philip K. Dick like movie about the Darwin's Children movie saga.

George

Response: Darwin's Movie Deal
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/17/2006 10:41:18 AM

Sometimes these things just don't work out. We did have some very good takes on the project from talented screenwriters, but they weren't chosen, not sure why.

GETTING PUBLISHED
Posted By: Ryan, California - 07/14/2006 12:59:16 AM

I know you must have heard this countless times, but please hear me out...

I remember reading Rogue Planet years ago and taking tons of mental notes on how to write a good novel. Now I am an aspiring writer, and I would appreciate any advice and know-how you could impart unto me as to how I could ever get published. I'm sure every writer starting out has this very same question, but I would greatly appreciate your advice. Thank you.

Response: Getting published
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/14/2006 01:11:20 PM

The best advice is, write, write, write! Study your publishing marketplace, whenever possible, get to meet and know editors, agents, etc. as often as possible at conventions and workshops--and most important of all, write, write, write! Don't get discouraged, don't stop trying. And don't quit your day job, even if you sell a novel or a story or two. Sometimes, a writing career takes years to get off the ground. The support of family and friends is crucial. Get together with other writers who seem supportive, as well, and workshop, compare notes, fight the good fight. Good luck, Ryan!

BEST WISHES TO YOU!!!
Posted By: Henry C. Gaskins, Kinston - 07/13/2006 08:26:57 AM

I've just llearned of your new novel. I hope that it does well enough to be a movie. I've recently finished Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Do the additions by the "three B's" take up where Asimov leaves off?

Response: Best wishes to you!!!
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/13/2006 12:54:39 PM

We'll be releasing news about QUANTICO's upcoming trade U.S. edition soon. The Second Foundation Trilogy (AKA the Killer B's visit Dr. A) works in and around Isaac's classic original, and David Brin unites everything in his concluding volume.

"VITALS" QUESTION...
Posted By: Jon Allen, Minnesota - 07/11/2006 01:12:29 AM

Hi Greg. I loved "Vitals", but not entirely for the reasons I expected. I am a big fan of your work, and much of it, such as "Blood Music", "Anvil of Stars", "Slant", "Darwin's Radio", etc., seems to revolve around a broad core of issues and concepts that seem to intrigue you as a writer - nanotechnology, quantum physics, evolution, social upheaveal as a result of advanced technology , communication with the non-human but nevertheless at least somewhat comprehensible "other", etc. "Vitals", on the other hand (mild spoiler warning), despite its opening chapters dealing with longevity research and the science associated with it, went on to lurch into a magnificently bizarre, macabre, and staggering tale of secret societies and mind control, before concluding with a more "Greg Bear"-like treatment of the science of bacteria and its more far-flung implications. Did the "thriller" components that dominated the middle parts of "Vitals" reflect any particular interests or concerns you have or were they just an (admittedly wonderful) entertainment? In any case, thanks and keep up the good work!

Response: "Vitals" question...
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/11/2006 10:58:56 AM

Thanks for writing, Jon! VITALS proved a bit controversial with its lurch into extremes of paranoia. There were two motivations here--one, I wanted to give longevity advocates something scary to contemplate, that is, monsters of the historic past living forever and ever...that boot grinding our faces for all eternity. And second--you guessed it--I was interested in creating the most paranoid conspiracy theory I could imagine. Having "bugs" in your gut beats out anything the NSA can currently put into the headlines, no?

Response: "Vitals" question...
Posted By: Joanne Kornoelje, Montclair, NJ - 07/14/2006 10:45:03 AM

Hey Jon - I just finished "Vitals", and now look suspiciously at my fresh fruit, wondering who has sprayed it with what. My problem is that I find the mind-control plot all too believable, given the current state of affairs. Playing out how the bacterial mind may be put to our "use" is an eye- and thought-opening venture. Thanks to Greg for presenting it in such a readable style!

Response: "Vitals" question...
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/14/2006 01:13:47 PM

Happy to make your salad bar visits more memorable, Joanne!

Response: "Vitals" question...
Posted By: Paul Shen-Brown, Arcadia, CA - 07/17/2006 12:16:05 PM

I read Vitals a couple months ago and had mixed feelings about it because of the whole mind control thing. True, it's much more spooky than anything the NSA could dream up (if they had, we would certainly never hear about it, though). But real mind control takes years, not minutes, to alter people's behavior. Any preacher can tell you that. Mind control is the very nature of culture. Our every thought is subject to it - it only seems unusual if it seems to happen too quickly. It was still a fun book.

Response: "Vitals" question...
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/17/2006 01:34:55 PM

Absolutely. The VITALS technique--if I may be so bold as to call it that--takes quite a while to set up, and days or weeks or even months to activate. After all, the foundation culture of bacteria has been in place in the U.S. since the 1950s at least. The production of psychoactive product in the gut would probably take a few days to get going--perhaps more. But real mind control--certainly the blunt sort we saw in the 1950s, so-called "brainwashing," did not take years to become effective. Of course, other than messing people up, it wasn't that effective. It certainly did not produce programmable zombies, as depicted so chillingly in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

COMMON QUESTION...
Posted By: Kevin Smith, Camp Victory, Baghdad - 07/05/2006 12:41:14 PM

Hello my name is kevin, im a new fan to your work and as such needed to ask you a question. Your book EON was written 20 years ago, in the book you mention "data slates" and 'memory cubes". Your description of data slates sounds a lot like tablet PC's. and likewise you use of the memory cubes in the book are reminicent of USB thumb drives. Do you think about this often? how does it make you feel to know you dremped these things up 20 years ago and now there everywhere. And also that you were pretty much right about the time line also.

Response: Common question...
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/05/2006 01:06:32 PM

Whenever I begin to THINK I've invented something in one of my stories, I go back to earlier books by other writers--and almost invariably, they had something similar. And while I might have gotten the timeline right for some IT gadgets, I certainly missed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Still, it's fun to attempt to listen in on the future...if only I could tune the signal better!

The first USB drive might have been on STAR TREK, now that I think of it--remember those cards that Spock and Kirk inserted into various consoles? Or Uhura's cute little earplug? I wonder...should you drive a starship while listening to a communicator...?

Thanks, Kevin!

VIRUSES - ALIVE?
Posted By: Joanne Kornoelje, Montclair, NJ - 07/03/2006 12:02:35 PM

Hi - This year I taught viruses as part of the 6th grade science curriculum. The textbook clearly states that viruses are NOT alive, because they do not meet our definition of what is alive. They don't breathe, eat, grow, produce waste -- except they DO reproduce. All of us in class (including me) wondered how something not alive can reproduce. And how something not alive can be "killed" by medicine. Isn't it " already? Being an avid sci fi reader, I am of course convinced that viruses are some form of alien life, living under different definitions than earth life forms.

ANYWAY, I just finished Darwin's Radio and Children, and am fixated on the whole premise of the endogenous retroviruses and their influence on who we are. What do you think -- are viruses alive and we just not able to understand it?

Response: Viruses - alive?
Posted By: Greg Bear - 07/03/2006 02:28:48 PM

Hello, Joanne! Strictly speaking, viruses are no more alive than RNA or DNA are "alive." Viruses need to hijack cellular machinery to reproduce. Thus, when a virus invades a cell and activates that cell's machinery, some might say the virus is at that point "alive." It's certainly in the driver's seat! But it's not autonomous--it cannot perform any of these functions by itself, and without the cell, it is pretty much "lifeless." So--a "killed" virus is one that can't fully activate a cell. That phrase is a little contradictory.

I like to think of viruses as FedEx for genes--a transport system for segments of RNA or DNA. All the packaging is done back at the plant--within the cell, however. (And let's not get into the address labels, return receipts...etc!)

Some have speculated that viruses originated on comets. This seems difficult to accept, however, because viral RNA or DNA must fit into an even more complicated and vigilant genetic system. Nearly all viruses are neatly attuned to the cells they invade. The cells evolve, and the viruses evolve with them, to keep up!