Science…or Science Fiction?

Electrically Conductive Roads: On the planet Sarvage, roads are electrically conductive, and vehicles do not have engines or battery packs. A small capacitor provides enough energy to move short distances when off the road. Is this possible in the real world?

In Sweden, they started a trial with a short stretch of conducive road that opened in May 2018: https://www.scania.com/group/en/worlds-first-electric-road-opens-in-sweden/ and they have long-range plans to expand the program by 2030. In the midst of a wave of electric cars and motorcycles, one thing is overlooked: if we spent more money on the roads, we would increase overall efficiency for everyone. One of the major complaints about conductive roads is that they would deteriorate too soon. Sure, based on the current average weight of vehicles, about 4000 pounds. Of that, 300-600 pounds is the engine and transmission that would be eliminated, along with other connecting parts for further weight reduction. We could easily drop the average vehicle weight by 25-50%, which would reduce the strain on the road. And do we really need all those batteries if we have a steady supply of electricity? With the road as a power supply, small electric motors at each wheel could be very efficient. The 2020 Acura NSX has a combustion engine that is supplemented with electric motors directly driving each wheel. We could get rid of the engine and simply use small electric motors at each wheel. Imagine never needing to stop for gas or charging stations, and each car could be identified and billed according to how much energy it used. Electrically conductive roads? Science.

Computer to Brain Communication: Elias, the protagonist in Rebellion on Planet Sarvage, has computer implants that he communicates with directly by silently thinking the words as he moves the muscles in his throat. He uses the AI computer implants to translate and feed information directly to his brain; certainly, this is impossible in real life. Or is it?

The idea of using mechanical bodies with human brains (either robotic or in tanks) or a master AI controlling humans are steady sci-fi themes. But what was “futuristic” in the 1950’s is now close to reality. Starkey Hearing Technologies has a hearing aid that can translate 27 languages, and according to https://news.mit.edu/2018/computer-system-transcribes-words-users-speak-silently-0404 “MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalizes internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.”

That covers translation, but what about our brain linking directly to a computer? Companies like BrainGate and Neuralink are already working on it. However, these chips are meant to treat neurological disorders such as spinal cord damage or stroke by placing small chips to act as sensors for specific functions; they do not think for the person or answer questions through a direct brain-computer link.

Perhaps it is an indication of what to expect in the future that dozens of universities in the United States and around the world offer formal degree programs in BCI (brain-computer interface.) We’re doing more now than ever thought possible, and advancing technology makes even the impossible seem within our grasp.
Computer chips in the brain? Science. The brain linked directly to a computer? Science fiction.

Genetic Alteration/Enhancement: Within each chromosome are hundreds of genes, each containing tens of thousands of base pairs with genetic information. A doctor on planet Sarvage attempts to extend and enhance life by adding a new gene to an existing chromosome. The doctor takes specific genetic traits from animals and adds them to humans. How close is this to reality?

The process of treating or preventing disease by inserting a gene is called Gene Therapy, https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/therapy/genetherapy. The US government sponsors hundreds of research studies for gene therapy and continues to refine the method of genetic alteration called CRISPR. There are also international gene therapy efforts, such as led by ISCT: https://isctglobal.org/?

Repairing defective DNA so that the natural expression of traits are normal is quite different from changing the genetic information to make super-humans. This is a murky topic, even setting aside the privacy and ethical issues. As scientists learn more about how the building blocks of life are designed and function, we open up a world of opportunity—and danger. A common concern is how genetic alterations may affect future generations. However, only changes made to an egg or sperm are able to be passed on to subsequent generations. This form of genetic research, called germline, is illegal in many countries.

It is only a matter of time before we see real-world application of gene therapy to treat specific diseases and defects such as tuberculosis, HIV, sickle cell anemia, cancer, and leukemia. What about after that? After we are able to treat and possibly eliminate diseases? Do we then turn to “improving” our genetic code? And how will we “normal” humans interact with genetically improved humans? Hmmm, this could be the start of a new story.
Genetic Alteration? Science. Genetic enhancement? Science fiction…for now.

Atavistic Fiction in the Literary Multiverse

What is Atavistic Fiction? I’ll save you the dictionary lookup of atavism. It generally has a negative connotation in medicine as a form of reverse mutation, or by referring to the reemergence of unwanted traits from earlier generations. Webster’s second meaning is the focus of this essay and is the basis for my experimental writing: a recurrence or reversion to a past style, manner, outlook, approach, or activity.

Atavistic Fiction is borne out of my personal journey through the literary landscape. I’ve always had story ideas but never believed I could write a complete novel. I enjoy observing the people and world around me, questioning “why” and wondering “what if?” As many thoughts swirl around my brain eventually, several will magically join together like pieces of an interlocking puzzle to form a story. Whatever occurs to me is what I write, and it is my joy to experience the story twice; by participating in the wonder of creation and simultaneously reading it. In many ways, it is cathartic and uplifting for me. There is a sense of freedom as my mind expands beyond my mortal limitations as I transcribe the events my characters experience.

The concept of the multiverse has been around since Issac Newton’s Opticks, the possibility of multiple variations of our world operating under different laws of nature. Another variation of the multiverse is the diverging at a significant historical event to form vastly different realities, for example, P.K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle. Recent real-world quantum physics theory suggests that everything in the universe may be connected, that we may be one of an infinite number of distinct realities.

Atavistic Fiction is a mental time machine that we step through to an alternate experience. Atavistic Fiction is not nostalgia; it does not attempt to return to the lifestyle or morality of a previous time period, or of their cliched plots (which if you think about it, were entirely original at the time and have only become cliched because they have been reused so many times by lazy writers.) Atavistic Fiction picks up at the height of the classics without trying to recreate them but uses them as a jumping-off point for new exploration. It is merging of the creative spirit, the sense of wonderment, and the possibilities of life with engaging characters, coherent plot, vivid conflict, and contemporary wording. It marries the literary care for the craft of storytelling to crafty stories.

As a writer, I have improved by completing an MFA degree. That fact does not automatically vault me into the realm of being a good writer, just a better writer. It also gives me an idea of what I can do and what still needs work. The main point of my writing is always to acknowledge the truth of who we are, without apology, and without guilt, and without explanation. Atavistic Fiction seeks to restore a sense of wonderment, of childlike awe at the beauty surrounding us in the natural world and to emphasize the positive over the negative. A story should come to life as we read it, inhabit our minds and hearts as we gaze over the words, or rather, we should not be aware of reading as the words lift off the page and fill our minds with the events of the story. Atavistic Fiction is the vehicle that resonates with my artistic voice. I hope you enjoy it also.