transhumanism

Orphan Black, the many roles of Tatiana Maslany

Tatiana Maslany as Alison, Helena, Sarah, Beth, Cosima, and Katja.

Orphan Black is a new science fiction television show produced by BBC America and Space, starring Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany. I recently discovered this series, the first season of which just finished airing in the beginning of June 2013, and I plowed through all 10 episodes in two days.  It’s a smart, complex, often dark yet at times quite funny, and well-paced show with a continuous narrative arc that explores the issues of identity and intellectual property. There is fine acting all around but the two standouts are Tatiana Maslany, who plays many roles on the show for which she deservedly won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and Jordan Gavaris, who plays the foster brother of one of Maslany’s characters.

Minor spoilers follow, but everything I mention is revealed in the first episode or featured prominently in the official publicity for the show.

The science fiction element of the show is pretty low key. You won’t see much in the way of futuristic technology in this series. Instead, the plot revolves around the controversial subject of human cloning and the early stages of body modification and genetic engineering. Who are we if we are not biologically unique, if there are others out there who are genetically identical to us? How much would our experiences and personal choices shape who we become despite this? What would you do if you encountered to your surprise not one but two or three or more other people who look exactly like you? What is it that makes us human? These are some of the questions explored in Orphan Black.

The series begins by introducing us to the main character of the show, Sarah Manning, played by Maslany. Sarah is an orphan, born in Great Britain, raised by a foster mother, and moved to Canada at an early age. Now a young woman, we meet her trying to escape a wild life of crime, drugs, and an abusive boyfriend. Sarah aims to get her life back together, reclaim custody of her daughter Kira from her foster mother Mrs. S, and scrounge up enough money to make a new life somewhere for herself, her daughter, and her foster brother Felix (played by Gavaris).

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The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge

The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge

The Children of the Sky is the long-anticipated sequel to the Vernor Vinge’s Hugo Award–winning A Fire Upon The Deep. It is set in his Zones of Thought universe, which imagines a galaxy divided into regions that support different levels of technology and intelligence, from the easy FTL travel and posthuman Powers of the Transcend to the appropriately named Unthinking Depths at the galactic core.

The first time I read this book, I didn’t like it. I, like many others, was expecting a fast-paced adventure spanning the galaxy, such as A Fire Upon The Deep. Instead, the setting is limited to Tine’s World. I was looking for a satisfying resolution to the menace of the approaching Blight fleet, but the ahuman superintelligence stays comfortably in the background. I almost didn’t give it a second chance, but I did, and I appreciated it more the second time through. Once I got past the fact that this book was not what I was expecting, I enjoyed it, although it isn’t on the same level as A Fire Upon The Deep or A Deepness In The Sky.

The story starts 10 years after the ending of the previous book. Ravna Bergsndot leads the awakened Children, refugees from the Blight’s destruction of their home and stranded on Tine’s World. They are attempting to build a technological civilization capable of repelling the Blight with the help of the Out of Band II, the partially-functional starship that originally carried Ravna and the frozen Children to Tine’s World, and the Tines, a fascinating alien species made up of packs of 4 to 8 wolf-like creatures that act as a single individual.

Ravna and the Children have the support of Woodcarver, the ruler of an emerging empire. However, many of the Children are suspicious of Ravna’s interpretation of the Blight and the destruction of their home world, and in the far-off Tropics, a pack named Tycoon is starting an industrial revolution, assisted by Vendacious, Woodcarver’s traitorous spymaster.

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A few notable things I ran across recently:

  1. Will Thomas of The Atlas Society (formerly known as The Objectivist Center) argues that transhumanism is compatible with Objectivism.
  2. Kylie Sturgess, in her Curiouser and Curiouser column for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, interviewed Scott Sigler. I hadn’t heard of him before, but apparently he’s known as a podcaster and now also as an author of techno-thrillers.

    Sigler describes skeptics as people
     

    who were spreading the other side of the information instead of misinformation. They are out actively encouraging people to think for themselves, and what’s been interesting is that they’re not necessarily telling people “this is bunk.” They are encouraging people to think critically about things and learn how to address things when you run into them.

    He goes on to mention how, among other things, evolution is being challenged in America. But there’s a flipside to long-accepted, fairly well-established science being attacked in knee-jerk fashion by those faith-based types leery of science in general and of science that challenges their religious beliefs in particular. Sometimes science can become corrupted in politically-charged fields, and scientists lose their objectivity. I’m reminded of an old post I wrote about scientific skepticism in relation to global warming alarmism. I riffed off of Clarke’s First Law of Prediction and Asimov’s Corollary.

    But to get back to Scott Sigler, has anyone read any of his work? If so, what do you think? Do you recommend it?

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