Author: gibsonauthor

CRISPR and Future Human Evolution

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On Tuesday night I attended a book talk and signing by my friend, Daniel Suarez. His new book, Change Agent, explores a future where genetic editing enables humans to control evolution of the species. The story is set in the year 2045.

Dan began the evening with a talk about the future potential of CRISPR and DNA editing. This was news to me. He mentioned the ability of obtaining a DNA editing lab for less than $1000. He suggested that individuals could edit the DNA of their children. Those edits could transfer to future generations. A quick Google search confirms that experiments have been carried out in fixing sickle cell anemia, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and immune system cells.

Dan forecasted that there could be concerns about corporations claiming ownership of the DNA of individuals. If parents received genetic editing provided by a company to fix issues for their children, then those children might be responsible for paying the company for the rest of their lives. There may be many questions and challenges because of who makes the edits and who owns edits of DNA.

CRISPR offers multiple ways to affect the future. Mosquitoes can be genetically modified in what is called “gene driving,” to lead to the end of a species of the insects that spread a particular disease like the malarial parasite. Crops can be changed, the DNA of rice can be modified and combined with DNA of other plants to become more resistant to salt water, or to require less water. Obviously, people will be raising ethical questions about some of these uses of DNA editing.

One scary scenario Dan mentioned was how individuals or groups around the world, who are angry at another group, could obtain a DNA editing lab very cheaply. Those angry people may design “gene driving” materials to attack their enemies. Perhaps a government agency should be monitoring our DNA in a public health process in order to detect if we are being attacked.

I found the talk about CRISPR to be interesting, and somewhat disturbing. For example, humans could splinter and diverge in different directions, through the modification of some people’s DNA. Dan says his fiction writing is not meant to be doomsday forecasting, but, I can’t stop thinking about it, and my mind goes right there. He says if we think about the future and watch for certain trends, we have the chance to control the evolution of the human species.

Change Agent became available on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. One review says, “The depth and sophistication of Suarez’s dystopian world—not to mention his facility at making complex science intelligible to the nonexpert—rivals anything Michael Crichton ever did.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 

MKUltra: CIA Mind Control Projects

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In the 1950s Sidney Gottlieb, began parts of the MKUltra projects under the orders of the CIA. The aim of these series of related projects were to develop mind-controlling drugs and techniques for use against the Soviet bloc. Part of the motivation for the projects may have been response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war in Korea.

The actual facts about MKUltra will never be fully known. In 1973, CIA director Richard Helms ordered all MKUltra files destroyed. MKUltra was 162 different secret projects that were financed by the CIA, and contracted out to universities, foundations and other institutions. About 80 institutions and 185 researchers participated, but most did not know the CIA connections to the research.

Millions of dollars was spent by the CIA, from the 1950s to the early 1970s, on studies examining methods of influencing and controlling the mind, and of extracting information from subjects during interrogation. The Canadian government was also involved through the work of Dr. Donald Ewen Cameron who experimented on unwitting patients in Canada. The Canadian government paid compensation to some victims.

In the mid-1970s, congressional committee and presidential commission reports revealed that the CIA and the Department of Defense had conducted experiments on both unwitting and willing subjects as part of projects to study influencing and controlling human behavior through the use of psychoactive drugs such as LSD and mescaline and other chemical, biological, and psychological methods.

While the CIA claims MKUltra type projects have been abandoned, there is no way to corroborate such claims. No individuals or institutions were ever brought to justice relating to these projects. We can only hope that such experiments have been discontinued due uselessness.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-we-know-about-cias-midcentury-mind-control-project-180962836/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_MKUltra

Other S. A. Gibson posts about mind control:

https://gibsonauthor.wordpress.com/category/mind-control/

Forlorn Hope in Fiction

A “Forlorn Hope” is when a group is in extreme danger, or even doomed but carries on. It is often a military unit that takes the risky and perilous positions in the offensive or defensive action. The term in French for an equivalent group is “Les Enfants Perdus” or “The Lost Children.” Fictional, or semi-fictional stories have often recounted the adventures of a lost group of individual who face insurmountable odds.

Zulu (1964) tells a fictional version of true events at Rorke’s Drift in January, 1879. A group of 150 British and support troops defended themselves at a mission station against almost 4,000 Zulu warriors who tried to overwhelm them. https://www.amazon.com/Zulu-Stanley-Baker/dp/B00008PC13

In Target Zero (1955), a Hollywood version of a fiction part of the Korean War is represented. A British tank crew, an American infantry squad and a stranded UN nurse band together and hold off a massive attack of North Korean troops. https://www.amazon.com/Target-Zero-Richard-Conte/dp/B00KH67BBI

In Sahara (1943), a small band of U.S., British, and allied troops hold off a large number of German soldiers in the desert near Tobruk. https://www.amazon.com/Sahara-Humphrey-Bogart/dp/B00005R23T

In 55 Days at Peking (1963), a fictionalized story is told of the military legation staff defending the foreign ambassadors in China in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion. https://www.amazon.com/Days-Peking-All-Region-NTSC/dp/B00108FMFO

An additional list of films with similar plots includes, The 300 Spartans (1962), Apocalypse Now (1979), Battlestar Galactica (Miniseries) (2003), Forlorn Hope 1631 (2009), King Arthur (2004), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Lord Jim (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969), The Last Valley (1971), Seven Samurai (1954), and the retelling of the story, The Magnificent Seven (1960).

More movies listed at: http://www.listal.com/list/fornlorn-hope-movies-superant

I’m obsessed with the idea of forlorn hope. Those individuals so dedicated to achieving their goals that they risk everything, and will not surrender, until the task is done. Each of my books feature forlorn hopes. In Feeling a Way, the town of Rock Springs is treed and must fight with every man, woman, and child against the guru’s fighters. In A Dangerous Way, A handful of library scouts put themselves between two warring armies. The book, In the Horde’s Way features the story of a vastly outnumbered group of fighters trying to stand off against incredible odds. Pratima’s Forbidden Book has two forlorn hope defenses. William’s group defends the compound with the atomic device against an attack, and Pratima’s group must hold the railway bridge until a rescue force can arrive. Asante’s Gullah Journey features a climax where the farmers must defend the library building against an overwhelming force. Even my short story, Pratima’s Engines ends with Pratima and a few friends holding out in the barricaded room. I can’t get away from writing about forlorn hopes.

https://www.amazon.com/S.-A.-Gibson/e/B00O0HQ6E8

Ruining the reputation of self-publishing: an amateur writer, one year on.

Ed Ryder - blogging to an empty theatre

approval-15914_640Before we start, apologies for the clickbait title. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the last twelve months it’s that negative headlines get a lot more attention than positive ones. You clicked on it, after all!

But what else have I discovered in my voyage into the minefield-strewn world of writing and book marketing, and how was In Vitro Lottery received (if at all) by the reviewing and buying public? Read on to find out!

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Loss of Control in Dawn from Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler is justifiably considered one of the finest American writers. Dawn was published in 1987. Dawn is the first book in the Xenogenesis or Lilith’s Brood series. This book contains the threads of Butler’s science fiction themes. Relations between genders, aliens versus humans, the future of earth as dystopia or utopia. I want to address the aspect of control and free will in this story.

The book, Dawn, can be a vehicle to discuss issues of mind control. In the book, physical restraint is used on captives to make them amenable to persuasion. Lilith, our protagonist, is held in inescapable prison rooms on an alien spaceship.  If she does not choose to cooperate with the aliens, she will be put back into suspended animation. That was the penalty for previous failures of her ability to help the aliens.

In the story, Lilith wakes in a mysterious room after humans have made the earth uninhabitable. It turns out aliens have come and rescued a number of survivors from the planet and held them in sleep states while they take hundreds of years to restore Earth to a livable state. Lilith is quick to ask the aliens what they want in return for their altruism. The aliens believe their demands are reasonable, but some humans will be unwilling to accept the request.

I see evidence, in this story, of one of the oldest and simplest forms of mind control. The aliens are in total control of all aspects of the captives’ lives. They control the rooms where Lilith and the other humans can move in. They control the access to food and other resources. And the aliens hold an overwhelming trump over each human. If the human does not measure up, they will be put back into suspended animation. To be awoken only, if ever, when the aliens decide to give them another chance to cooperate.

We see Lilith plan resistance when the story starts. Over time we see a change, as she loses her loyalty to humans and bonds more with the aliens. This is not an unfamiliar pattern.  Similar behavior can fit into a behavior labeled Stockholm Syndrome. This is said to occur when a victim develops close emotional ties to an abuser who is in control. Lilith begins the story seeking to defend herself from rape and rescue other human females who are attacked. Later in the story, she assists the aliens in raping human males.

Dawn addresses question of alienation, loneliness, masculinity, female power, racism, sexism, and difficulties in healthy group cooperation. Taken with other Octavia Butler stories, it appears that particular issues are of very high importance to the author. It is an interesting topic, how humanity could be “rescued” and reshaped by aliens. While I found the book to be an unpleasant challenge to read, I admit that some fascinating issues were introduced. One issue involves several different brands of coercion.  Lilith and the humans are physically controlled, chemically drugged, and threatened with punishment. Mind control can be enacted utilizing each of these approaches.

You can find additional Afro-centric posts at: https://gibsonauthor.wordpress.com/afro-centric-posts/

March 2017 Science Fiction and Fantasy Faire

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Thanks to the 80 authors and artists who shared their time with us during the week of Monday, March 13th through Saturday, March 18th. I enjoyed myself. I want to give a big shout out to Maria Olaitan Akande. Without the help of my co-host, this event would not have been possible.

Attached to this post will are links to highlights from each day.

Monday Highlights: https://www.facebook.com/events/1366994643321943/permalink/1397029476985126/

Tuesday Highlights: https://www.facebook.com/events/1366994643321943/permalink/1396976606990413/

Wednesday Highlights: https://www.facebook.com/events/1366994643321943/permalink/1395956717092402/

Thursday Highlights: https://www.facebook.com/events/1366994643321943/permalink/1395939450427462/

Friday Highlights: https://www.facebook.com/events/1366994643321943/permalink/1396963796991694/

Saturday Highlights: https://www.facebook.com/events/1366994643321943/permalink/1397686306919443/

Here is a link to SFF Faire presenters’ book and story links:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1366994643321943/permalink/1397664980254909/

Stay tuned for news of future plans…

 

The Heroine in True Grit

True_Grit_(Charles_Portis_novel)

In 1967 Charles Portis published True Grit: A Novel. The story is told from the POV of Mattie Ross, a 14 year-old girl. The novel is considered by many to be one of the great works of American fiction. The book was converted into a movie with John Wayne in 1969. The story was retold in other movies and by the Coen brothers in 2010.

There have been many questions about how should a male writer portray a female character or vice-versa? How should writers of one ethnicity write characters of different ethnicity? I think we can talk about Mattie Ross to spark a conversation about these topics. The author wrote Mattie as a headstrong youngster seeking justice for the murder of her father. She has found out that the murderer, Tom Chaney, has joined with a band of violent brigands and retreated into lawless lands. She knows she needs the help of a strong violent man. She finds Rooster Cogburn, and with the help of Texas lawman LaBoeuf they take off into the wilderness in pursuit of the killers.

Mattie is not shown as a superhuman fighter. She does use her father’s handgun on occasion to defend herself, but is not shown as expert or unstoppable in the use of force. This, I think, is a telling way to show characters. They have weaknesses, and are good at some things, and less good at others. Rooster Cogburn is shown as a drunk and incompetent at times. No character is perfect, but each character is driven to achieve their goals.

One major aspect of Portis’ portrayal of Mattie is to show her in old age as a bitter, penny-pinching spinster. I don’t have a critique of this character arc, but I wanted to mention it. I still believe the character of Mattie makes a valuable model for building characters. They are not superhuman. They have strengths and they have flaws. Mattie Ross is a memorable character because she was an ordinary person who had to perform extraordinary deeds to achieve her goals.

 

The Overlooked Charm of Endbooks

Nicholas C. Rossis

Endbook example | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books Marbled endpaper from an 1875 copy of Die Nachfolge Christi by Thomas von Kempis. PUBLIC DOMAIN. Image via Atlas Obscura

In the endless eBook vs. print debate, one aspect is rarely mentioned: the art of endbooks. And yet, as Sarah Laskow—my favorite Atlas Obscura blogger—points out, these can deliver a small jolt of wonder that perfectly complements a lovely book. An over-eager reader can breeze by even the most striking endbooks, yet they’re an art form with a history all their own.

An ENDuring Hostory

For centuries, designers have taken the formal necessity of joining a book’s pages to its cover and turned it into an opportunity for creativity. When a book is made, one side of an endpaper (sometimes also called an endpage or endleaf) is pasted into the inside of the book’s cover; the other side is the first page of the book. Originally, they were…

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Mind Control in The Host

 

In 2010 Stephenie Myer published The Host. This story is an alien invasion story, with some similarities to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. or The Puppet Masters. Aliens arrive with the ability to take over the body of a human, while destroying the mind to replace it with an alien mind.

The twist in this story is one human mind resists the take over and continually fights to regain control of its body and it’s friendship with unconverted humans.   I found this tale enjoyable, and somewhat believable. Likely, because I was interested in the character questions. What does it mean for someone to lose their body? Can an alien invader have compassion for another species? Can a somewhat peaceful resolution be constructed in a war like this?

What I think works in the mind control aspect of the story. The alien species is portrayed as a mult-dentric like creature with maybe thousands of connecting waving parts. It is small enough to fit into a human brain. We witness a partially-surgical insertion of the parasite. I like the idea that the alien traces and connects to multiple nerves in the brain to take control. Also, it’s a great idea that the host consciousness is not immediately destroyed. Seems reasonable that the previous occupant holds on and exists in some form in the brain that has been taken over. In the story, the alien takes complete control of the body. That could be possible if the alien established blocks between the archipallium structures of the brain, and the host consciousness.

What seems least likely for the mind control aspect of the story. Like most alien mind control tales, there should be a vast gulf of foreignness between the invader and the host mind. I would expect an alien mind controller from another planet to have a great deal of trouble operating the machine that is a human brain and body. While the consciousness of the invader could be conceived as residing in the small alien body, controlling and interfacing with the memories of the host, and utilizing the body of the host in a meaningful way seem enormous challenges. No difficulty is shown when Wanderer, the alien to take over Melanie’s body, is implanted. Wanderer, it is explained, was last in some type of ocean dwelling alien on another planet. Yet, in a day she is in total control of the host, Melanie’s, body, and accesses many memories of the human. This aspect of the story is hard to assimilate, so I’ll just grant the author’s privilege, for the sake of the story.

As I stated, I find this to be one of the more interesting alien mind control stories. It was made into a movie in 2013: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Host_(2013_film) In an ironic twist, Saoirse Ronan was nominated for a Teen Choice Award for her performance in The Host, under the category “Choice Movie Actress: Sci-fi/Fantasy”, but lost to Kristen Stewart for her performance in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.

Don’t Read My Book!

 

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Reposting this article from last year. Several authors have used reverse psychology in humorous approaches to marketing their books.

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Stephanie Barr made a meme for Beast Within, The Bete Book 1, that highlights aspects of the book that some people might possibly find irritating.

Reverse psychology involves advocating ideas or behaviors that are in opposition to one’s desired goals according to Wikipedia. Above is a reverse mention of my book, Asante’s Gullah Journey.

Some authors have taken the humorous approach of producing meme posters about why you, a potential reader, should not pick up and read their books. The reasons can include potential shortcomings in their books, or critiques of reading generally, or the particular genre, or perhaps larger criticisms of the world in general.  Usually, the desired outcome derives from the hope of the author that you will be so intrigued that you will rush out and buy the book.

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In K. M. Herkes’ example above for her book, Controlled Descent, we see negatives and tongue in cheek comments.

The hoped for psychological outcome seems similar to me to that in Goodreads reviews where controversy around a book results in more sales. When readers have contentious disagreements about the content, style, or meaning of a book, new readers can become curious to try for themselves. They want to see what side of the controversy they will land after giving the book a try.

dontread_470511166462959_1441979994374461108_oM. A. Ray, in the example above, disses aspects of her book, Hard Luck.

Reverse psychology is a time honored mind control approach. We use it with our friends, enemies, and family members to gain compliance. We hope that if we seem to offer a position that is opposite of our true position we will find common ground with the other person, or get those others to lower their barriers and let in our message.

One approach to marketing is to offer benefit for the customer. Writers who employ reverse psychology memes are hoping to secretly show how their book will offer value to the reader. The self-criticism of the book may be intended to be false, or may be intended to warn the reader what to be careful of.

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For Crimson Fire, Mirren Hogan lists possible off-putting facts about her book.

Don’t be afraid of reading a book, just because the author tells you scary things. Likely an author puts the energy into critiquing their book because they hold their own works in high regard. Give them a try. Judge for yourself whether there is validity in the reverse-hype!

Author links:

K. M. Herkes: https://www.amazon.com/K.M.-Herkes/e/B00GRLYEL2 and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7391528.K_M_Herkes

M. A. Ray: https://www.amazon.com/M.A.-Ray/e/B00IREBFUU and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7509703.M_A_Ray

Mirren Hogan at: https://www.amazon.com/Mirren-Hogan/e/B01MAYXJV9 and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9833643.Mirren_Hogan

S. A. Gibson: https://www.amazon.com/S.-A.-Gibson/e/B00O0HQ6E8 and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8687249.S_A_Gibson

Stephanie Barr: https://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Barr/e/B00N9W84YK/ and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8176598.Stephanie_Barr

 

 

 

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