Science Fiction Round 40: The Android’s Dream
The Android’s Dream is a novel by John Scalzi.
One of my brothers compares its contents to the hijinks that frequently feature in Douglas Adams’ work, and I think I agree with that assessment.
The story itself is a bit predictable (I saw most of the ending coming), but the absurdity goes up to eleven. It’s worth a read.
I’m really surprised this word never showed up in the story.
The titualar “Android’s Dream” is a genetically modified breed of sheep with blue wool. It’s important because it is very rare, and is used in the coronation ceremony for the leader of the Nidu (a group of reptilian aliens). Through a bizarre series of events involving people with beastiality fetishes, a normal human woman named Robin ends up with (mostly junk) DNA from the Android’s Dream. (Her mother, on the other hand, really looked part sheep, and wasn’t really sentient.)
I think there’s several issues with that whole discussion.
First of all, the hybridization. Ew.
Second, Robin is stated to have roughly 20% of her DNA match that of the Android’s Dream, although all of that DNA is “junk” — non-coding, and doesn’t affect the development or the production of proteins.
That actually can’t be quite right. All living things on Earth share a significant portion of the genetic material, including the coding parts that contain genes and produce proteins. For instance, eukaryotes share much of the same basic cellular machinery, whether you’re a human or a bit of yeast or a tree. According to this science museum, humans and yeast share about 26% of their genes. Yes, that’s the regions that actually do stuff, as opposed to junk. (Junk regions are much less likely to be similar, since mutations there don’t affect an organism’s attributes.) And that’s just yeast, the single-celled organism that makes your bread rise. In the case of mice — something that’s actually a mammal — you share about 92% of your genes.
Yes, that’s 92%. Mammals are all pretty closely related, in the grand scheme of things. As such, I’d find it hard to believe if a sheep shared less than 90% of its genes with humans.
According to Wikipedia, about 15% of the human genome is “under functional constraint” — in other words, it does something useful, so it’s not junk can change every which-way without hurting the organism. Assuming we share 90% of this with sheep, that implies about 13.5% of our genetic material is shared with sheep as a general baseline, for an unmodified human.
So, if 20% of Robin’s “junk” DNA matches the Android’s Dream, then she’s actually about a 30% match to sheep… more or less.
Finally, I will note that despite that 90% estimate, the amount of tech required to build a human-sheep hybrid which is capable of reproducing with a human, and then doing gene-mods on the resulting embryo to make it viable, is both amazing and ridiculous. I’m not sure I want to know how they did that, but it requires being able to rewrite DNA wholesale and also accurately predict what the results are going to be — far beyond our current capabilities, particularly given the complexities of protein folding and, even worse, figuring out how all the different genes and proteins will interact in an organism.
The Church of the Evolved Lamb
This is awesome.
The Church of the Evolved Lamb is a modified Church of Happyology, based on the works of a science-fiction author who was (unsuccessfully) trying to scam a rich old woman out of her money. The church was founded on his “prophesies,” and has huge investments in companies that do computer science and genetic engineering.
That said, the members all know that the “prophet” was a failed conman, and act accordingly. They try to bring the prophesies to pass, but recognize it’s through their own effort. And so on. They’re not being bilked; instead, they’re manipulating other people for their own good.
And it’s amazingly hilarious.
Single Point of Failure
The Nidu are set up as the antagonists for much of the story.
In addition to having the special ceremony for inducting a new leader, that leader has literally absolute power. How? That leader has sole control of the Nidu computer systems, which are linked into every single technological device they have — starships, weapons, vehicles, you name it. Without that computer link, nothing will work. And only the leader has final access to that system. He can cut off anybody’s access at any time.
This means that things get messy when the leader dies, and the computer controls have to be transferred (in said special ceremony) to the new leader. People lower down the totem pole have power over their local stuffs until a new leader is installed.
How did the Nidu end up like that, anyway? I mean, that seems like just about the worst possible form of government ever. Sure, it’s a way to enforce an absolute tyranny, but any sufficiently powerful hacking can mess with the system. Anyone influencing or blackmailing the leader somehow has an inordinate amount of power, as the leader would himself.
And then there’s the issue of getting everybody’s technology onto the network in the first place. I’m shocked that there weren’t some holdouts who deliberately kept some items off the network, or modified them to look like they were under network control when they actually weren’t.
Ah, well. It led to some grand hilarity in the end.