Archive for August, 2011

Why men should be afraid of these mice . . .

‘Are you a man or a mouse?’ was given new meaning this week, with the announcement that scientists have created sperm in the laboratory and succeeded in using it to produce healthy offspring. True the ‘babies’ in this instance were mice not men, but the ultimate aim of the experiment is to aid fertility in humans.

Researchers at Kyoto University took embryonic stem cells from the mice and by adding growth factors, created ‘primordial germ cells’. These cells were then inserted into the testes of infertile mice – I wonder where they got them from – infertile mice must be  as rare as rocking horse shit, given the rodents’ prodigious ability to reproduce themselves!

The techniques used in this research would have to be modified somewhat if they are to be used in humans, as men don’t have embryonic stem cells which could be used to generate sperm in the same way. However, scientists are said to be working on a method which involves reprogramming adult cells so that they become embryonic cells.

This experiment and others like it, could eventually lead to a man’s role in the reproductive process becoming redundant. The sperm count has been dropping for years anyway, and along with it, the male’s traditional role in society. Some scientists believe that it will eventually be possible to create sperm from female stem cells, thus eliminating the need for men altogether.

I explore this last scenario in my debut novel Back Dated. Following a visit from a strange young woman, Sci-fi writer Ray Flaxman is pitched headlong into a dystopian future, where women rule the new Britannia and men are facing extinction. Feminists often claim that the world would be a better place if women were running things but I wonder . . .

In 1971, the then Education Secretary and mother, Margaret Thatcher abolished school milk, leaving many children without their daily pinta. Later, as Prime Minister she became known as the Iron Lady. It was often said of her that she was more of a man than any of the men in her cabinet. Under her premiership we saw the rise of the politics of greed and the me,me,me society which is with us still today.

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The man who invented the Time Machine

Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), along with Jules Verne (1828-1905) is generally regarded as the father of science fiction, though it could be argued that the young Mary Shelley beat them both to it with the publication in 1818 of her novel Frankenstein.

The novel came to be written as the result of a competition between herself, her lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, to see who could write the best horror story. Frankenstein nevertheless has at its core some of the basic elements of science fiction: the fanatical scientist who pushes science too far and in doing so, creates a monster he cannot control.

But it was H.G. Wells more than anyone else, who in four of his best known novels established the basic ingredients of the science fiction genre, though he preferred to call them scientific romances.*

Time travel and the dystopian future: The Time Machine (1895).

The egotistical scientist who overreaches himself: The Invisible Man (1897).

 Alien Invasions: The War of the Worlds (1898).

Space Travel: The First Men in the Moon (1901).

H.G. Wells wasn’t the first writer to feature time travel in a story but he was the first to use the term Time Machine. In a career spanning sixty years, he was a prolific and sometimes prophetic writer of both fiction and non fiction, novels, short stories and articles. But it is for these four novels that he will be most remembered.

All four have been adapted for the cinema but it was another Wells – American actor and director Orson Welles, and his radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds which had the greatest impact on an audience. On the 30th October 1938, Halloween night, Welles directed and performed an updated version of the work as a series of simulated news bulletins, which had a section of the audience convinced that America was being invaded by Martians.  Following the broadcast, Welles was castigated for cruelly deceiving his listeners but it made him famous.

*The term science fiction was coined in 1851 but didn’t really catch on until the 1930’s when it was popularised by the American editor Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the first science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in 1926. The Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards, the ‘Hugo’s’ are named after him.

If you enjoy reading about Time Travel check out my novel Back Dated. Just click on the links to the right of this page and they will take you to my amazon home page, where you can read the first three chapters for FREE!

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