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In my last blog post I speculated about how kids would be born and raised in the centuries to come. Will children still be conceived and gestated within human bodies or in test tubes and vats? If we manage to extend the lifespan of existing people indefinitely, will we even want to bring any new human beings into the world?

What about for the rest of this century? How will child care evolve?

Much has been made of the idea that future kids could have robot caregivers. Certainly a lot of wealthy and upper-middle-class urban kids have nannies now, but as I mentioned last time, I think climate change and the shrinking number of jobs for humans will reverse the social pressure to have kids, so much fewer people will try to raise children while struggling to stay employed. I also don’t expect sophisticated robots to ever become an affordable consumer item for most people (sorry Jetsons fans). A truly effective robot nanny/tutor/bodyguard would need to have artificial intelligence of a high level, maybe conscious, maybe not, but with growing concerns about artificial intelligences we may be reluctant to entrust our children to them. Instead, we’ll see more and more tech to help parents look after their own kids. A new app called ChatterBaby uses algorithms formulated from more than 2000 audio samples of babies crying, to not only help parents know when their baby is crying (important for deaf couples) but also the likeliest reason for the cries, based on their sound. Sensing and analysis technology like this might not free parents to leave their kids alone, but could loosen the tether a little bit, and with 1 in 4 US children and just over 1 in 5 Canadian kids being raised by single parents, every bit of assistance is welcome. As to that statistic, technology that connects people is already fostering a trend toward communal parenting: support networks drawn, not from blood relations as in the past, but people with common interests and values. A number of apps already assist with “co-parenting”. The term “single parenting” might soon become irrelevant, and the definition of “family” will be even broader than it is today.

Robot teachers? More likely, immersive virtual reality environments will be used to provide teaching scenarios, using very realistic situations for instruction rather than a classroom lesson/lecture-type method.

So will you ever be able to pry your kid away from their video screens and get them to apply themselves to their homework again? Well, with every form of information available electronically, the days of cramming facts into kids’ heads simply have to come to an end—there’s no point. What will remain important is teaching kids how to connect information, draw impressions, solve problems, and apply what they learn to life and work. That certainly doesn’t have to involve electronic screens or their equivalent. In fact, just as today’s young adults have been opting more and more to spend their discretionary money on experiences instead of things, I predict our educational systems will slowly work in that direction too. They’re just incredibly ponderous institutions to change.

What about parental monitoring of kids 24/7? Some already use apps that track their kids’ phones by GPS, others are scandalized by it. (For apps and devices now available, check out this article and this one.) Sorry, but such things are here to stay and will only get more intrusive. Whether or not the world really has become a more dangerous place for kids, that perception has become much too deeply ingrained into our collective psyche. It’s not going to go away. So as technology increasingly allows Mom and Dad to monitor their child’s location, activity, companions, and indeed every interaction, it will be used and will become virtually universal. Privacy for kids will cease to exist, yes, but then a huge percentage of the current adult population willingly gives up their privacy every day, thanks to social media, corporate reward programs, and numerous other temptations. So resistance (to ever-more invasive technology) is futile!

What kind of people will all of these changes produce? That I can’t predict. I don’t think it’s going far out on a limb to say that fewer children being born to those not fully committed to parenthood should result in fewer maladjusted adults. Revamped educational systems should produce more engaged learners who embrace the lifelong learning process that will be required of them. But as with any major shift in process and technology, there will be bumps along the road. So psychiatrists, social workers, and cops won’t find themselves out of work anytime soon.


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When I sat down to write about parenting in the future, it suddenly hit me: Wait! In all of the science fiction I read, kids are hardly ever mentioned. Will we even have kids in centuries to come? Sure, survival of the species by reproduction is a top priority of every living creature, but there is a chance that, as we extend the human lifespan indefinitely, there won’t be room for any new people, and no biological need for them. That is, if we stay on Earth, of course.

For now, let’s assume we’re still making babies and enduring the trials of trying to mould them into viable adults. What delights does the future of parenting hold?

In the 1930’s in Brave New World Aldous Huxley described a wholly impersonal system that involved human eggs fertilized and grown in laboratory conditions into embryos that were eventually “decanted” at the proper age, after which the new babies were conditioned according to their planned status in society. To create lots of low class, low intelligence workers, a certain number of fertilized eggs were even cloned to produce many identical copies. Though not an attractive scenario, the lab-grown baby process has been used in a lot of science fiction since then (I included it in a recent manuscript myself), probably because most writers expect that, as reproductive technology continues to improve, it will eventually take over entirely from the old fashioned method, which is, let’s face it, rather hit and miss. (Fun in the beginning, but oooh the inconvenience and pain of pregnancy and delivery!)

Fully artificial reproduction and impersonal child rearing is one way things could go, but it’s based on assumptions that may not turn out to be as relevant as we think. One of those is that lots of human workers will still be needed—natural reproduction interferes too much with worker productivity, and isn’t efficient. Another is that society’s trend toward extreme self-centredness will make personal baby-making and rearing undesirable to everyone.

If we were colonizing another planet, we’d want to increase the population as quickly as conditions could support, and we’d need every worker to be maximally productive and consistently available. Here on Earth, though, as climate change shrinks our habitable coastlines and wreaks havoc on food crops, there’ll be rising pressure to reduce population. Also, as automation continues to grow, the work done by humans will be the work that has to be done by humans, increasingly service work of varying complexity. Workers will have to retrain numerous times in their lives to stay productive. Social pressure to have children will continue to subside and fewer people will have them. The ones who do will be the ones who really want to, and extended maternity/paternity leaves will be welcome as a way to spread the available work around. Far from “cranking out” babies in laboratories, we’ll probably be quite content to have much smaller numbers born to parents who really want them.

One of my sons recently elected to stay out of the workforce to be a stay-at-home dad. His wife also took a one-year maternity leave. So for the whole first year of their daughter’s life, both Mom and Dad were there to cater to her every need and whim. Only a half-century ago, there was a common opinion that you could spoil a child by rushing to its side at every whimper, that it might actually do a child good to have to wait for relief or satisfaction sometimes. According to a video I saw this week, the new opinion is that not responding right away to a child’s cries will not only result in greater aggressiveness and possibly violent tendencies when the child is older, but might also impair the development of its communication skills, since crying and smiling are pretty much a baby’s only means to communicate (and it has to know that they work). So will constant attention be a good thing or a bad thing? Time will tell. But I believe there’s a very good chance that this natural, hands-on and highly attentive method of child bearing and rearing will be the approach that becomes the norm, rather than the scary laboratory/baby farm method. That’s not to say that reproductive technology won’t figure in, but it will be to help couples who need it, not replace them.

There’s more.

Another son and daughter-in-law have smart watches with apps that can be used like a personal trainer, tracking all physical activity during the day and analyzing it according to effectiveness, calories burned, etc., plus offering rewards for consistent exercise. I think that such technology will be adopted very quickly for tomorrow’s kids. While numerous SF stories have predicted a future society of grossly overweight, utterly sedentary citizens parked in front of screens or amid holographic displays all day, I like to believe that, at least in the near term, we’ll see ultra-sophisticated wearable (or implantable) technology monitoring people from birth to death and urging them toward a more healthy lifestyle. Imagine a display in your child’s forearm that not only monitors everything from their physical activity to the nutrition of the food they eat, but also rewards them for sticking to healthy habits.

Pie in the sky? Maybe. But my hope is that the mind-set of preventative health care will finally gain more and more traction as technology enables it. It’s almost inevitable that brain-computer interfaces of some kind will eventually be implanted right into our heads, and such a thing implies the potential to apply electric current directly to the brain’s pleasure centres. Powerful reward motivation indeed.

So much for the basics, but what about raising kids in a world increasingly shaped by technology? Robot nannies? Communal parenting? I’ll take a look at those things in the next post, but for now let me just say, if it’s been a while since you raised your own kids, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the future is arriving!


Good news! You can now buy BEYOND: Technology the third ebook in my BEYOND series in my Bookstore and at all popular ebook online outlets (or within a day or two, if the staff is in summer mode). Once again I offer three SFF short stories on a theme. This time, as the name suggests, it's trouble with technology.

When a worker at a bio-weapons lab becomes distracted by her relationship problems the fate of the human race hangs in the balance.

A small island nation claims to have true democracy with every citizen voting on all major issues. But when a reporter investigates, the truth is stranger than she could have imagined.

An expert gamer seems like the perfect pilot for a microscopic prototype submersible controlled through virtual reality. Until the connection becomes too real for the human mind to handle.

Two of the stories have been published previously in other anthologies (one of them twice), so you don't have to take my word for it that they're good reads. And a great bargain, too. Some inexpensive summer reading to give you an excuse to laze around on the beach--what's not to like? Or why not get nine great stories by picking up all three e-collections BEYOND: The Stars, BEYOND: Time, and BEYOND: Technology?

By the way, I do still plan to collect all of these nine stories, plus the six from my two other e-anthologies, into one big juicy print book in mid-August or so. I'll let you know when it's ready, so keep checking the web page.


The charge to publish continues!

The second of my short story collection series BEYOND: Time is now available as an ebook in my Bookstore for direct download. It's been distributed to all of the major ebook online retailers and you might even find it cheaper there, depending on your country's currency (currency conversions being what they are!)

BEYOND: Time offers three thrilling tales that transcend time:

The Long Commute

Shon Howard and others like him go to work every day to reverse the ravages of climate change, pollution, and other evils. His daughter’s life depends on it. Because in Shon’s world, mistakes of past centuries can be corrected by visiting key moments in time. As long as he doesn’t get caught.

A Taste Of Time

Gabby Dufour hates the blueberries that grow over the site of her home town, destroyed in a fire decades ago. Then young berry-loving Amanda comes to visit, with inexplicable knowledge about the town, and Gabby is forced to wonder if there’s more to blueberries than meets the tongue. (First published in On Spec #88 vol 24 no 1, August 2014.) ** This story's kind of different, but good enough to be chosen for On Spec's 25th anniversary anthology Casserole Diplomacy.


The crew of a Hurricane Hunter aircraft is assigned to monitor an experiment designed to collect the awesome energy of a powerful storm. When the project succeeds too well, nowhere is beyond its destructive reach.

However you choose to buy it, I hope you'll love these stories. Volume Three BEYOND: Technology  will be published soon, and then a print-on-demand anthology including all of these stories and more.



As promised in my last post, I've now published the first of my BEYOND series: collections of SFF short stories, three stories per volume and each on a theme. BEYOND: The Stars offers three space adventures.

Node Of Thought

A spaceship pilot on a solo mission between the stars begins to see visions of other people. Are they trace thoughts from others who’ve passed that way? It’s not just an academic question when the ship’s computer starts to obey commands that aren’t his.

Marathon of the Devil

In a death-defying marathon on a desert planet, Eli Marone has managed to get lost. It’s now a race for survival, especially when the barren world might not be so lifeless after all.

The Rift

Twenty-seven years after a reckless experiment created a vast rift across the galaxy, a survey ship’s crew encounters a being with strange abilities and an even stranger disability. What they learn will test every belief they’ve ever had.

You can purchase and download BEYOND: The Stars directly at my Bookstore here on the site, or at your other favourite ebook retailers (if it's not available there yet, try again in a day or two).

I'm very pleased to be able to make these stories available to readers for the first time. Volume Two BEYOND: Time will be published in a week or so, and Volume Three BEYOND: Technology about a week after that. For print book lovers, I plan to put the collected stories into print form within the next month or two.


UPDATE: BEYOND: The Stars is now 'live' at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and other outlets, and will soon be in the iBooks store.


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These days I put most of my writing focus on SF novels, trusting my agent to find a publishing home for them. But many of my short stories have found homes over the years. Sadly, when I decided to check the links on my Short Stories page recently, I discovered that a lot of my published stories are no longer available. Of course, I've also written some that have never been made available to readers.

I've decided to change that.

In the coming weeks, I'll be releasing nine of my SFF short stories (some previously published, some not) in ebook anthology form, collected by theme. Each volume of the Beyond series will offer three stories. Volume One will be related to Space Travel, Volume Two involves Time, and Volume Three will explore Technology. I'll make them available through my webpage Bookstore, but also at your favourite online store.

If you still prefer to hold a print book in your hand, don't worry. My plan is to put all of these stories, and a few more from other e-anthologies, into one volume that will be available by print-on-demand through most major online outlets. Hopefully before the end of June, in time for summer reading!

Watch This Space For More Details!


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When science fiction stories describe a world of the future, it’s the story that grabs and holds our interest but it’s the little details that bring that world to life. How do the characters entertain themselves when they’re not battling to save the world? What do they buy and how do they buy it? What information systems tell them how to navigate their lives?

A few of those questions got me thinking about advertising.

Once upon a time, word-of-mouth was everything if you provided a product or service to a special clientele or the general public. At some point, some cynical soul decided it might be a good idea to put a sign that said “Blacksmith” above his door, just in case the smell of the forge, clang of iron, and giant anvils standing everywhere weren’t enough to clue people in. And then, if there were two smith’s in the same town, a family name on the sign would distinguish it from the competition, and maybe something like “official smith of His Lordship, the Duke” wouldn’t be amiss either.

Advertising really took off once the printing press became widespread. Even Will Shakespeare couldn’t count on an audience magically appearing—they had to be told where and when a performance would take place, along with a little sales pitch to draw them in. Before long, it wasn’t enough to just tell people that you provided a service, and why yours was better than others—you could actually create a market for your deliverables by persuading people they needed what you were offering, even if they didn’t…um, I mean, if they’d never realized it before. Snake oil salesman of all stripes have taken that to heart ever since, and advertising has become as slippery as politicians (who took to it with a vengeance, naturally).

Flyers and newspaper ads weren’t enough—they could be ignored—so some genius came up with the idea of interrupting content on radio and then television with commercials. It became a pact between advertiser and audience: free entertainment in return for paying attention to the ads. Not a bad deal, really. And it worked so well that before long we were subjected to ads attached to content we were already paying for (movie theatres, I’m looking at you). By then, billboards had been blocking scenery for decades, buses and other vehicles had become moving billboards, and even gullible people blithely allowed themselves to become mobile signage by wearing brand names on their clothing, somehow believing it gave them membership in the cool crowd.

The advertising bargain had broken down by then, and we never noticed. We no longer had to implicitly agree to be subjected to it—we had no choice.

Whoever gave advertisers the right to fill our every view, every moment of sound, everything we experience with their messages? It’s like the frog-in-a-pot story: heat the water slowly enough and it will never realize its danger until it’s cooked.

Defenders of advertising will tell you it’s a public service: informing people about products and services they might want. I don’t know about you, but if there’s something I actually need to buy, I can look up where and how to buy it in about thirty seconds with an online search. I don’t need, or want, somebody interrupting my life to tell me what they want me to want. My wife and I only watch streaming and pre-recorded content at home—no commercials. We mostly listen to public radio—no commercials. And we’ve opted to receive no flyers in the mail. Do I sometimes miss flipping through them? Sure. But my impulse purchases have gone way down.

What does all this have to do with the future? Well, as technology becomes ever more pervasive and invasive, so does advertising. Do you think it will be cool to walk past a billboard and have it address you by name and show an ad for stuff you really like? In fact, it’s already happening whenever you surf the internet or use social media, and personalized ads show up. Think about how much some company has to know about you to do that. Just add facial recognition and gait recognition capability to the billboards, and you’ve got a sales pitch just for you…that everyone walking nearby can also see. Watch out for the lamppost! Oops, too late. And forget about just enjoying the ambience of a neighbourhood street, because the next billboard will call out to you just as insistently, and the next, and the next. If regulators don’t prevent them, the billboards will send urgent messages to your phone telling you about the big shoe sale a block ahead. Might be kind of cool, you think? Until you get twenty such messages in a ten-minute walk to your favourite coffee shop.

Forget about movie stickers on bananas; what about when each section of orange, slice of melon, cross-section of cheese is imprinted with slogans? When your toaster etches your slice of bread with “30% Off Sale Today at…!” When your shampoo contains fluorescent glitter micro-particles that coalesce into product placements for everyone to read. So far, you’re allowed to turn your TV to a channel that doesn’t play commercials, but what about when your TV forces you to watch ad messages first whenever you turn it on?

I’ve written a novel about internet-capable brain augments. One of my speculations is that unscrupulous advertisers will figure out how to use them to directly stimulate the vision and auditory centres of the brain. Suddenly you see a giant bottle of [insert your favourite cola brand here] floating in front of your eyes and hear their latest jingle in your ears. I’ll leave you to imagine the results if it happens while you’re riding a bike, crossing a street, or about to descend some stairs.

Far-fetched, you think? Absolutely not, I promise you. We’ve already allowed ourselves to be subjected to advertising in virtually every aspect of our lives, in increasingly intrusive ways. If a method arises to directly access the minds of consumers, it will be used. Unless we act to prevent it. And I’m not talking about writing to your local politician (although it wouldn’t hurt)—it’s your money that talks. If you want to send a message to advertisers that it’s all too much, stop buying the products and services of the companies that use advertising methods you don’t like and tell them why. Shut off all the personalized advertising functions of your social media. Cancel all your rewards programs accounts. Boost privacy settings on all of your electronic devices.

I’m expecting too much, right? You like a lot of that personalized advertising, not to mention rewards points. And buying things gives you a buzz.

Yeah, I know. Which is why intrusive advertising has come this far, and will go every bit as far as we allow it to.

Do you feel the water getting hot yet?


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If I tossed out the phrase “cell network” in a conversation, you’d probably think I was talking about your smartphone. But there are plenty of networks among the living cells of your body that scientists are still learning about. I don’t mean the neurons of your brain that network to process thought and other functions, but the communication among body cells to assist each other in development, coordinate immune functions, and even cry for help.

Scientists have known for a fairly long time that cells can pass information and even “spare parts” via gap junctions (like doorways between adjacent cells) and exosomes (small packets or bundles of material that can be floated over distances), but a newer discovery called membrane nanotubes or more commonly tunneling nanotubes (TNTs) are like enclosed skywalks between buildings. They come in various thicknesses and lengths, apparently dependent on what needs to be transported and how far—from simple chemical signals, to RNA, to actual cellular mitochondria (the energy stations of cells). Even more interesting, these TNTs often seem to form in response to an injured or impaired cell’s request for assistance.

The good side is that this can help our cells keep each other healthy. The bad side is that cancer cells and other diseases know this trick too. It appears that a cancer cell under attack by therapeutic chemicals can call for help from other cancerous cells that may have developed a defense against the chemicals, or receive donations of RNA via TNT to help fix damaged parts. Prions or mis-folded proteins involved in degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s can be spread this way, too, and TNTs may also facilitate HIV infection. So finding a way to suppress the formation of TNTs might be a promising means of fighting these illnesses but because this area of research is so new and still poorly understood no one knows what kind of harm might be done to the normal processes of the body if the formation of TNTs is inhibited.

What’s the science fiction take on all this?

The more we understand our bodies’ mechanisms the better we can make them do what we want them to do. Like fight off disease. Or live for centuries without getting old.

We need to figure out how to stop cancerous cells and disease vectors from making use of TNTs for evil purposes and only permit them to be used by the good guys. When injured cells can get an assist from healthy neighbours to repair themselves, that would not only help protect us from environmental cancers on Earth but also give astronauts a much better chance to endure the radiation hazards of interplanetary travel without permanent damage. TNTs might be the best way to disseminate “super-soldier” serums to enhance muscle and bone development beyond normal human levels (think Captain America), or supercharged vitamin formulas, for that matter. With the right tweaking, damaged organs could be assisted to heal themselves, irreparable organs or even limbs might be regrown, the way some lizards are able to do. And it’s not a big stretch to imagine that healthy, younger cells could be stimulated to provide replacement mitochondria and other organelles (cellular machinery) or even RNA and DNA to other cells impaired by the effects of aging. The combination of all these techniques might extend our lifespan until it approaches immortality.

Ray Kurzweil and other proponents of a technological Singularity seem to think it’s inevitable that humans will “upload” at some point, giving up physical bodies and transferring our consciousness into digital form, or some energy equivalent. I’m not convinced. We might someday be able to, but I don’t think we’ll want to—relinquishing the sensual pleasures of a body, along with its ability to directly manipulate things around us. A consistently healthy, nearly-eternal body, possibly with superhuman capabilities, seems like a much more desirable way to go.

Stretching our imaginations still further, these inter-cellular networking and material-swapping systems might provide the means to allow humans to survive in inhospitable environments like alien planets with different atmospheric chemistries, or even underwater. They could be the key to not only escaping the tyranny of disease and time, but breaking the chains that confine us to one single, fragile planet.

Big dreams, thanks to structures only a few micrometres in size!



In Kevin Costner’s Waterworld (the 1995 movie) the Earth’s polar ice caps have melted completely, drowning the entire planet. In reality, there isn’t enough ice for that to actually happen (thank goodness, because we’re certainly doing a number on the ice we do have), but that doesn’t mean that a waterworld isn’t possible somewhere else. Even within our own solar system, giant moons like Ganymede and Europa are thought to be mostly ocean covered by ice. Elsewhere in the galaxy, a fair number of near-Earth-sized planets have been discovered that scientists believe could be substantially made of water, including Gliese 1214b and Kepler 62e. (Exoplanets are named after their parent star, with a lower case letter signifying their position among the star’s planets—“a” being the closest. These days, stars are most often named according to the sky survey and/or telescope responsible for their discovery.) A solar system thirty-nine light years from Earth known as TRAPPIST-1 is in a very favourable position to be studied, and is thought to have four waterworlds among its seven-planet roster. One of them might be composed of as much as 50% water! (Earth is only between .5% - 1.0% water.)

How do we know all this?

It’s important to explain that scientists discover exoplanets by noting the dimming of the light as the planet crosses in front of its star. Adding careful timing measurements, they can distinguish how many planets there are in the system and their orbital speeds, and determine from there the approximate sizes and masses of the planets. If the positioning is right, they can do spectrographic analysis of the star’s light passing through the planet’s atmosphere, giving them some idea of the planet’s composition. All of this data is compared to what we know about rocky planets like Earth and gas giants like Neptune. Stir the numbers all together and…voilà, an artist’s rendition complete with colours and swirling clouds and….

Well, OK, let’s just say that there’s still a fair bit of speculation involved. But they’re good guesses. So it’s reasonable to assume that a fair number of planets out there in the habitable zones of their stars (warm enough for liquid water) are really wet. That could be a good thing (on Earth water is always associated with life) or a bad thing (without land, where would life forms get minerals and other nutrients? A really deep ocean would have ice covering the bottom due to pressure, preventing material from leaching out of the ground beneath.)

The science fiction writer/futurist will say, “Aha, but who knows what forms alien life can take? Before we discovered thriving colonies of life around deep-sea hydrothermal vents we thought that all Earth life ultimately depended on photosynthesis. So there!” (We SF writers can sometimes be insufferable know-it-alls.) We’d also point out that a watery planet could be an excellent source of hydrogen for spacecraft fuel, and oxygen for, you know, breathing. Plus humans are pretty good at making floating things. As long as there are some metals and hydrocarbons around, we could readily make floating colonies that would produce food by growing algae and then farming algae-eating sea life. Underwater habitats are also cool—I’ve written about them myself. Comic books and B-movies love whole underwater cities, but there have to be very strong reasons to take on that challenge (maybe mining the materials needed for the floating colonies!) Certainly, advancements in super-strong nano-materials will make those ventures more feasible. Water planets could also provide protection against hard radiation from space, asteroid strikes, or even interplanetary war. And, dare I say it, they’re the perfect setting for pirates! (Though that is wandering across the line into fantasy.)

Even with all of this potential, I’m not aware of many science fiction stories set on or under the water on planets other than Earth, maybe because our own oceans are still enough fertile territory for the imagination. You might set me straight on that. Or you might want to take that ball and run with it yourself.

Just don’t expect anybody to make a movie of your book. Kevin’s was a bomb.



Maybe you’ve heard the news about a new organ being discovered in the human body. After all of the centuries that human anatomy has been studied, how can that be? Because of a new scientific procedure that offered a fresh perspective.

While its status as an organ is still open to debate, it’s being called the interstitium, from Latin words meaning “between places”. It’s long been known that there was a lot of fluid between our skin and our organs, around the organs, and sometimes in pockets within them. The human body is sixty percent water, after all, most of it inside cells, but not all. The rest is considered interstitial fluid—liquids in between. But a new way of looking at tissues microscopically in a living body allowed researches to discover that there’s actually a connected network of fluid-filled sacs supported by a structure of collagen fibres (the protein in skin and many connective tissues). It was never seen before because when scientists prepared microscope slides of tissues, the process allowed the fluids to leak out and the sacs collapsed (think of a punctured balloon).

The authors of the new study claim that, because these in-between collections of fluid-filled sacs are connected, they likely function collectively and should be considered an organ like any of the others. It may be that the interstitium acts as a shock absorber to protect the organs from jarring movements. One of the things we know it does is to produce lymph, the fluid associated with our immune system and the source of white blood cells that battle disease. Gaining a better understanding of the interstitium as an organ should help us to better understand how diseases and cancer spread throughout the body.

Surprise! A new organ. Who’d have thunk it?

The lesson to take from this discovery, I think, is just how much can be accomplished by looking at ordinary things in a different way. The Hungarian physiologist credited with discovering vitamin C, Albert Szent-Gyorgi, said, “Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.” Take Isaac Newton’s famous apple, for instance. For all of history people had seen things fall down. Newton was the first to wonder if all objects attract one another, and that strange idea led to our understanding of gravity.

Sometimes new technology makes the difference—the invention of the telescope is a perfect example—but even then the minds of Galileo and Copernicus had to make a leap that went against established thought. Dozens of inventions began with some kind of fortunate accident, but it took a flexible human mind to see the potential of the accidental result and turn it into something useful. (According to some, perhaps half of all discoveries involve something completely serendipitous.)

Scientific researchers and inventors may advance knowledge by seeing potential when things accidentally occur, but there’s one field of professionals who deliberately work to see the abnormal in normal things, and follow all of the implications.

Science fiction writers.

We ask the “what if” questions, and “if so, what then” and “what comes next?” It’s called “world-building” and “plot outlining” and just plain “daydreaming”. We’re not crazy, we just look at things in a different way. Properly harnessed, that can be a powerful force for good in the world. SF writers have sometimes been gathered together for temporary brain trusts involving specific subjects, but maybe it’s time for some farsighted CEO’s or political leaders to hire full-time teams of SF writers as advisors and analysts to describe the potential of technological developments or the possible implications of policy decisions.

Although, I guess there is another way to benefit from our specialized outlook.

Take a credit card to your favourite SFF bookstore and stock up.