THE THIRD COLLECTION IN THE BEYOND SERIES

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.

BEYOND: TIME NOW AVAILABLE

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.

Hurricane

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.

 

BEYOND: THE STARS VOLUME ONE OF THE SERIES IS HERE!

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.

Enjoy!

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

COMING SOON

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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!

HOW FAR WILL ADVERTISING GO?

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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?

THE CELL NETWORK INSIDE YOU

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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!

BEHOLD THE WATERWORLD

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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.

LOOKING AT THINGS IN A DIFFERENT WAY

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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.

MAPPING YOUR BRAIN WILL BE THE LAST THING YOU DO

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In my last blog post I mentioned a new company that will sell you transfusions of a young person’s blood in an effort to gain some of their youth. OK, think of it as yet another “out there” rejuvenation treatment, but nobody gets hurt (if you can afford the $8000). But now a company called Nectome is offering to preserve a perfect copy of your brain. All it will cost you is $10,000…and your life.

Actually, the ten grand is a deposit to get on the waiting list—I’m not sure what the final price tag will be because the factory won’t be up and running for a few more years. But the “life” part, that is final. You see, their process embalms the brain with a fluid that preserves it as a glass copy, perfect in microscopic detail down to the last neural synapse (which can be seen with an electron microscope—they've already done it with the brain of a pig). And it has to be done while you’re still alive—the embalming process is what kills you.

Creeped out yet?

They’re counting on getting their business in states that allow assisted suicide, because that’s basically what it is. At least twenty-five people have already forked over the money.

So why would anyone do this? Well it’s like having your brain frozen, hoping some future generation will figure out how to revive you (and want to). Except, in this case, the glassified brain itself can’t be revived—the hope is that future scientists will be able to use the “brain map” to make a perfect digitized copy, at which point (they hope) your consciousness will find new life inside a computer environment. It’s called “uploaded consciousness”: digitizing your mind on hard drive media or the cloud. You won’t have a body, but you won’t have the drawbacks of one either (like dying).

Personally, I give this plan an unequivocal two thumbs down. I’ve been reading a lot about consciousness lately because the newest novel I’m working on is all about that and, the thing is, nobody knows what consciousness is. There are dozens of theories, and in the search for that elusive answer a huge amount has been learned about how the brain works. There’s a broad assumption that there’s a link between consciousness and the complexity of a brain, but that’s all it is—an assumption. There are also many researchers who believe that chimpanzees, cats, dogs, octopuses…even plants have some level of consciousness. And there’s absolutely no definitive evidence that the exact layout of your brain cells’ network connections (called the “connectome”, hence the company’s name) will automatically produce consciousness.

We know that it’s possible to turn consciousness off through the use of anaesthetic drugs, but we don’t even know exactly how they do that. Different anaesthetics work on different parts of the brain, so it seems there are numerous ways to interrupt consciousness, but that doesn’t enable researchers to point the finger at exactly which aspects of the brain make consciousness happen. The only theory I know of that offers an actual mechanism behind consciousness involves quantum theory and proposes that consciousness is a property of the universe as much as gravity and light, and somehow our brains are able to tap into the universal “proto-consciousness”. (It’s called Orch-OR and it’s way too complicated to explain here, but I kind of like it.) However, there’s no proof that any electronic construction could ever become conscious. In fact, the only reason people talk about “uploading consciousness” at all is because of the current popular assumption that our brains are like computers, and once we can create digital computers that can perform as many computational processes as our brains at equivalent speeds, voilà: computer consciousness arises like the Lady of the Lake.

It ain’t necessarily so. People once compared the brain to a telegraph switching station because it was the information processing technology they knew.

A world-wide consortium of researchers has simulated the 302 neuron ‘brain’ of a round worm called C elegans with great precision. Unfortunately the simulated C elegans just lies there—they can’t prod it into doing anything on its own. And even they wouldn’t argue that a worm is conscious. But if, with hugely powerful computers, they can’t make a working simulation of a brain that has only 302 neurons (compared to the hundred billion in the human brain), I have to think that something’s missing. I’m convinced that consciousness requires a whole range of processes, some of which we may never understand. The connectome of the brain is just one piece.

Even if we are someday able to upload consciousness (I am a science fiction writer, after all) Nectome, and the cryo-preservation companies like it, all presuppose that future generations will want to go to the trouble of reviving dead people from 2018. Why would they, except for, perhaps, a little anthropological curiosity about our life and times? Considering the yottabytes of information we’re producing on the internet, I’m sure one or two former-humans would be enough to fill in any gaps. If you’re Elon Musk or Donald trump, they might be interested in you (for vastly different reasons), but just another average millionaire with more money than you know what to do with…? Probably not.

So if endless selfies aren’t enough for you, and you’ve always wanted your grandchildren to have a molecularly-correct glass copy of your brain as a paperweight, then go ahead and spend the money. Just don’t expect it to make you immortal.

IS YOUNG BLOOD THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH?

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We can never know who was the first elder to wonder whether a dose of blood from somebody younger could make them young again, but I’ll bet it was near the dawn of the human race. In those days eating the victim was probably the preferred technique. Vampire mythology linked drinking blood with immortality and, of course, there was the infamous Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory who supposedly bathed in the blood of young girls (though those stories probably aren’t true). But this is 2018—we can get a blood transfusion instead.

A recent episode of the CBC science program “Quirks & Quarks” included an interview with Dr. Saul Villeda, who’s been following up on earlier research into blood-swapping in mice. The process is called parabiosis and there was some promising research in the 1970’s which showed that the vital organs and brains of older mice could be rejuvenated when the mice were surgically joined to young mice and shared the same blood. After waning in popularity, the procedure has had a resurgence in the past decade with equally encouraging results and a strong focus on learning the chemical mechanisms involved. After all, if the blood of young mice can help the regrowth of muscle and liver cells, repair damaged spinal cords, enhance the growth of new brain cells, and even make the old mice’s fur shinier, think of the implications if this could work in humans. A clinical trial involving Alzheimer patients is not yet complete, but you can imagine the excitement a positive result would bring.

Various studies have attributed the benefits to the hormone oxytocin (levels in our bodies naturally decline with age), as well as a protein called growth differentiation factor 11 and, in Villeda’s research, to another protein called Tet2. There are probably others. Most of these substances seem to do their work by activating the body’s stem cells (generic cells that can become specialized cells as needed) and by making changes to cellular DNA. It’s important to note that identifying the active components removes the need to use actual blood to get the benefits. Compounds could be synthesized in laboratories. Studies have already shown that blood plasma is effective enough without using whole blood.

But science fiction writers ask, what if…?

What if it became widely confirmed that young blood was like a fountain of youth for older people? You can get a hint from a San Francisco & Tampa company called Ambrosia—they’re conducting clinical research offering patients blood transfusions from young donors for the price of $8,000 per litre or $12,000 for two litres in an outpatient treatment they say takes about two hours. Their study results haven’t been published yet, but so far they claim, “Our patients have reported improvements in areas such as energy, memory, and skin quality.”

For now, it’s just a metaphor that the ultra-wealthy of the world are “bloodsuckers, feeding on the poor”, but that could literally come true. The rich might buy perpetual youth and longer life from those who need to sell their very blood to buy food. And that’s the rosier scenario. Something tells me that a black market wouldn’t take long to develop. Criminal elements would get involved. Blood “donors” might be unwilling victims, assaulted or killed for their young blood.

SF writers before me have imagined societies where “organ-legging” is a widespread criminal activity keeping the wealthy in replacement organs when their own fail. What if the contraband is blood? Will we have a completely stratified society between a nearly immortal elite and an underclass with venous catheters installed at birth? Will Hollywood depend on a blood ghetto to keep its stars beautiful? What would the long-term effect of such things be on the human gene pool? And how long would it take before someone tried to use such methods to create a super race?

My opinion? Better to give these researchers lots of funding so they can find the chemicals involved and replicate them in factories, rather than wait until the blood of our young people becomes a hot commodity.