Filtered for radioactive cats

11.39, Tuesday 2 Jun 2015


Question. If you bury radioactive waste and need to warn people to stay away from the land for 10,000 years, how do you do it – basically how do you construct a message that lasts longer than humans have been living in cities?

Answer from 1981: cats and songs.

Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems. They may morph over time, but an essential message can get pulled through over millennia. They proposed that we genetically engineer a species of cat that changes color in the presence of radiation, which would be released into the wild to serve as living Geiger counters. Then, we would create folklore and write songs and tell stories about these “ray cats,” the moral being that when you see these cats change colors, run far, far away.


The Green Man is often related to natural vegetative deities.

The Green Man appears in many forms, with the three most common types categorized as: the Foliate Head: completely covered in green leaves; the Disgorging Head: spews vegetation from its mouth; the Bloodsucker Head: sprouts vegetation from all facial orifices (e.g. tear ducts, nostrils and mouth)


Traditional rhymes for counting sheep vary region by region. This is how to count to 10 in Derbyshire:

  • Yan
  • Tan
  • Tethera
  • Methera
  • Pip
  • Sethera
  • Lethera
  • Hovera
  • Dovera
  • Dick


Greg Egan - author of the hardest of hard sci-fi - has a particular take on science fiction:

I’m interested in science as a subject in its own right, just as much as I’m interested in the effects of technology on the human condition. In many things I write the two will be combined, but even then it’s important to try to describe the science accurately. In a novel such as Incandescence, though, the entire point is understanding the science, and it really doesn’t bother me in the least that it’s not an exploration of the human condition.

There are times when it’s worth putting aside the endless myopic navel-gazing that occupies so much literature, in order to look out at the universe itself and value it for what it is.

Fuck yeah. Incandescence is a crazy novel because - although it’s set up by the short story Riding the Crocodile which is a great story in its own right - it barely has any story: It’s really about the discovery of physics and its implications from the perspective of a society living (unknowingly) close to a black hole, in the realm where General Relativity dominates over Newtonian physics.

It’s hard going, but it’s a book of unfolding implications. Like Neal Stephenson’s new novel Seveneves (review) which is barely a story, and more like a rigorous proof-by-deduction of what would happen if the Moon blew up.

What I love about this - aside from the de-pedestaling of story, and managing to escape that particular tyranny - is the novels can walk you into a deep understanding of accurate-but-nonintuitive natural systems. It seems to me that I think by applying metaphors - by pattern recognition - this is how the world works, this is what feels familiar. Physics gives me a richer set of metaphors: I believe I’m a stronger thinker for having encountered Cooper pairs. Post Seveneves I find myself applying the metaphor of orbital mechanics to, let’s say, personal brand – just idly, not rigorously, but Stephenson’s novel has given me the beginnings of a new intuition to test out.

And there’s a joy in the process of learning and encountering. So why shouldn’t science fiction be fiction about science and the scientific method itself? Egan’s bang-on, even if it’s at times difficult. Or honestly: blimmin tedious… but in a good way. More power to his elbow.

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