Book Review: What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black, Gregory E. Pence (2016)

Friday, May 20th, 2016

A fascinating look at the science behind Orphan Black.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Bioethics is one of today’s most exciting new fields. Orphan Black is one of the most exciting shows on television. Bioethics explores ethical issues in medicine and science. Orphan Black dramatizes ethical issues in medicine and science. What could be more appropriate than a marriage of the two?

Even casual fans of BBC America’s hit television show Orphan Black have no doubt wondered about the science that drives the plot: How much does the show get right, and where does reality diverge from the fictional world of our favorite sestra orphans? What are the moral and legal implications of cloning? Is it possible to own a person – or a piece of one, in the form of DNA patenting? If the Ledas (and Castors) share the same basic building blocks of life, how could they look, behave, and think so differently? What (if anything) does the creators’ choice to write Cosima as a lesbian, and Tony as a trans man, say about the idea that gender identity and sexual orientations are “lifestyle choices”? (Spoiler alert: it’s not what you think.) How does cloning fit into the history of eugenics, and how does the show acknowledge this connection? WTF is the Castors’ malfunction?

Well, wonder no more. Bioethicist and fellow Clone Club member Gregory E. Pence has got us covered. In What We Talk About When We Talk About Clone Club: Bioethics and Philosophy in Orphan Black, he examines the science and ethics of the show, giving us a greater understanding of both genetics and bioethics – and our favorite science fiction drama.

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Book Review: Project Utopia: A Novella, Pam Mosbrucker (2013)

Friday, February 28th, 2014

What just happened?

two out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’s First Reads program. Also, this is not a spoiler-free review.)

Based on previous Goodreads reviews, I had high hopes for this novella. Or moderate expectations, at the very least.

The seed of the idea that forms the root of the story is certainly promising: Some time in the not-so-distant future (2075, to be precise), scientists have developed a biochip that will potentially face of humanity. With a name like “Project Utopia,” you’d expect this advancement to be downright revolutionary – curing all disease and eradicating poverty, for example – only not so much. Among its many functions is the ability to store vast amounts of information (thus eliminating the need for passports, drivers licenses, and the like) and dispense medications remotely. Convenient, yes – but hardly utopian. And it’s not difficult to see how such tools could easily be misused: for example, medications might be dispensed without the patient’s consent, thus enabling the forcible medication of those with mental illnesses, or allowing the government to prevent reproduction in certain “undesirable” citizens via involuntary contraception.

Some of the biochip’s controls are downright dystopian: from anywhere in the world, and with just a few keystrokes, a programmer can command a biochip to make its host fall asleep, turn himself in to the nearest police station, enter quarantine – or die. Yup, there’s a kill function. I’m sure that the higher-ups at Intelli Inc aren’t exactly advertising that last advantage, but still. Common sense, people.

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Book Review: Blackout (The Newsflesh Trilogy #3), Mira Grant (2012)

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Zombie Bears, Human Clones, State-Sponsored Bioterrorism — and Twincest?

four out of five stars

(Caution: spoilers ahead!)

Halfway through Deadline, when reluctant hero Shaun addressed his lover by his dead sister’s name (post-coitus!), I groaned. Audibly. Please dear zombie Jesus, I thought, don’t go all Dexter on me now. That would just be stupid. Well, prepare to get stupid.

The final book in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, Blackout picks up shortly after the events of Deadline: with Shaun and the remaining members of the After the End Times team camping out at mad scientist Dr. Shannon Abbey’s illicit lab in Shady Cove, Oregon (population: the walking dead), while sister Georgia inexplicably awakes from death inside a CDC lab in nearby Seattle. Also known as “Subject 139b,” Shaun’s just discovered that he’s immune to the Kellis-Amberlee virus, quite possibly from nearly two and a half decades of constant exposure to the virus via Georgia’s retinal KA reservoir condition. The newest subject of Dr. Abbey’s scientific curiosity (read: poking and prodding), the invasions visited upon Shaun are nothing compared to the atrocities the CDC has inflicted upon his sister. Or, perhaps more accurately, George’s genetic line.

One of many Georgia Mason clones (some of them failed and destroyed, with the few successes waiting in the wings like so many benched players), this Georgia Mason – Subject 7c – is a 97% cognitive match to the original Georgia. She’s the “showroom model”: a pony to parade in front of the investors who financed her resurrection. “Street model” Georgia 8b is just 44% authentic. Unlike the “real” Georgia Mason, she’s pliable, obedient, and easy to control; she’s the Georgia the CDC means to deliver to Shaun. Only not if 7C – and her allies within the Epidemic Intelligence Service – can help it.

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