Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ten of the most ludicrous depictions of evolution in science fiction history

At io9, Alasdair Wilkins came up with a list of the most ludicrous depictions of evolution in science fiction history.

One novel on the list, which is dominated by movies and television shows:
Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear

In fairness to Greg Bear, the premise of Darwin's Radio made a little more sense when he wrote it back in 1999. The book heavily depends on introns, non-coding DNA sequences that are actually the remnants of ancient viruses. These viruses are then activated, supposedly as some sort of evolutionary response to modify humans or just reduce the overcrowding on Earth. These ancient genes create what is essentially a biology-rewriting STD, which males spread to females when they conceive a child. Like I said, this made a little more sense back in 1999, when there was still some thought that non-coding DNA really did hold relics of ancient genes, but now we're pretty much certain that's not what this so-called junk DNA is.

Anyway, the actual pregnancy is then radically unlike anything we now experience, as the first, severely deformed fetus is miscarried after a couple months, leaving behind an egg with fifty-two chromosomes, six more than humans have. The parents themselves begin to physically change in preparation for caring for this entirely new form of human. All of this is bundled up in the notion of the titular "Darwin's radio", which itself is a new form of evolution that allows any species that possesses it - in this case, humans - to rapidly change their genome in response to a crisis, making them better at evolving than other species. This is explained as evolution itself evolving, which just about makes sense in the context of a science fiction novel, but doesn't really make any sense if assessed from a more strictly scientific perspective.
Read about a short story that made the list.

--Marshal Zeringue