Kage Baker followed science news. Most science fiction writers do. They follow the cutting edge to determine what new thing is being carved out. They are constantly learning and analyzing, and only partly in a search for interesting tidbits that spark a story. The other reason is that most of them care avidly about what science is up to. They are the engaged and informed public for whom science directors and outreach coordinators long, and to whom so much PBS scheduling and museum programs are directed: but it’s all preaching to the choir. These people already care, and have learned to go after the interesting news themselves.
Kage combed several sites online on a daily basis (the convenience of the internet for authorial research cannot be exaggerated). We read magazines like Scientific American and Discover. Kage also subscribed to a small, eccentric clipping service (me) that read through new articles and releases and sent her memos on potentially interesting topics. I love to read; I love to read especially in the biological sciences; and I love to then lecture a captive audience on the fascinating advances in, say, dinosaur taxonomy. Or the current antics of the Large Hadron Collider, which so far is the poster child for the axiom: If we knew what to expect we wouldn’t have to ask the question. Or the interesting idea that the human immune system can not only produce thousands of customized substances, but also declare any one of them anathema; Kage wrote a story about a poor fellow who develops an allergy to his own mRNA and thus must forever seek novelty lest familiarity drive him mad (Facts Relating To The Arrest of Dr. Kalugin).
Obviously, for many reasons, I still peruse all these sources daily. (I have a couple of fascinating new books on mass extinctions waiting to be read; I know there is a story there.) Today the journal Natural Genetics published an article describing the breaking of the genetic code of the apple! True, they used a Golden Delicious, which only yestreday I maligned as being boring; but as the gateway to the genetic history of the noble apple, even that icon of lunchbox ennui is interesting. They already have found that at some point in its history, the apple apparently duplicated its entire genome – think of all the room in there! No wonder there are 7,500 varieties of apple!
Apples are from Kazakhstan. Apparently apples, like so many of civilization’s arts and crafts, arose in the Mideast. Along with farming and pottery and beer and writing and the domestication of the goat … raise a toast to human ingenuity, kids. Swig some apple beer from a ceramic mug in its honor, and go pick some ripe tomatoes from your backyard or patio. And pet a goat. It’s all research; research into how we are human, and how we stay that way. Or not …
Tomorrow: The Bus. Maybe.