#IWSG: I Wish I Were a Cyborg

Hello, friends, and welcome to another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  Do you feel insecure about your writing?  Are you looking for support?  Then this might be the right group for you!  Click here to learn more!

Each month, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group offers an optional question, something to help get these I.W.S.G. posts started.  This month’s question has to do with secrets.  What secrets do we writers have that our readers would never know based on our work?

At the moment, my biggest secret is that I’m suffering from a bad case of imposter syndrome.  My first book is coming out pretty soon.  In fact, it comes out tomorrow.  I worked really hard on it, and… well, I just hope people like it.

But what if they don’t!?!  Oh no!  People will think I’m a hack writer, a fraud, or something equally reprehensible!!!

A lot of my friends, both online and in real life, have been congratulating me and telling me how excited I must feel.  And yes, I do feel excited.  But I’m feeling other emotions as well.  There’s a cyborg character in my book who can select which emotions he wants to experience and which emotions he does not.  He can turn his emotions on and off with the flick of a switch.

I wish I could do that.  I’d leave my excitement running and switch everything else off.  But I’m no cyborg.  I’m only human, and being human is not so easy.  The best I can do is set those other emotions aside with the promise that I will deal with them later.  In the meantime, I need to keep blogging.  I need to keep marketing my work.  And above all else, I need to keep writing, because this book that comes out tomorrow—that book is just the beginning.

P.S.: For those of you who may be interested, my book is a novella-length Sci-Fi adventure story entitled The Medusa Effect.  It’s the first in a series of novella-length Sci-Fi stories about a journalist who travels through time, covering the galaxy’s biggest news stories before they happen.  Click here to buy the book on Amazon, or you can read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

Cognis (Tomorrow News Network: A to Z)

Hello, friends, and welcome to day three of the A to Z Challenge.  For this year’s challenge, I’m telling you a little more about the universe of Tomorrow News Network, my upcoming Sci-Fi adventure series.  In today’s post, C is for:

COGNIS

Dear readers, I know some of you are fellow writers, so today I’m going to offer you some writing advice.  You know those abandoned manuscripts and story ideas you have collecting dust?  You know all those writing projects that just didn’t work out the way you wanted?  They don’t have to go to waste.  Think of them, instead, as a resource to be used for future writing projects.

Way back when I was an angsty teenager, I wrote a short story about a cyborg named E.K. Cognis.  Being a cyborg, Mr. Cognis had no emotions, but he was curious about what emotions might be like.  So Cognis and a fellow cyborg named K.T. Macnera downloaded a bunch of emotions into their brains. It was a profoundly mind-altering, mind-expanding experience.

As I said, I was an angsty teenager.  Downloadable emotions were supposed to be a metaphor for drug use.  Initially, Mr. Cognis and Ms. Macnera only wanted to “experiment” with emotions, but it’s not long before they become addicted.  After that, their status as upstanding members of cyborg society deteriorates rapidly.

This may be the single worst story I’ve ever written, a case of a young writer trying way too hard to be edgy.  The original story may or may not be saved on a floppy disk somewhere.  I will likely never find it, and I’m okay with that.

But when I started work on my Tomorrow News Network series, I soon realized that my main character—time traveling journalist Talie Tappler—would need a cameraman.  And when I thought of Mr. Cognis, I realized I had a character already made and ready to slip right into that role.

Cognis’s ongoing addiction to emotions creates plenty of opportunities for both humor and conflict in the Tomorrow News Network stories.  So does his complicated relationship with Ms. Macnera, who now works for T.N.N. as an assignment editor.

Tomorrow News Network has salvaged a great many concepts and characters from my old, abandoned stories.  Mr. Cognis was only the first. Story scavenging (as I like to call it) has made the process of creating a whole new Sci-Fi universe so much easier.  So don’t feel bad if you have some old, abandoned story ideas that never worked out.  Treat them as resources that can be used for building your next story world.

Next time on Tomorrow News Network: A to Z, turning the World Wide Web into the Galaxy Wide Web is far easier said than done.

Sciency Words: Somaforming

Hello, friends, and welcome once again to Sciency Words.  Each week, we take a closer look at some new and interesting scientific term so we can expand our scientific vocabularies together.  This week’s Sciency Word is:

SOMAFORMING

I’d like to begin this post with a quote.  This comes from the 2019 Sci-Fi novella To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers.  As the protagonist of that book explains, we humans are a remarkably versatile species, able to adapt to pretty much any environment—or at least any environment Earth has to offer.

But take us away from our home planet, and our adaptability vanishes.  Extended spaceflight is hell on the human body.  No longer challenged by gravity, bones and muscles quickly begin to stop spending resources on maintaining mass.  The heart gets lazy in pumping blood.  The eyeball changes shape, causing vision problems and headaches.  Unpleasant as these ailments are, they pale in comparison to the onslaught of radiation that fills the seeming void.

I have rarely seen the dangers of human spaceflight so artfully or so succinctly explained as in this book.

Even before Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, scientists knew space would be rough on the human body.  They did not know specifically what might go wrong, but they knew there would be trouble.  The obvious solution is to create an environment that is safe and comfortable for human beings.

But as early as 1960, some scientists were considering an alternative solution.  Rather than creating space environments that are suitable for human life, why not modify human life to be suitable for the environment of space?  This was the idea proposed by American research scientists Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline in their 1960 paper “Cyborgs and Space.”

Clynes and Kline proposed some rather drastic surgical changes to the human body.  They make it sound quite easy.  Just rip out a bunch of internal organs.  Replace those organs with synthetic parts.  Pump the patient/astronaut full of drugs and use hypnosis to suppress any psychological issues that might come up during or after the process.  And now you have a human being who’s ready to go to space!  Or you have a human being who’s dead on the operating room table.  One, or the other!

Clynes and Kline introduced the word “cyborg” to describe the half-human/half-machine person they proposed to create.  What Becky Chambers describes in To Be Taught, If Fortunate sounds a little bit safer and a lot less dehumanizing.  And Chambers introduces a new term to describe the transformation her characters undergo: somaforming.  The word is created by analogy with the word terraforming, with the Greek root word “terra” (Earth) being replaced with the Greek root word “soma” (body).

As the protagonist of To Be Taught, If Fortunate explains it, human space explorers come as guests, not conquerers.  The age of colonialism is long behind us. And being good guests, we don’t want to demand too much of our hosts or cause our hosts too much trouble.  To quote Chambers’ book once more: “I have no interest in changing other worlds to suit me.  I choose the lighter touch: changing myself to suit them.”

And I think that is a wonderful sentiment!

As far as I can tell, the word somaforming has not yet been picked up by the scientific community.  But plenty of words from science fiction have been adopted by scientists.  I have a suspicion that this is going to be one of those words.

Next time on Planet Pailly: Oh no!  I made a mistake in an old blog post, and I need to issue a retraction!

Cyber-Attorneys at Law

Today’s story was directly inspired by a bit of research I did for Sciency Words. In 1960, American researchers Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline coined the word cyborg.  There’s just… there’s something about those names—Clynes and Kline—they just sound so right together….

So, cyborgs could cry.  Marcus hadn’t known that, but Neo-Marcus (as he’d been instructed to call himself) was discovering this truth for himself.  He could cry.  Not as humans cried, of course.  His tear ducts had been removed along with his natural eyes, but all the rest—the heart palpitations, the uneven breathing, and all the other quivering spasms of grief—cyborgs could still do those things, it seemed.

Was it Marcus’s fault that he had died?  Was it Marcus’s fault that, upon his death, he’d been in so much debt that the corporate controllers had ordered him to be brought back to life?  The med-techs had done a budget job, as they called it, with only the most basic augmentations; but still, the process had cost another 20K credits. Another 20K added to Marcus’s debt total.  Another 20K that Neo-Marcus would now have to pay back.

And how was he supposed to do that if he couldn’t find work? It had been the same at every employment directory thus far.  The receptionists were always polite, but obviously nervous.  “Sorry, we’re not hiring!” they’d say before quickly ushering Neo-Marcus out the door.

The advertisement feed was still running in the corner of Neo-Marcus’s vision.  He’d muted the sound, but he couldn’t afford the fee to have the feed turned off completely.  But now there was an ad playing that caught Marcus’s attention, and he gave the mental command to turn the audio back on.

“Have you been denied housing, employment, or other standard services due to your cybernetic augmentations?  You do have rights.  Contact Clynes and Kline, cyber-attorneys at law, for a free consultation.  We know what you’re going through.  We’ve been there ourselves, and we can help.”  

Before the advertisement had even ended, Neo-Marcus had pulled up the messenger app on his visual display.  As a human, he’d never taken those sorts of legal ads seriously.  But now, as a cyborg, he needed help.  He needed hope.  He needed anything he could get.

Tattoos of the Future

Tattoos have a long and distinguished history among humans.  In ancient times, they represented power or spiritual authority.  Today they have special significance to the people who wear them.  But in the future, a tattoo may be more than just body art.  It could also serve a practical purpose.

Nokia recently patented a special magnetic material that can be “tattooed” onto your skin.  This material would vibrate when you get a call on your cell phone.  This could be especially helpful in a future where tiny cell phones might be implanted in our ears.  It could also be the first step in turning the human race into cyborgs.  For more on Nokia’s cell phone tattoo, click here.

Even if you don’t want cybernetic tattoos, your doctor might give you a prescription for one.  Researchers have developed a medical tattoo that can monitor glucose levels as they rise and fall.  For people with diabetes, it certainly sounds better to get a glucose monitoring tattoo than having to stick yourself with a needle multiple times per day.  For more on medical tattoos, click here.

No one said tattoos have to be on your skin.  You can also tattoo your teeth, and with a sophisticated dental tattoo made from graphene, your tooth tattoo can monitor the bacterial levels in your mouth.  Graphene is a carbon structure similar to graphite, but much stronger and capable of some unusual electrical properties.  At the moment, it’s ridiculously expensive, but as graphene production gets cheaper you can expect your dentist to offer this product in the future.  However, I doubt I’d ever get one.  Something about combining tattooing with dentistry is just too scary.  For more information, click here.

Cybernetics is an uncomfortable topic.  No one wants to end up like the Borg from Star Trek, with complex, artificial limbs and weird devices stuck to our heads.  But the cyborg revolution might be a little more stylish with the help of a few good tattoo artists.  Maybe you could have your glucose monitor in the shape of a butterfly and your cell phone vibrator could be a Celtic cross.