Lillian Cohen-Moore and Elizabeth Thorne
Part of this Ghosts in the IM thing is for me to get to know writers a little better. So for people I already know I decided to share the love and match them up with other writers I thought they should know better. Our first conversation is with two of my very good friends and devoted Beta Readers. They have similar senses of humor and both do a lot of health-related non-fiction writing, so it made a lot of sense to have them get to know each other a little better. I’m sure this will eventually cause me consternation when they gang up on me, but for now I’m very happy to bring you their conversation.
Elizabeth Thorne: Is it time to commence nerding? Well, joint nerding.
Lillian Cohen-Moore: Yes!
LCM: It is sunny and the sky is full of lightning today. Oh, Seattle.
ET: The town that regularly thumbs its nose at weather physics. We have a delightful drizzle going. I just went for a walk in it and the cool water is a nice antidote to the hot sticky.
LCM: I’m hoping the “rain” part of “rain and lighting and thunder” part arrives later. It tried its best this morning but it managed about 10 minutes of rain before it stopped.
ET: That was terribly inconsiderate of it
ET: Promise rain, deliver rain. Sadly, the weather gods do not offer refunds. Retribution, sure. Refunds? Never. Terrible customer service. To be fair, I rarely offer human sacrifices, so I probably can’t complain.
LCM: Y’know, that seems to be a theme with deities in general. Human sacrifices or no.
ET: Its true. Human pantheons are far less responsive than most call centers, even bad ones.
LCM: Truly, the tragedy of humankind. That and we created Twinkies.
ET: Both are eternal and eternally disappointing although I don’t think most gods have a creamy center. Not that I’ve checked.
LCM: We should probably avoid that. Goodness only knows what would happen if you ate a deity.
ET: To be fair, I haven’t checked with Twinkies either. They’ve always scared me.If their powers are like prions? Terrifying
LCM: Oh Lord. That’s fearsome in its awfulness to contemplate.
ET: Although it vaguely reminds me of the first season of Heroes
LCM: I’m so glad I hadn’t made a cup of cocoa yet, I’d have dropped my mug. That first season was honestly terrifying. Going around eating people for their power.
ET: It was incredibly squicky, and I couldn’t stop watching. Half the time I wanted to hide under the table, but I couldn’t stop watching.
LCM: I felt the same way. That first season was so good.
ET: Really effective storytelling. And then there was the second season… and I stopped watching.
LCM: Yeeeah, I mic dropped around there too. It reminded me some of Continuum, with the strong first season, really uneven second season deal.
ET: I’m just starting the second episode of the second season of that!
LCM: Well, Continuum would remind me of it, since it came after. OMG THAT SHOW I LOVE THAT SHOW
ET: I LOVE THAT SHOW TOO
ET: Warren kept telling me to watch it. Then I had to apologize to him when I finally did, because I wished I’d seen it sooner.
LCM: I adore the first season so much. I thought it was interesting how they took so many typically male archetypes, and gave it to a female character. The former military turned cop, the spouse who just wants to get back to their family.
ET: I hate having to tell him he’s right 🙂 That’s what I love about it too. She’s a strong protagonist who happens to be female. As opposed to a strong female protagonist.
LCM: And she’s allowed to cry, which is a bonus.
Kiera’s really human, and well rounded, which is nice to see in sci-fi.
ET: Yup. She feels like a real person. Although I just started running a Bechdel test in my head I think the show passes, but not necessarily on an episode by episode basis.
LCM: I think that’s forgivable in episodic format, though.
ET: Although there is the female tech officer as well, which helps. I think it is too. It feels like a very feminist show, in many ways. And you have female and male villains. People of color. Age variation in main characters. It’s a well rounded universe.
LCM: It’s on my go-to list a lot lately, when people ask me what media I’ve seen that
captures a lot of the cyberpunk genre. It may not be as glitzy-neon as some cyberpunk, but I think it touches on a lot of the other elements.
ET: And the science in the fiction doesn’t usually make me glare at the screen. Which, to be fair, happens more with bio-based shows than technology shows. The one that came out last year, with the CDC in Alaska, made me want to strangle the authors. They started out with the classic epidemiology story about John Snow, and then the science quickly went downhill from there. Helix! It was called Helix.
LCM: I’ve been doing some writing recently for a cyberpunk RPG, and when I explained where the tsunami and earthquakes in the setting came from to a friend who’s a planetary geologist she just breeeeeathed, looked up at the ceiling, exclaimed “THAT IS HIGHLY IMPROBABLE!”
ET: nod Highly improbable I can live with. It’s outright impossible that makes me nuts.
LCM: Yes! I’m trying to think of the last impossible thing I watched.
ET: You can’t look at the structure of DNA at the scale at which they were looking at it and see sequence variations.
LCM: Oh lord.
ET: Yeah. As I’ve aged into my science degrees, I’ve started to understand why my father, who was a laywer, could never watch legal dramas.
LCM: I could imagine that’s a peculiar brand of hell.
ET: I can suspend my disbelief. I can’t leave it hanging in midair without a net.
Or a tether, which is more relevant to that analogy.
LCM: Right. It’s so weird, though, that our estimation of the impossible is changing so dramatically the older we get. When I was a kid, I hoped for really cool science like on sci-fi shows, but figured we’d never get there. But I’m typing on a laptop, which seemed impossibly
beyond reach, in terms of tech and cost when I was 8.
ET: And Top Gear made hovercars! I mean, they didn’t work particularly well, but they made them. My mom and I decided a while back that, in the biological sciences, the technology to do something automatically takes 6 months less time than writing a thesis while doing it the hard way.
LCM: That makes sense.
ET: Only because three of her students could have done the entire first 5 years of their Ph.D. research in the last 6 months when things like automatic sequencers became
available. I like to call them automagic.
LCM: That’s a beautiful term. I’ve spent a lot of time with fiction and games work this year around my medical writing, and it feels…spooky? The march of technologic progress we’re seeing. I’m starting to feel like sci-fi RPGs are dress rehearsals.
ET: Yeah. It’s a little creepy sometimes how fast progress moves in medicine. The stuff we can do today is astounding.
LCM: It feels a bit Pandoric. That sense that there’s no putting all this stuff back in the box, and we have to forgive out things in-process.
ET: And sometimes I read research papers and feel like I’ve stepped into a novel. We could certainly benefit from more projection out of the possible ethical implications of things.
Because while science fiction is good at evaluating how not all progress is good, we’re not as good at it in the real world. I spend a lot of time writing about the downsides of progress in cancer screening. Just because we can do things, doesn’t mean we should. However, as soon as the technology exists… Pandoric indeed.
LCM: My first year as a reporter, I got put on a couple of health stories by the paper I was at. This was four years ago. When one of the women I was interviewing found out I was Jewish, she asked if I was going to get tested for BRCA mutations. And I was floored.
ET: That’s a rather personal question.
LCM: Yeaaah. And outside that, deciding whether or not to go for that screening is a big decision. I don’t feel like I’d benefit from that decision, particularly since finding out isn’t exactly something that makes all that comes after easier. But I’ve interviewed women who got mastectomies after they came up with BRCA mutations in testing.
ET: Yeah. There’s a horrible radio show that airs out here that was talking about prophylactic double mastectomies after Angelina Jolie got hers. And while I think it can be a reasoned choice, for some women, I also think there are many women who don’t understand that mutation does not mean cancer.
ET: It’s hard to make good decision about risks even when you understand the science. There was a great NPR story the other day about making visual representations of health risks in order to help patients make better decisions.
LCM: That sounds amazing.
ET: It’s a pilot program that they said they were hoping to roll out to broader populations. I thought it sounded brilliant. It shows that halving your risk isn’t that big a deal if your risk is already tiny. It sounds like an amazing thing, but numerically significant isn’t always life significant.
ET: I also feel very strongly about the need to destigmatize the word cancer.
LCM: I’d be relieved if we could get to that point.
ET: I’m now sitting here thinking about ways to use sci-fi to make cancer less scary.
LCM: Be an excellent application.
ET: People choosing to inject themselves with an oncogenic substance because some fraction of them will also develop some interesting positive mutation. They’ll all get cancer, as well, but for many of them it will be entirely treatable. And then don’t focus the story on the few who die!
LCM: 😀 That’s a story to put on your to-do list of acts of fiction to commit before you die.
ET: It’s such a weird to do list! And much of it comes from twitter. And weird conversations like this one.
LCM: I think talking to people online is one of the best sparks for inspiration. If only because the chance at widespread new things hitting your brain is so much higher on the internet than most daily living.
ET: Oh yes. Anything to shake up the brain. Although having just added that to the list, and looked at the list, I’m reminded that perhaps my brain needs to be more shaken and less stirred. The downside of writing science fiction erotica is that the “erotica” parts makes some of the really bad ideas even worse. On the other hand, some of my favorite stories to write have come from some of the truly awful ideas. I like writing things that start out as a “no one in their right mind would write that” joke 🙂
LCM: : 🙂
ET: There may be a reason that Minerva and I are friends.
LCM: It’s a good one. I met her because we were both in the same biopunk anthology.
The one where she ended the world with unicorns.
ET: I love that story!
LCM: Me too!
ET: I’m going to have to go back and read your story now. I think I read hers under the table.
LCM: I used implants and tailored viruses to network 3 people’s brains together, a bit like the psychics in Minority Report.
ET: Ooooh. Fun! I met her through Warren, who I met through twitter… although I can’t remember how.
LCM: I’m actually writing for a game with a similar premise.
LCM: Mark Richardson’s Headspace, it’s a tabletop RPG.
ET: I would totally play that
LCM: You washed out of the soul-corrupting corrupt sector and band together with a few other top of their field operatives to form a “Headspace,” an implant driven connection that ties you all together, mind to mind, 24/7, to the point that you can even borrow skills. You also have to manage each other’s psychological traumas.
ET: Oh wow. That is both awesome and terrifying
LCM: Right? It’s been amazing to write for. And a little scary, because of sections like “What does shared consciousness really mean?”
ET: I’m now thinking about cross wiring PTSD.
LCM: Which can happen in Headspace!
ET: And how you could both benefit from shared resilience and get knocked out by sudden triggers. That would be really fun to play and horrible to live
ET: I had a conversation just the other day about my utter lack of interest in being a telepath.
I can’t write telepathy or empathy without it turning into a horror story.
LCM: I think I’d go crazy. I already make interview subjects feel bad when they talk about sad things and I get all sad-faced.
ET: I’ve started training as a therapist lately, and empathy management is hard!!!
LCM: There’s a book for newsies on interviewing people who’ve been through trauma (Covering Violence) and sometimes I have to go back to it and take a deeeep breath because it’s so easy to feel so horrible for people!
ET: And yet, it burdens them in many ways.
Or, at least it can
ET: I think only extroverts write happy telepathy stories