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Archive for the ‘Science!’ Tag

The ‘Alien Mate Trope’ Problem

I write science fiction romance, blatantly and unashamedly. But, if you’ve ever read any of my work, you might notice that all of the couples are human. All of them.

And the aliens are alien. They look a little like lizards/dragons/dinosaurs, or maybe squid, except with five arms rather than eight-arms-plus-two-tentacles. And we mustn’t forget the glowing rocks with their group intelligence that can correct human nerve damage.

None of them are Star Trek aliens (human actors with extra bits glued or painted on). They’re not hunky alpha males or females who happen to be blue. And there is, quite definitely, no cross-species romance going on, for two reasons that are kind of related.

Reason number one is the entire euwww factor. I don’t buy the theory of panspermia, because we’ve never found anything even remotely resembling life (except that one microscopic possible bacterium fossil in a Martian rock) anywhere but Earth. Even the Martian rock was found on Earth.

I’m a chemist by training, so you can talk about amino acids in the comets until you’re blue in the face and I’ll be able to show you exactly how a non-life process can create them. Furthermore, DNA as we know it only uses four of them, and only in the levo configuration.

If there was more than one biome on Earth, one that used DNA containing different base pairs than C, A, G, and T, or one that used some other method of protein encoding altogether, would we even know it was here? Would we be able to recognize it as alive? Have we even looked?

All of which brings me to this: If you’re not willing to do that with, say, a chimpanzee, then you shouldn’t be doing it with an alien. Euwww. Maximum squick.

Why not? Two consenting adults and all that. Well…remember the part about using different proteins made from different base pairs? What happens when a foreign protein gets into your body?

Assuming your body can recognize it as a protein, your immune system attacks it. That’s how immunizations work; we inject the protein coat of a virus to program the immune system for the real thing. Sometimes your immune system gets a little too excited and you have an allergic reaction. A severe allergic reaction can kill you—the quickest way is through anaphylactic shock, where your throat swells shut and you suffocate.

That’s the second reason I don’t do human/alien romance: severe risk of death after the second kiss. As with all allergens, the first exposure doesn’t cause a reaction, because it programs the immune system to go into overdrive for the second exposure. Yeah, death by protein exchange could definitely be a problem, and I’ve never seen it considered in the Alien Mate trope. I guess it would be too much of a mood killer. Snort.

So, if you’re reading one of my books, all the couples are going to be human, or alien, but not mixed. Too dangerous…and much too squicky.

In unrelated but happy news, I just had my four-year checkup and I’m still cancer free. Yay!

 

Pluto

A few years ago, the International Astronomical Union formally defined the term planet and reclassified Pluto. Instead of the last-discovered, smallest, coldest, and pretty much least of the planets, they decided Pluto is the first-discovered, innermost and one of the largest of the Kuiper Belt objects, a dwarf planet.

There was a gigantic uproar, because the media presented the change as Pluto being demoted from planet status. The truth is that Pluto wasn’t demoted, simply classified correctly.

The reclassification took Pluto from last, smallest, and least of the planet to first, possibly the largest, and innermost of a whole new class of planetary bodies — Plutoids. Just typing that word makes me happy. Plutoids: smile.

The Hayden Planetarium in New York, headed by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, was the first institution to notice that Pluto doesn’t really fit in with the planets, but until the discovery of actual bodies in the theoretical Oort cloud, we didn’t have anyplace else to classify it. But Pluto looks a lot like Haumea (2004) and Makemake (2005), not to mention Eris (2003), who started the whole mess.

Eris is a dwarf planet about the same size as Pluto, but apparently about 27% more massive, which would imply it’s denser than Pluto. It’s also quite a ways farther out, about 3 times as far away from the sun as Pluto. It even has a moon, called Dysnomia.

Eris (originally dubbed Xena) was considered the 10th planet in the Solar System for a few years, until that 2006 IAU meeting, when the world’s astronomers actually defined what a planet is (about time, people). They also defined dwarf planets, Plutoids, and Plutinos (objects which have a 3:2 orbital resonance with Neptune). It was a busy meeting.

And then the hate mail started, almost all of it from the US. Dr. Tyson received so much of it he compiled it all into a book called The Pluto Files, published in 2009 — which hit the NYT extended bestseller list.

We Americans love our Pluto, king of the underworld (and Mickey’s dog!), first among the Kuiper Belt objects, with two classes of solar system objects named after it. Now isn’t that more interesting than being a lowly planet?

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