Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Metalosis Maligna and Life as Surplus

Metalosis Maligna is a documentary about a disease that affects patients with medical implants. Metalosis Maligna occurs when a metal implant interacts badly with human body tissue, causing the metal to grow tendrils, which eventually puncture the skin from within and destroy it. The movie shows the development of the disease from its early stages through to the gory advanced stages, by which point entire sections of flesh have fallen away and all that is left is a skeleton of scrap metal.

Now consider the thesis of Melinda Cooper's Life as Surplus (2008). The inner contradiction of capitalism, re-enacted in the bioeconomy, is that the creation of value from life itself requires a ‘corresponding move to devalue life’ (through imposed limitations). The need to limit the self-regenerative nature of living systems (in order to extract the surplus value) and the continual vigilance needed to guard against the threat of overproduction and excess promise are primarily addressed in terms of the mechanics of the neoliberal shaping of the bioeconomy since the 1980s. However, it is in this chapter that Cooper brings these latent dangers to bear in a more tangible manner in relation to the “extreme mutability, unexpected recalcitrances, and peculiar generativity” (p.124) inherent in the topological models developed by biologists working in tissue engineering.

These bioengineers, Cooper points out, must contend with the challenge of having their tissue constructs adhere to the specifications of the federal regulatory agencies’ definition of “medical device” (which necessarily implies “some degree of stability, reproducibility, and standardized form” p. 124) while acknowledging the reality that products in the regenerative medicine industry, by their very nature, continue to grow and respond to their bodily surroundings well after implantation. As Cooper points out, “Its productivity is dependent on its continued ability to self-transform, to grow, to morph, in ways that are not easily predicted” (p.125). While the problem here seems merely semantic, the sustained threat emphasized in her book is that these extremely plastic , mutable cells should proliferate too well and in the process give rise to potentially lethal cancerous growths.

The following video goes further in developing the notion of emergent ‘biospheric threat’ (p.81). Using techniques of film that have become characteristic of medical/nature documentaries to lure us into a state of comfort and familiarity, Floris Kaayk’s videos offer startling scenarios in which the fundamentally wild, unpredictable, and self-regenerating nature of life itself is brought to the fore. The first film offered a vision of uncontrained growth, contortion and bodily transformation (while curiously avoiding any mention of the threat to the lives of the infected) and, in contrast, the second film puts forward a narrative of abundance, renewal, and vitality. Each explores the possible consequence of surplus life from a different perspective.

The Analog Skeleton of an Underwater Leviathan

This piece by Deepspace complements David Toop's Ocean of Sound as well as providing a soundscape for:

Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial  Seas
This review is from: Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (Paperback)
Stefan Helmreich, a professor of anthropology at MIT, offers his motivation for writing Alien Ocean by revealing that he thinks biology's vision of the ocean is in transformation. He proffers that his book is simply an anthropological account of the efforts being made to study the dark ocean through the light of microbial research. Throughout the chapters, we follow Helmreich aboard the submersible Alvin at Juan del Fuca ridge, at the remote controls of the robot Ventana in Monterey bay, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and into the cosmos through the satellite imaging of Mars, Jupiter, and Europa.
Helmreich's method of viewing anthropology through microbial research is to tell of his experience relating to different researchers, describing their research in their words as well as his own, and applying what he has learned to anthropology. Helmreich's strongest points in the book are born from his skill in describing not only the physical research and how it affects our lives, but how his experiences felt and the very personal emotions in encompassing the possibilities that might emerge from microbial research. Another of the book's strong points is the number of anthropological subjects it relates to microbial research and vice versa briefly but effectively. Helmreich manages to discuss genomics, bioinformatics, remote sensing, cybernetics, gender biasing, sociology, racism, the history of the south Georgia islands, Gaia theory, evolutionary theory, extraterrestrial life, blue-green capitalism, the tree of life, and Hawaiian politics.
Microbial research is relevant to anthropology, but beware Helmreich's tendency to delve into anthropological thought and academic vocabulary. Alien Ocean is not suited for readers seeking a hyper technical discussion of microbial research but is extremely effective in backing up Helmreich's main anthropological point. Stefan Helmreich has done an admirable job of composing a book that people with an interest in microbiology or anthropology will enjoy.

Iceland: test tube nation

This is a truly incredible documentary. Watch the trailer. Be sure to also do the follow up reading:

Promising Genomics: Iceland and deCODE Genetics in a  World of Speculation

Part detective story, part exposé, and part travelogue, Promising Genomics investigates one of the signature biotech stories of our time and, in so doing, opens a window onto the high-speed, high-tech, and high-finance world of genome science. In a luminous account, Mike Fortun investigates how deCODE Genetics, in Iceland, became one of the wealthiest companies of its kind, as well as one of the most scandalous, with its plan to use the genes and medical records of the entire Icelandic population for scientific research. Delving into the poetry of W. H. Auden, the novels of Halldór Laxness, and the perils of Keiko the killer whale, Fortun maps the contemporary genomics landscape at a time when we must begin to ask questions about what "life" is made of in the age of DNA, databases, and derivatives trading.

From the Inside Flap
"What an extraordinary tale, both entertaining and expertly told. I ended this page-turner chuckling and deeply informed about the outscale ambitions of bioscience, making a corporate Wild West of Iceland's cultural reserve. Scholarly science writing doesn't get any better than this."--George E. Marcus, Series Editor, Late Editions: Cultural Studies for the End of the Century

"A chiasmic tour de force: entertaining, informative, and insightful, a brilliant picaresque romp. Promising Genomics decodes deCode, one of the signature biotech and genomics stories of our times, unsettling almost all the key issues--legal, scientific, regulatory, transnational capital, social justice, democratic--of modern biologists' business plans and of doing fieldwork in a high-tech, fast-paced, speculative economy."--Michael M.J. Fischer, author of Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice and Anthropological Futures

"Promising Genomics guides us through the gorgeous volatility of the Iceland genomic debates--media gullibility, corporate avarice, NGO activism, and the complicity of scholars that turn up to study them. Mike Fortun's ethnography gathers data from all over--Icelandic novels, town hall meetings, stock market speculation, the fortunes of Keiko the whale, Icelandic geography--to find a better way of engaging with contemporary genomic research. The narrative he constructs is intellectually compelling, affectively astute and politically alive. Promising Genomics is a watershed for scholars and activists working at the interface of biology and culture. It will reinvent your bioethical commitments."--Elizabeth A. Wilson, author of Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body

"Like an ethnographic prospectus, Promising Genomics brings the fine print of our encoded future to life. Fortun reveals how financial speculation, promissory science, and compromised politics have transformed the people of Iceland into genetic stock--and how Icelanders have responded. Anyone invested in the question of how techno-scientific futures are launched would be well advised to read this vivid account."--Ken Alder, author of The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Alien Harvest

So, is it bogus? Follow this link and decide for yourself.

The character of Debbie seems consistent with what Ridley Scott
has said so far.
What we have here certainly appears different to this.


A backdrop of stars, traces of colorful galaxies.

side crumpled from an explosion. Weyland-Yutani emblon
visible. The beacon's navigation light blinks erratically.

BACK FURTHER revealing an astronaut with a HANDHELD JETPACK
nearing the beacon. A TETHER snakes out behind the figure.

CONTINUING BACK shows the tether attached to a SPACESHIP
built like a giant Swiss army knife -- a repair ship. On
one side of the ship: B42-GOV/WY-FRONTIER 'BERTHA'. Inside
the open cargo bay sits a NEW BEACON, this one a sleeker
model than the one outside. Its nav light strobes eagerly.


CONRAD, mid-20s, wearing Weyland-Yutani overalls, floats
weightless and inverted at the cabin ceiling. He retrieves
a thick manual from a compartment then kicks off toward the
main viewscreen, where TIBBS, fat and in his 50s, is buckled
into a pilot chair. Tibbs sucks purple mush through the
straw of a food container. His straining t-shirt reads: W-
Y LITTLE LEAGUE - GO COLTS GO! Conrad slips a headset on.
They watch the astronaut on the screen.


DEBBIE, 20-ish and sassy, fires the jetpack to align herself
with the beacon. She grabs a hand hold, climbs over to a
control box, and attaches a tether from her suit harness to
part of the beacon.

That's it, we're hitched.

Can I kiss the bride?

No, but you can kiss my ass.


It's a deal. Listen, that damaged
panel looks unstable. Skip the
external and go straight for
diagnostics, okay?

You're the boss, Conrad.

(to Debbie; mouth full)
Ah, technically I'm the boss.
I've got twenty years with the
company; Conrad's got six months
and an uncle in personnel.


Debbie uses a small tool to pop open the panel. Buttons, a
screen, and two large switch-breakers inside. She thumbs
the two switches. Buttons light up. The screen flutters
/ COMMAND? The screen glitches intermittently.

The pile is down. Backup power
seems okay, though.

Patch in a filter just in case.

She takes a small electronic unit from her utility belt.
In her other hand she uses a gun-shaped tool to squirt some
sticky goop on the back on the unit, which she jams onto
the rim of the control panel. She hooks it up between the
main tether and the control panel.

All set. You should have a clean
feed now.

The screen flashes through some menus, then fills with a
stream of data.


Still eating, Tibbs watches a nearby monitor blur with data.

That's affirmative.

Tibbs and Conrad work the ship computers.

What's the verdict? Do we salvage?

(scanning readouts)
This one's pretty much brain dead.

Don't go all technical on me.

The analysis shows multiple
fractures in the substructure.
Too risky to bring it onboard for
a stripdown so we'll just go with
standard procedure and deep-six


So was that a yes or a no?

Ah, Debbie, I believe that was a

Okey-dokey. So how do we blow it?

See that big red button labeled

(looking hard)
I don't see it.

That's because there isn't one.
Young lady, you really should have
paid attention during basic
training. We prime the reactor
for detonation from here. Standby.
Conrad, give me the core activation

Conrad consults the manual. On the cover: WEYLAND YUTANI /

(from manual)
Delta Charlie dash one seven zero.

D-C-one-seven-zero. Confirmed.

The beacon's control screen now reads: EVENT DELAY (MINUTES)?

It's showing some kind of timer.

(bouncing it off Tibbs)
Ten minutes to get her back and
unsuited, ten minutes to move to a
safe distance. Say fifteen minutes
contingency. Thirty-five?

Thirty-five minutes is ample.
(he types)

Return to deploy the new beacon,
then dinner and a quick game of
scrabble -- we'll be in hyper-sleep
and headed for home within a couple
hours. Outstanding.

Debbie watches the screen shuffle through menus. A countdown

Warm up my slippers. I'm on my


An alarm sounds. The two men jump to the controls.

Proximity alert. Picking up a
huge neutrino echo. Somebody's
dropping out of L-space right on
top of us.

Nobody should be out this far ...

There's a shitload of matter influx.
Too much for just one ship. Looks
more like a fucking planet!

Debbie! You copy that? We've got
L-space activity! Hold on!


A portal opens, squeezing into normal space. A wall of
light. Blinding. Debbie cringes in the beacon's shadow.
Conrad and Tibbs shield their eyes. Then ... all light
gets sucked back to its pinhole origin. Where there was
nothing is now a vast fleet of alien spacecraft. Twenty in
all. Several makes and sizes, but all follow the same basic
design. We've seen their type before... on LV-421 -- the
derelict spacecraft with its crop of deadly facehuggers.

A red-blue energy wave ripples outward from the fleet. The
shockwave is brutal but losing energy fast as it dissipates.


The main viewscreen splits into windows showing the beacon,
the energy wave, and a rapid visual scan of the alien fleet.
In that window the computer reports: SCAN COMPLETE /

Fuckers didn't even knock first.

Oh Christ. Here comes the Phase
shift aftershock.

Debbie! Use the beacon as your
shield. Get behind the beacon!


Debbie sees the approaching shockwave and clambers sideways
to get behind the beacon.


The blastwave hits them. It buffets the ship for a few
seconds. Sends objects cascading through the weightless
cabin. Scrambles all electronics. Systems fail. No power.


Debbie hugs the beacon as it goes tumbling. It reaches the
end of the tether and jerks tight, nearly throwing Debbie
off. The momentum sends Bertha and the beacon spinning
around each other in dizzying circles.

Debbie regains her hold. Stars whirl past. She looks at
the control screen. Dead. All lights off.

Bertha, Bertha, you copy? The
beacon just lost backup!


Tibbs and Conrad recover from the impact, scan the computers.

The blastwave fritzed our power

Whoever that is out there, it's
not us. And they're headed this

Debbie, get back in here now!

Tibbs rips off panels and franticly examines wiring and
componentry. Conrad watches Debbie's image on screen.


Debbie can't detach the tether. The blastwave has twisted
the catch, snagging it in the hook. She yanks at it but it
won't budge.

Damn this mainline, Conrad, it's

C'mon, Deb, detach and get your
ass in here on the double.

She pauses as the beacon suddenly stutters back to life.
The nav light flickers on, the control panel lights up, and
the screen returns with the countdown timer. But there's a
difference that freezes Debbie's blood in her veins: the


Oh shit. The power's back but now
the timer is down to four minutes!

What? Four minutes to detonation?

No power, we're tied to a bomb,
and we're surrounded by aliens.
This was not in my fucking contract!

(working frantically)
Check the fineprint.


Debbie stabs at keys on the beacon's control panel. She
gives up and pounds it with her fist in frustration.

Cancel the self-destruct order!
Tibbs, transmit the code now!


Negative. It's too late for that.
There's no failsafe under five
minutes. No recourse. We can't
stop it.

(thinking fast)
Listen to me, Debbie. Cut the
mainline. Use your suit laser.


Debbie presses a switch on her glove. A pencil-sized laser
extends over her index finger. She points it at the tether
linking her and the beacon, activates it with her thumb. A
narrow beam starts biting into the thick cable. The beam
cuts out, flickers, cuts out again, returns.



The Bertha's power returns. All systems back online. Tibbs
whoops and leaps into the pilot's chair. He begins
programming the nav computer.

Deb, the ship's back online. We
need to put some space between us
and that fucking beacon!

How much time?

Three minutes. Repeat, three

Tibbs powers up the engines.


The ship stabilises, no longer spinning, and begins
accelerating smoothly away.


Debbie clings on as the beacon whips around and gets towed
behind Bertha.

Hey, what the...?


Tibbs! What are you doing?

I'm getting us the hell away from
that alien fleet. It's no
coincidence they appear where a
recon beacon is out of action.
They probably disabled it in

We don't know that. They could be

Sure, maybe they're just out here
for a picnic.

Tibbs stares Conrad down, then secretly hits a console


The cargo bay doors begin to close.

CLOSE ON DOORS as they scissor shut, severing the tether
line. Internal wiring sparks.

The beacon is left stranded as the ship accelerates away.


Debbie watches the ship leaving. She takes a deep breath
before turning back to the job at hand. One minute thirty
left on the timer.

Well, guys, the bad news is I won't
be joining you for dinner...


Shit! SHIT! Tibbs, we lost Debbie!
Turn the ship back!

Damn you, there's no time! We'll
all die. I'm sorry, Debbie.

Fuck sorry -- turn back now!

No! Conrad, it's okay. You guys
can make it. Thanks to me, I might
add. As usual a woman saves the

You're one in a million, Debbie.

(works the faulty laser)
Damn straight. I'm smart as well
as good-looking. And let's not
forget my wonderful fucking

I won't forget.

I'm taking the ship to L-space.
We'll have entry speed in one

I agree with Tibbs -- this is some
kind of invasion...

The laser has cut most of the way through the tether joining
Debbie to the beacon. She switches off the laser, grabs
her jetpack and the glue gun, and squirts a couple of big
dollops of the sticky resin on the front of the jetpack.
Then she sticks the jetpack to the beacon. Resumes cutting
the tether. The timer dips below one minute.

You're kind of sweet on me, aren't
you, Conrad.

(choking up)
I ... yeah, I guess so.

Too bad, sweetheart, because I
also happen to be fantastic in

(smiling sadly)
I was counting on it.

The tether between Debbie and the beacon severs. She slaps
a switch on the jetpack -- the rockets fire full on, blasting
her in a backward somersault as the beacon launches away
from her, toward the alien fleet.

Yeee-hah! Go baby go! Go tell em
not to fuck with me!


Tibbs is preoccupied with getting the ship into L-space.
Conrad is numb. He watches Debbie's plight on the

Hey! She cut herself free! And
she did something to the beacon.
It's headed for the fleet.

Shit. We just fired the first
shot. If they were friendly they
won't be now.

Wait. The beacon...


Tumbles slowly through space. At least she's alive. She
tries to keep watching the beacon as it diminishes... then
grows larger -- the beacon is COMING BACK in her direction!
The jetpack has put it in a loop!

Yeah, whatever ...


Five seconds left on the counter. It's going to pass within
100 metres of Debbie ...


Like a searchlight, a continuous beam shoots from one of
the big ships.


The beam surrounds the beacon in a cocoon of energy. The
timer reaches zero. Debbie watches in awe. The powerful
explosion is contained within. The beam ceases.


A second beam shoots out from the same alien craft.


Is caught by the beam, all motion arrested. The beam begins
to pull her toward the big alien craft.

Debbie? Debbie?

I'm alive. I'm being pulled back
to their ship. Guess they want to
meet me.
(fear in her voice now)
Can't blame em, I'm such a fine
specimen of womanhood ...


Conrad and Tibbs are strapped into the pilot chairs. They
exchange a horrified look: what will the aliens do with


A smaller vessel fires its weapons.


Watches the missiles streak past her.



Almost ready...


Incoming fire! Punch it now!

L-drive online--


Too late. The missiles obliterate the Bertha.


Is almost at the alien vessel. She witnesses the distant
explosion, then disappears through an access port underneath
the ship.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Envisioning unreal utopiaea

An amazing flood of material on Crooked Timber of late. I can barely keep up. After posting on Erik Olin Wright, how fitting that discussion would next take shape along lines similar to what I have just written about the focusing of the attention space on either "the political" or "politics":

If science fiction is no longer a viable form, it is because the humanist assumptions that underpinned it are no longer credible even as fictions. The hybrid type of writing that has evolved in recent years is symptomatic. "Slipstream", "cyberpunk" and "new weird" blend together influences as diverse as Arthur Machen and Mikhail Bulgakov, Charles Williams and William S Burroughs. What these styles of writing have in common is an absence of politics. No world-changing project features in any of them... During much of the 20th century, speculative fiction served an impulse of world transformation. Fantasy was understood as an exercise in which alternative worlds were imagined in order to create new possibilities of action. Today fantasy has the role of enabling us to see more clearly the elusive actualities. The question of action is left open. We debate what can be done to change the world, but no one expects an answer.

I surmise that the Crooked Timber blogger is taking issue with the generalizability of these oppositions. I read this as implying that an author such as China Miéville is actually more capable of performing the role of mediator that I referred to in my previous post. This makes it easier to understand then why a Williams scholar such as Andrew Milner is clearly sympathetic to China's work (you will understand this if you recall how Williams wrote quite extensively on science fiction from a "cultural materialist" perspective). Here is what China had to say about trying to bridge the gap:

I simply don’t know whether I can have this cake and eat it too: critically depict political economy, while having shots ring out and people swinging off cliffs to magical battles. The best I can do is offer a thought. Even if it’s true that the different values fundamentally work against each other, the attempt to marry them may never succeed, but it might approach success asymptotically. Try again, fail again, fail better. That tension, that process of failing better and better – the very failure, if it’s the best kind of failure – might generate interesting effects that a more ‘successful’ – ie aesthetically integrated – work cannot do.

Envisioning Real Utopias

Erik Olin Wright has featured on this blog before. I argued that his approach makes a refreshing change from the focus on "the political", rather than "politics". In the time since, it's been confirmed repeatedly that the former is the mandate of those in the blogosphere and the academy for whom cultural studies is equal parts a literary and (Continental) philosophical practice. More often than not, this becomes a licence for theory to consciously align itself against sociology. In practical terms, this means the importance of institutionalisation as a means of situating radical imaginary significations is neglected. It's the classic vice of Zizekians and the most affirmative postmodern thinkers (as per my critical response to Steven Shaviro's trumpeting of the Ballardian Brigade, which I argued hit some very odd notes). A lamentable state of affairs to be sure, but I'm equally wary of the danger of drifting too far in the opposite direction where "politics" is reduced to the vulgar materialism of bloggers such as kenomatic (as I recall, his blog is now either moribund, or he's pulled up the drawbridge so that it is for "invited readers only", to defend himself once his targets started responding in kind).

It's not necessary though to get too hung up on personalities, as it is the conventions of particular networks that ultimately determine subject positions. This explains the linkage patterns crosscutting the blogosphere and the academy. But given their formative influence, it seems strange to me how the potential of a Cornelius Castoriadis or a Raymond Williams to mediate between these extremes gets lost. Both clearly foregrounded the importance of institutionalisation, while remaining equally attentive to the creativity of radical imaginary significations; their inherent power to realise new forms on a collective level. When I reflect on all the blogosphere theory I've seen in the past few years, the only person I know of to even mention Williams is Joshua Clover.

I'm confident though that if it is not happening in the blogosphere, political sociologists will grow more excited by the possibility of reading Wright along with Williams and Castoriadis. Until that eventuates, we have this lecture to enjoy:

Envisioning Real Utopias from West Coast Poverty Center on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Moonbases Hitler Never Made...Into the Universe, Towards the Stars We Go (Part 2)

“I was actually sitting in a sauna with our team when one of us, Jarmo Puskala, came up with the idea that we should do a film about Nazis on the Moon. I agreed, and my number one demand was that if so, I want Laibach to do the music“, commented the Iron Sky director Timo Vuorensola about their choice of artists. “It was a far-fetched idea at the moment, but stuck into my head as a general style guideline not just for music, but for the general approach for the film, and finally, when I heard they would be interested after we contacted them, I was in ecstasy. Their unique sense of humor and nice and twisted approach will really light a spark in the wretched genre of film music. We’re hoping to create something like Vangelis did for Blade Runner – not just a soundtrack, but a whole new world that echoes through the music.”

Machines up to the iron sky

Re-Branding future pasts...

Enter the “compensation experts”

"ALL the vice-chancellors of NSW earn more than $500,000 a year and the first official $1 million-a-year university executive is on the way.

As the salaries of university chief executives soar far in excess of those paid to top academics, the vice-chancellor of Macquarie University, Steven Schwartz, is the best paid on a package worth more than $800,000, according to annual reports released in State Parliament this week.

For many senior university executives, remuneration has increased dramatically despite the global financial crisis".

"Pay packets head to $1m but academics left behind"
June 5, 2010

Salaries for university presidents rose by 7.6 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to an annual survey released by the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month. Much like their Wall Street counterparts, presidents of both public and private colleges and universities have enjoyed years of pay increases in sharp contrast to the deteriorating conditions of workers and students.

The latest data available from the College Board shows that tuition for public university students in the US increased by 6.3 percent from 2006 to 2007, another year in which tuition rose much faster than inflation. As the economic crisis intensifies, public universities nationwide are trimming workers’ wages and raising tuition, while top-earning presidents rake in millions.

David J. Sargent, president of Suffolk University in Boston, received $2.8 million in 2006-2007. The university decided to raise his salary after a “compensation expert” determined that his 2005-2006 salary of $416,971 was less than 75 percent of the national average, and that he was “woefully underpaid.” One wonders where the “compensation experts” are for analyzing the pay for part-time faculty, student, and service workers at universities.

US: University presidents’ pay rises to record levels
By Jeff Lassahn
24 November 2008

Academic salaries are being squeezed in the current crises, as colleges and universities attempt to balance their books by fleecing the faculty.

According to the annual salary survey by the American Association of University Professors, overall salaries for this academic year are 1.2 percent higher than last year, the smallest increase recorded in the survey’s 50 years—and well below the 2.7 percent inflation rate from December 2008 to December 2009.

"Fleecing the faculty"
David F. Ruccio

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Stephen Hawking's Aliens

I'm not usually one to blow my own trumpet, but it seems there are some scientific grounds to support what I had to say before about generation starships and bioships. Looking through a recent issue of the Journal of Cosmology, I was particularly interested in Blair Csuti's response to physicist Stephen Hawking's comments about the probability of alien life forms being hostile toward us. For those in need of some more context, you can catch up here:

In his contribution, entitled "Darwinism and Hawking's Aliens", Csuti makes much play of the fact that natural selection would compel alien species to place their own interests above those of the indigenous population of Earth. This programmatic assertion means less to me though than his argument that:

" to Earth at near-light speed, it would take our would-be exploiters tens of millions more years to turn up on our doorstep. Unless they have very long life-spans, that would require a generational space ship with little prospect of returning to their home planet with whatever booty they had considered valuable enough to undertake a long and expensive expedition".

So I was right to suggest the meeting could only take place on an exoplanet. Therefore I'd like to add another twist to my Alien scenario, by suggesting that the Space Jockeys and their xenomorph cargo were the products of the evolution of the "astrochickens" originally dispatched by humans to explore the exoplanets (Freeman Dyson style). However, their evolution is so advanced that it takes considerable time and effort for a human to understand. I think back on the ending of the original Planet of the Apes movie, and there are some similarities to what I am proposing here for the Alien prequel. I just think my idea is a bit less obvious and therefore not as open to parody. You might recall, for instance, The Simpsons' musical version of Planet of the Apes, in which the sole surviving human astronaut breaks into song after at last discovering the shocking truth that the planet is not so alien afterall, but merely a future Earth where evolution has gone haywire: "You see I was wrong/it was Earth all along/they finally made a monkey out of me".

I won't comment here on Quatermass and the Pit either.

The added kick is that my version plays up to the importance of the Precautionary Principle that is supposed to regulate science, which is now generally regarded as "post-normal" because of the potential dangers it poses. It is this aspect that the evangelical presentation of Dyson ignores. Dyson goes out of his way to "blind" the audience with the wondrous nature of science, suspiciously resembling a telepreacher shaking down the true believers for the donations that will fund scientific research and shore up the expertise of scientists. So I hope Science Studies can make something of the latest instalments of the Alien franchise (remember, Social Epistemology once ran a piece on Kim Stanly Robinson, so sci fi can be useful in reinforcing critical attitudes).

Incidentally, the respective contributors to the issue in question of the Journal of Cosmology, provide more than a series of reading strategies to apply to the Alien prequel. They might also serve as useful templates for sci fi authors and readers interested more generally in how to characterise our potential relationships with alien lifeforms.

They sure make for more compelling reading than the works of Erich Von Daniken, which are not only racist in their assumption that the non-European peoples did not develop any science of their own (arguing instead that it was bestowed upon them by alien races), but also a direct ripoff of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. As this article proves, Von Daniken was an opportunist who noticed the warm reception of the mythos among French sci fi fans, which he in turn exploited to his own ends.

I hope my reimagining of the Alien universe is more compelling too than the "ancient astronauts". For me, it is not necessarily any conscious alien intervention in the evolution of the "astrochickens" used for exploration and/or terraforming, shifting the focus to our own inability to understand the contingent nature of the processes we've set in train. All of this was missing from Alien, where the emphasis was on the company's deliberate acquisition of the lifeform for military purposes. Sure, the plan was sinister, but there was a rationale behind it one could at least understand. I am suggesting, drawing on Hawking, a failure prior to this series of events to even recognise something as a form of life. The latter might gradually coevolve in more dramatic ways with our space exploration; thereby affording us a monstrous glimpse of the next stage of our development as a species.

To uncover this truth results in madness.....will the prequel capture this Lovecraftian sense of "cosmic horror"? To do so, it would have to effectively dispose of the character who learns the truth, otherwise the "unique" hybrid status of Ripley in Resurrection would appear more implausible. Only time will tell.