Thursday, 24 January 2013

Catching an STB

I'm rather inspired by the announcement that DNA storage has reached an advanced stage: the European Bioinformatics Institute has stored audio files of Shakespeare's sonnets and Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech and the Crick/Watson double helix paper on strands of DNA. It's incredibly efficient and amazingly durable.

So it's great science, and a neat idea. The inventors reassure us that
 "The DNA we've created can't be incorporated accidentally into a genome, it uses a completely different code to that used by the cells of living bodies. If you did end up with any of this DNA inside you it would just be degraded and disposed of."
Cowards! Why stop there? We're already moving away from physical storage of data: from books to the cloud to, apparently, DNA. If we loaded up our cells we wouldn't need Kindles, just a pin-prick and a magnifying glass, or feed the text through our vocal chords and ocular nerves. We could all volunteer to be the physical embodiment of one text, sharing them with others through a handshake… or for romantic poetry, a kiss. The S/M community could look after The Story of O and find a way to beat it into people, while Defoe's Diary of a Plague Year could be rubbed into a buboe by means of dissemination. Fat people like me could store more books than most – I'd be the walking embodiment of the Library of Congress. If you wanted to get rid of a book you could 'download' it via your intestines. Some books, of course, are already shit. And then there's Winnie the Pooh… literally.

Criminals could be loaded down with either improving literature, appropriate works (Kafka? A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch?) or just really, really bad stuff. 'I sentence you to the Complete Works of Ayn Rand and Jeffrey Archer. May God have mercy on your soul'.

We'd need new identities. I could be Plashing Vole (Volumes 1-35 of the Collected Works of Karl Marx). Nick Griffin would become Nick Mein Kampf Griffin with very little adjustment required, while  Colin Firth would be a popular Pride and Prejudice. Actually, we could all carry around the British Library without noticing. And forget microdots and Twitter: for passing around secrets and subversion, this is the ultimate tool. Computer viruses hidden in viruses.

But books and people have one thing in common: they like to screw around. Every book is an amalgam of what the author and the audience have read before. So rather than insisting on accurate reproduction, make it a feature: STB's. With DNA-encoded literature, Sexually Transmitted Books will have children when their hosts breed (though STBs already exist in the form of books nicked by ex-partners). New genres arise as their host bodies cross social and linguistic borders. So Colin Firth meets the host of World War Z to create Pride and Prejudice With Zombies. We all know that Daily Mail readers are illiterate bores, so they'd produce awful children bearing the DNA of Pippa Middleton's ridiculous books with a dash of Andy McNab or Jeremy Clarkson. If the child started sounding suspiciously intelligent, liberal or cosmopolitan, adultery would be unquestionably proven. Katie Price and Aldous Huxley would have lovely, pneumatic children. Shakespeare and Beckett could combine in a teenage Goth (imagine Hamlet with even more silences). The possibilities are endless! The postmodernists would be in their element.

And 'going to the library' would become a wonderful euphemism…

Alternatively, we could be cautious and turn zoos into living breathing libraries. The pigs could carry 1984. Having mastered the art of gene-splicing, we could encode Alice's Adventures in Wonderland into a Snark (and if it escapes, we'll have to hunt it). Next door we'd have real live Gruffalos. We'd have to be careful around Peter Pan: the crocodiles tend to bite. And within a few days we'd have several thousands copies of Watership Down hopping about. Aesop's Fables would be a prime attraction. Races staged every afternoon.

1 comment:

Historian on the Edge said...

I think your distopian SF novel is writing itself.