July 28, 2005

Peter Watts came up with the presentation on the biology of vampires I mentioned a while back. He’s finally published two of his novels, Starfish and Maelstrom, on the web. You can download PDFs of them on his site.

The books tell the story of some physically and chemically modified deep sea divers, working on a powerstation built on a geothermal vent in the deep ocean, who find something unexpected down there (and no, it’s not aliens :-). The books have been described as dystopian, but I didn’t find them particularly depressing, possibly because I was enjoying the ideas so much. Watts’s characterisation is better than that of certain other writers with great ideas, though, with people who are believable, if not always very pleasant.

The other night at bluap‘s, I was muttering at somebody about parasites which alter a host’s behaviour to benefit the parasite, and mentioned that I’d read on Watts’s site that a parasite which affects rats and cats also affects humans, making women more friendly and less choosy sexually, and making men cantankerous and unkempt. I couldn’t remember the name of the beast, but it turns out that the organism in question is toxoplasma gondii, which is a parasite endemic in cats. According to the Times, it has the effects in humans I remembered. I think I was making slightly ranty comparisons to the unequally yoked doctrine of evangelical Christianity at the time, as that was where the conversation had started. Unlike Unequally Yoked, it’s not clear whether toxoplasma does benefit from modifying human sexual behaviour, or whether that’s a side-effect of the lack of caution it induces in the brains of the other mammals which host it. Still, it’s fascinating stuff, and the sort of thing which Watts explores in his books.