Where do writers get their short-story ideas? Seven years ago I was a speaker on a panel about the future, at an event organised by the Royal Society and the ICA. You know: science and the arts. One of the topics we kicked around was the synthesis of meat using some kind of nanotech device that would be as cheap and easy to use as a microwave. Synthetic meat is hardly a new idea, in science fiction. Vat-grown chicken helps to feed the overpopulated world of Fredrik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth's The Space Merchants
, published in 1953, for instance. But there's an old rule of thumb that you can generate stories
by thinking about who might be hurt or threatened by new technology, and when I was heading home after the event, walking past the bouncers outside a throbbing nightclub, it struck me that if celebrity stalkers found a use for cheap meat makers, then celebrities might need to take elaborate countermeasures.
I turned this notion into a short story that was published in Nature
. You can read it here
. Seven years later, a couple of things I stumbled across in the same week suggest that the future, or what I like to call the consensual present, has caught up with that little story. First, there's the news that Madonna employs a sterilisation team
, because she's worried about fans getting hold of her DNA. And in an article on the manufacture of artificial meat
, there's the following exchange between the author and a scientist:
"Could you make fake panda?"
"What about human?"
"Don't go there."
As far as I'm concerned, Madonna isn't paranoid, but prescient.