LIVING ARCHITECTURE: How Synthetic Biology Can Remake Our Cities And Reshape Our Lives

I had the great privilege of meeting, speaking to and working with Rachel Armstrong this summer, at a think-tank in Eindhoven.  I bought this book, a Kindle Single (also on iBooks), right after.  It’s taken me months to finish it, not least because I had to sit down and think for a month after each chapter.  If nothing else, this here is probably the manual for the next five years of science fiction “biopunk” novels, (Ah, if only they would stick with “ribofunk,” too!) with protocells becoming the new nanomachines.

Rachel said to me, “biology is the new engineering,” and the book is an expression of that thought.  Put crudely, the idea is that manual-assembly construction of buildings and physical infrastructures out of inert materials that either grow more inert or corrode away entirely over time… is stupid and dangerous.  Rachel illustrates (with occasional, thrilling speculative extrapolations) how buildings could be grown, and how existing architecture could be transformed, and how this new age of living architecture could achieve astonishing things.  There is, in fact, the strong sense than even Rachel herself feels like she’s barely scratching the surface of the possibilities.

LIVING ARCHITECTURE is a wonderful read that puts fire in the imagination.  I recommend it greatly.

You can find Rachel @livingarchitect .

The Testament Of Mary

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY approaches the frisson of full-on speculative fiction in places.  It is a rigorously grounded monologue, this book, the unvoiced thoughts of Mary, mother of Jesus.  It is a short and brutal volume.  Toibin’s Mary is a rational, hardened woman, being essentially menaced by Jesus’ “misfit” Disciples for a magical narrative of her son’s life (the required Testament of the title) which she stubbornly refused to invent for them.  She holds some of the legends around her son to be hoaxes, others to be fantasies or madness.

Except for one.  And it is a thrilling intrusion of the utterly alien into the prosaic and primitive world.  The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.  A luminous manifestation of the supernatural as it should be: genuinely disturbing, almost sickening.  The flesh crawls at Lazarus jerking and kicking in his exhumed grave as the earth seems almost to need to expel him.  A raw wound of a book, told simply and elegantly, with a thorn of The Weird in its guts.