I should really be in bed at this point, but instead I need to share this with everyone.
It started with the UN job: suddenly I had time to kill on the subway again, time enough to read or whatever. Back when I worked for the kids’ dotcom, I read books. When there were lots of trips to the offices of Major Publication, I read the New Yorker. But for whatever reason, with the UN job came a taste for podcasts. Lots of Dan Savage, at first, because who doesn’t like to listen to people talk about sex? Especially when it’s not only intelligent and unafraid of getting into the juicy and polymorphously perverse details but it’s also funny? And then there was Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, which was smart, funny people discussing recent news and politics and things. And these satisfied me fine for a while as I came down the West Side on the IRT and then across to Grand Central on the shuttle train and then walked the last few blocks to the General Assembly building and then came home again the same way only in reverse. But somewhere along the line I found out about Radiolab.
Radiolab is science. It is the awe-inspiring wonder of the universe. It is two funny, intelligent people talking about stuff that will blow your mind. In the most recent episode, “Parasites,” they talk about the zombie-cockroaches story that I remembered reading about a while back, and they talk about why the chestburster scene in Alien is such high-octane freakout material, and they talk about the theory that Toxoplasma gondii is responsible for “Cat Lady syndrome” and other behavioral changes in humans. And they talk about this guy who makes an extremely compelling argument that hookworms, whipworms, et al. coevolved with the human immune system and that infection by certain parasites seems to control autoimmune or autoimmune-related disorders (such as allergies, asthma, colitis, and freaking Crohn’s disease, for heaven’s sake) in a number of those who have voluntarily become hosts to the parasite.1
And then there was the episode a few months ago called “Stochasticity,” which was all about randomness. Worth listening to for the discussion of how biological function is some sort of weird-ass emergent property of the random noise of protein synthesis via RNA. I was on the bus when I heard that one. I just about jumped out of my seat and did a little dance.
If science is your thing — if you think that the universe is a cool place to live — you need to check out Radiolab. Especially if you write SF: Radiolab is a flowery field of fat, happy, fluffy plot bunnies. Seriously. Everywhere you look, there’s a cool idea, and then another.
That is all.
1 He went to Africa and infected himself with hookworm and his crippling allergies and asthma went away. Poof! He now sells squeaky-clean, bacteria-free “infect yourself with my hookworms” kits over the internet. At first I was horrified. And then I was transfixed by the idea. Now I can’t get it out of my head.