Life, but not as we know it

A visiting scientist claims to have created an artificial life form.

“You mean like the replicants in Blade Runner?” I ask.

“Er no,” he replies sheepishly. “We’ve constructed the complete genome for a bacterium. The next stage is to manufacture a host cell for it.”

I try not to show disappointment. A microbe wriggling at the bottom of a test tube doesn’t sound very impressive, but just think of the applications – an exciting new disease, perhaps, or a food supplement that helps you pass wind.

“Excellent work!” I exclaim. “Things should progress quickly once you’ve notched up your first bacterium. Insects within a year, mammals within two and your own personal manservant shortly afterwards. Dr Frankenstein will be a fool to you!”

He mumbles something into his beard and I make my apologies and leave. He can discuss the finer points of his breakthrough with the other guests.

Now that I think of it, the replicants in Blade Runner weren’t that great anyway. They did enjoy a few years of life in the fast lane, but where was their spiritual contentment? No wonder they ran amok when confronted with their own mortality. One thing I never understood was why they were made indistinguishable from normal humans. All that time and energy spent hunting them down could have been saved by the simple expedient of giving them an extra nostril or pointy ears. I’m not saying that the boffin who designed them deserved to have his head twisted 180 degrees by one of his own creations, but there was an element of poetic justice in the manner of his demise.

Speaking of pointy ears, did I tell you about the time that Leonard Nimoy visited the safari camp? No? Well I’d better fill you in now then. The entire tour party consisted of Mr Nimoy and his entourage, so he didn’t have to hobnob with strangers. Before you accuse him of being snooty, just imagine what it must be like to go through life with people constantly addressing you as Spock. He must have been sick to death of getting the four-finger V-sign or being asked to pinch someone’s mother-in-law in the neck. We were under strict instructions not to mention anything to do with Star Trek unless Mr Nimoy first brought up the subject. Fortunately, he did bring it up in a passing reference to Nichelle Nichols’ underwear. This allowed me to slip in the following pertinent question:

“How do you explain the popularity of Spock, Mr Nimoy?”

He raised one eyebrow in the style of the great Vulcan logician before answering. “Mr Bananas,” he said slowly, “Spock was so square that he was cool.”

I nodded silently as if I understood his enigmatic assertion. Weeks later, after much pondering, I saw it as possibly the most profound remark ever made by an actor who played an alien in a science fiction show. Of course he was right! My mind went back to an episode of Star Trek in which a bunch of space beatniks hang out in the Enterprise, annoying the crew with their foolish antics. When Captain Kirk tries to lay down a few house rules, they shout him down with cries of “Herbert! Herbert!”. They even compose an insulting rock ballad about him – if memory serves, the first line of the song went something like this:

Big Daddy Kirk’s got a burr up his ass
(Twang-twang p’twang-twang-twang)

But when Spock comes along, they revere him as a deep guru figure, listening in rapt devotion as he strums a soulful tune on his Vulcan banjo. You can bet those hippie chicks would have been queuing up for a night of pointy-eared lurve if Spock had been remotely interested.

I was so impressed by Mr Nimoy’s insight that I related this anecdote at the Annual Simian Convention.

“So square that he was cool!” cried a cheeky monkey. “Isn’t that the secret of your appeal, GB?”

I couldn’t make up my mind whether this was a compliment or an insult, so I gave the monkey a coconut and tied a knot in his tail at the same time.

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