September is always a time for reflection, as the seasons turn and summer is slowly edged out by the growing chill and the darkening afternoons. Justin Hayward’s version of that classic sad song from War of the Worlds is a particularly persistent ear-worm for me this time of year.
It is, in short, a melancholy month. And the fiction we’ve featured in the past few weeks has shared a bit of that feeling.
We launched the month with Addiction, an offering about the opposing forces of futility and allure in the scientific profession from our Deputy editor, Richard P. Grant. And we leave it with Blurred reality, a haunting tale of the slipping away of someone you love by our mystery PhD student who writes under the pseudonym of Jan Jacardos.
Possibly more dark fiction awaits as I download onto my Kindle This Living and Immortal Thing by Austin Duffy, a novel about cancer which was reviewed earlier this spring here. Written by an oncologist, it’s the pick for October’s Fiction Lab book group at the Royal Institution.
Do join us if you’re in or near London.
LabLit.com, you may have noticed, has been in a bit of a summer hiatus. But after a few weeks of sun, wine, introspection and reading, normal service has now resumed with the publication of The beautiful hypothesis by writer, poet and retired scientist Roddie McKenzie. Do real-life PhD mentors sometimes live vicariously through their students, and project all sorts of weird neuroses upon them? We couldn’t possibly comment…
I heartily enjoyed my summer reading – less than I would have liked due to the presence of a high-octane toddler in my life now, but still satisfying.
I devoured All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which deserved all the prizes and praise that has been showered upon it. I’d classify as Lab lit lite, as the two scientist characters leave a scant science footprint in the prose, but mostly it was just a beautifully written tale of war-torn humanity.
As a guilty pleasure, I finished off Zoë Ferraris’ detective trilogy (lab lit lite again) which began with Night of the Mi’raj. Verdict? Great murder mystery and an interesting insight into the hidden world of Saudi, but ultimately an unsatisfactory romantic resolution for our scientist heroine.
Finally, I dabbled in some fun science fiction in the form of All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – a bit fluffy but much recommended as a summer read.
So what have you all been reading?
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1338
We’d like to apologize for the delay in our latest upgrade of the The Lab Lit List. There is a happy reason for the delay – there have been so many novels nominated that we are scrambling to look into them all. With any luck, we should be able to publish all the new additions within the next few weeks.
And it’s not bad timing, with summer holidays just around the corner!
Just as a taster of things to come, do check out Anne Burke’s new review of research oncologist Austin Duffy’s début novel, This Living and Immortal Thing.
We’ve got a new piece up today from Vicky Ware about how you don’t have to be physically present in a lab (or telescope, or in the field) to do great science. Vicky is doing it on her own terms with a laptop. As science becomes increasingly computational, I predict we’ll see a lot more scientists going full circle back to being ‘armchair naturalists’, much in the way of times past. The social aspects of science are quite important for dissemination and inspiration, but one could argue that through social media, you don’t need to be down at the conference bar or in the institutional tea room to reap those benefits either.
It’s a strange new world.
It wasn’t intentional, but today’s issue is looking distinctly creepy.
First, our latest serialized story, Experimenting with the senses by chemical engineering professor Mark Keane, is starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. What will the (fictional) chemistry professor do to his recalcitrant daughter in the name of science? (At least, we very much hope this isn’t autobiographical…just kidding, Professor Keane.)
Second, we’ve got some marvelously spooky flash fiction from immunologist Anne Burke, who looks like she’s writing what she knows only all too well.
We hope you enjoy them. And just a reminder that we are always looking for great new original writers. So if you have any ideas, get in touch on editorial[at]lablit.com – don’t be shy!
Finally, I’d just like to let you all know that we are gearing up to publish our latest update of the Lab Lit List. We’ve got quite a few new ones to add to our 200+ collection – look out for that in February. If you have any to suggest, now would be a good time.
In the meantime, happy reading!
A new year and a new pile of books to read – for pleasure, for reviewing, for discussion at my Royal Institution Fiction Lab book group. For the latter, we’re taking a look at Pandora’s Sisters by Michael Stephen Fuchs.
The book was discovered in a second-hand shop by one of the regular Labliterati, Dom Stiles, a relentless collector of obscure science-related novels. It looks like a standard lab lit thriller, with a hotshot female artificial intelligence specialist protagonist and a sterling back-cover description – which includes the following sentence:
“And soon after, when men in strange hats come looking for her hard drive, shooting first and never really asking any questions, she finds herself on the run – pursued by multiple squads of heavily armed religious zealots, the Feds, and worse.”
Dom had brought it into our December meeting to pass around. People smiled, murmured, groaned. Christine exclaimed, “It’s got a double helix on the cover – it can’t be all bad!”
It had me at “men in strange hats”.
The formidable CP Snow (Wikimedia)
I haven’t had much time to read since going on holiday, but I’ve got a lab lit classic lined up: The Search by famous chemist CP Snow. Published in 1934, it is one of the oldest examples on our List – as such, I’m a bit embarrassed that I’ve never read it. It looks quite formidable – much like Snow himself – so I might need to fortify myself with more port before diving in.
And speaking of snow (not that there is any in England at the moment), I’ve just reviewed some polar lab lit over on the site: Everland, by Rebecca Hunt. It’s well worth a read.
Happy Christmas and New Year to all our readers!
We were so pleased that the award-winning playwright Anna Ziegler, whose play ‘Photograph 51’ is currently playing in London’s West End, took time out of her busy schedule to give us an interview.
“[Rosalind Frankin’s] story was so inherently dramatic and I was drawn to the complications and contradictions of her character, to the way that she was her own greatest obstacle.”
To learn more about Ziegler’s motivations and inspirations in penning a story about the human characters behind the discovery of the structure of DNA, do take a look.
It’s that time of year again: the hot weather brings dreams of holidays on faraway shores, and all of the time to read that such excursions bring. As usual, I’ve got Fiction Lab book group fare to prioritize – our novel for July is The Trudeau Vector by Juris Jurjevics. I haven’t started yet, but involves murder in an Arctic research station, which – like a strong iced cocktail – sounds like an essential beach accessory.
I’d love to know what everyone else out there is looking forward to diving into.
I am finding it difficult to believe that we’ve been bringing you the culture of science in fiction and fact for nearly an entire decade. But it’s true! Yesterday we published our 849th article: I never dreamed when I started this site that it would have had such great support, great contributions and great readers – to say nothing of mentions in the likes of The New York Times and US National Public Radio, or endorsements by Richard Powers and Neal Stephenson. Science in fiction has come a long way in ten years, too, with many more novels featuring scientists as central characters published than ever before. Long may that upward trend continue.
Despite my day job as a scientist, which seems to get ever more hectic, I’d love to find the time to put together an anniversary issue to be proud of. But I need your help. We are hereby making a special appeal for submissions for the big day – do consider sending in pieces for consideration!