Summer reading

It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog, mostly because I’ve been more-than-usually busy in the lab. I’ve recently returned from a holiday, during which I’d hoped to catch up on my summer reading. Unfortunately, I was so busy that I didn’t manage to read a single book on my list, which has recently got longer thanks to our update of the Lab Lit List. Do check it out if you haven’t already. And let us know what you’ve been enjoying reading on your time off!

Snakes, studies on pain, and stopping to think

Hi folks – just a quick note to alert you to a few new pieces of content on LabLit.com.

First, we’ve had an interesting essay from Wilson Wall about how he thinks scientists need to stop collecting too much data and instead think more. I have some sympathy with this argument; it does sometimes seem there are times in the lab when I have done so many experiments in a row that I have not properly synthesized what it all means and how it fits into discoveries that I and others have made in the past. Sometimes I make breakthroughs only when I stop to read an old paper on something or another, and an idea clicks into place. So it’s great to see the arguments out there in black and white.

Second, we’ve published a really super article describing the science of pain. The piece, by Samiha Shaikh, was the overall winner of this year’s British Society of Cell Biology annual writing prize, which I judged. I like it because I learned something new, but was entertained at the same time. It’s great to see young scientists making an attempt to describe very complex research results to the general public.

And finally, we’re really excited to present ‘Into the pit‘, the first of a two-part story by Matthew Perryman, a Creative Writing MA from Oxford. It’s just wriggling and seething with snake biologists, and I was really shocked to discover that Matthew is not actually a snake scientist himself, so well are the biologist characters drawn. I particularly like the realistic banter – and I can’t wait to find out how it ends.

On the horizon, there have been a number of great new lab lit novels published, and a few older discoveries as well, so a major List update is in the pipeline!

It’s time for the LabLiterati to reclaim outer space!

We’ve just published a great short review of the film Gravity by Eva Amsen, who raises a really interesting point: why on earth (no pun intended) is this film classified as science fiction? As she points out, the movie is set in the present day using tech that exists right now – it just happens to take place in orbit around our planet.

It’s a weird sort of associative problem, I think: a large number of science fiction tales are set in space or on other planets, so we are conditioned to think of space as being in the realm of science fiction. But scientists in space are a current reality, and realistic stories about them are just normal stories, and no more speculative than any other mainstream novel about our world.

Eva points out that the few pieces of artistic license that the film does take – such as putting all the spacecraft in the same orbit to make things a bit easier for the protagonist – is no more “science fiction” than the very common leaps of faith in transport that we see all the time in Hollywood films, such as car chases through known cities that involve impossible elements like getting from point A to point B in one minute when in real life it would involve an implausible detour.

I remember seeing Sleepless in Seattle when I lived in Seattle, and smiling at the outraged mutterings around me about the final chase scene, whose impossibility is summed up nicely here:

Sam and Jonah go by motorboat from their houseboat that is moored on the eastern side of Lake Union to Alki Beach in West Seattle. Annie follows in her rental car, watching them from her vehicle “the entire way.” This is impossible. To get from their houseboat by boat to Alki Beach (near where I live) involves going over the lake, through the Ballard locks, and across Elliot Bay (Puget Sound). The only road into West Seattle and to Alki Beach from the city does not follow their water route, and it is further south and goes over the West Seattle bridge – some miles from the lake and too far away for her to be able to see them on the water. The boat ride to the beach would also take over an hour with the wait to go through the locks, though they appear to reach it much sooner.

But this didn’t cause Sleepless in Seattle to be classified as science fiction.

So I say, it’s time to reclaim space for the genre of lab lit. We’d love to see more books and films like Gravity seeing the light of day.

You have your marching orders, all you writers out there.

What’s the last PhD straw?

We’re delighted today to publish a humorous story, Serendipity, from one of our regulars, Nik Papageorgiou. This story is of particular interest because he tells us it’s based on something that really happened to him. I guess all scientists have had moments like this, but perhaps not at such a crucial moment. Let us know if you’ve been there yourself…

On DNA, poetry and the darker side of science

We’ve had some interesting stuff up recently from contributors old and new. One of our most prolific fiction contributors, Portuguese scientist João Ramalho-Santos, continues on in his series of stories with Blind. João’s stories not only always have a single-word title, but they tend to show the grittier side of the scientific profession – the lot of the researcher who is not the best or who is slowly in the process of becoming disillusioned. We like his stories because they show an aspect of research that is very real but that is seldom acknowledged.

New to LabLit.com, we welcome John Flicker, who has contributed two original science poems. The first is called “Erudite lessons from cosmology”, and his second is coming soon. We do hope you enjoy them.

Finally, in today’s issue we feature the conclusion of Corrando Nai’s three-part essay celebrating 60 years (in 2013) of the discovery of the structure of DNA. I liked this instalment particularly because I learned a clever new use for DNA that has nothing to do with biology.

In other news, we’ve been sent a few new novels from publishers that look very much like lab lit – always exciting. We’ll let you know how we get on!

All about your naughty bits

New on LabLit.com today, regular contributor and all around ace labliterati, scientist and novelist Steve Caplan reviews Bonk: The Curious Coupling Of Sex and Science by Mary Roach.

Warning: it contains a few seriously bad puns.

We don’t review non-fiction very often, but Steve thought this book was relevant because it was reinforcing some scientist stereotypes.

Let us know what you think!

A few new bits on LabLit.com

We hope your new year is full of great reads and geeky science-y moments!

Recently we’ve published a super short story by Nature editor Liesbeth Venema called Shine Forever. It features the same protagonist as in her previous story, The Invisible Physicist – an intrepid science journalist named Cindy who is always getting into trouble.

Today we’re presenting the second of a three-part essay by Corrado Nai celebrating the 60th birthday of DNA – check it out here.

Unstable elements

New LabLit podcast, Unstable Elements, is live!

Crisis management

From Cath Ennis, a darkly comic tale from our short story series.

Global warming and surrealism

Read Rebecca Nesbit’s review of “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver; and get your fish on its bicycle with this essay on surrealism and Benjamin Péret from Rachel Rodman.

Molecules of incense, reordered, may contribute to the whale; molecules of jelly beans, reordered, may contribute to the tiger.