The Colour of Cats

What do cats have to do with pH? you might well ask.

Actually, according to Fiction Lab regular Richard Marshall, not a lot. Instead, in “Wyndhams“, he claims that the inspiration behind those coloured pH strips familiar to those of us who have spent any time at all in the chemistry lab was not so much feline, as piscine.

The trouble with lichen is that it all smells a bit fishy.

And I’ll let you into a little secret: ‘Universal Indicator’ was the working title for this series, before we settled on “The League of Imaginary Cats”… for reasons that may or may not become apparent in a few installments’ time.

The dog’s…

No cat, but a strange take on various heroes of genetics from Rachel Rodman.

A feint mewling sound

We hope you’ve been enjoying our series that’s not entirely not about cats so far.

There is a cat in the next piece. Who is the cat and what it has to do with anything is not for me to say. But do look out for a rather interesting and whimsical tale (if not a tail) to come.

A short poem about N0thing

Cherry blossom

When the LabLiterati first toyed with the idea of doing “something better“, one of the pressing questions was, naturally, “what can I write about?”

Richard Marshall said I should write “A short poem about n0thing”. I could hear him pronounce the zero.

“A short poem about nothing?” I asked.

“A short poem about n0thing,” he said.

So I wrote a love poem—as I am wont to do—and it’s called “Zero“.

I hope this is what he meant, and that he enjoys it.

More books! Get reading!

Our most recent Editorial says it all – but just to note that we have added 29 new titles to our Lab Lit List and there is a wide variety of science in fiction to check out. So get in!

Big pharma: the Dark Side?

As winter trundles ever onward and distressing world events tug at our attention, it’s great to have fiction as an escape.

Following on from Alison Frank’s debut story Los Muchachos Observatory, about strange goings-on at a remote mountain-top telescope, we are pleased to present regular contributor Becky Nesbit’s most recent story, A night in Trump Tower. Many scientists leave academic research to take on roles in the pharmaceutical industry, but it’s rare to see a fictional account of the unease that some feel in that role.

Meanwhile, our intrepid curator, Asa, has just filed our near-final upgrade of the Lab Lit List, so we hope to have this published within the week. There are quite a few titles on it, so we are very excited to turn the spotlight on yet more science-in-fiction!

Spiders in 2017

Happy new year to all of our readers – I hope 2017 brings you love, literature and science-y goodness.

By coincidence, two of our last three pieces of fiction have involved our eight-legged friends. First, Dom Stiles (our intrepid lab lit “sniffer”) contributed an intriguing piece called Catastrophic cascade which involved an uncomfortable number of bugs and spiders. And today, we’ve published a fabulously understated story about spiders by Emma Grygotis, Arachnophage. Both of these are debut fiction contributions, which we welcome happily.

We also published The family skeptic by regular contributor Becky Nesbit, which is about climate change denialism – with a clever family twist.

We are currently in the midst of compiling the next upgrade to the LabLit List, which should be ready in early February. We’ve got a satisfyingly large number of suggestions to sort through, so it should be another big one!

New year, new reading pile

Behold my bedside reading material: not too much and not too little.


I think three is just about right as my Christmas holiday approaches its second week. Unfortunately reading has to compete with a lot of other things: family time, baking, gardening, and a long list of home chores that we’ve been avoiding all year. The most important of these is tidying up my writing area, which has been so messy of late that I’ve not been able to find that quiet mental space I need to create life on the page.

The image features the upcoming Fiction Lab book group selections for the next three months. I am most excited by The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick, which looked so promising that we violated our hallowed “wait until it comes out in paperback” rule especially for it. None of these titles is yet on the LabLit List, which is due to be updated in a few months’ time.

If you’re as busy as I am and don’t have time to read a novel, do check out regular contributor Becky Nesbit’s short story ‘The family skeptic’ published today on the site. At just over 500 words, you’ll still have plenty of time for mince pies, cheese and port, box sets and quarreling cheerfully with your family over the festive period.

From everyone here at LabLit, we wish you a happy and prosperous new year, full of great science in fiction.

What’s on your reading pile?

A literary autumn


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.

Back on the grid, 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?