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

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?

The tension is building…

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1338

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.

Lab styles – what’s yours?

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.

Gothic twist

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!

Violent video games, AI, cryptology and the Feds – what more could you want?

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”.

Christmas escapism: searching for CP Snow

The Two Cultures book cover

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!

LabLit chats with Anna Ziegler

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.