Edinburgh International Book Festival today to listen to a discussion about the role of science in fiction and the role of fiction in promoting science.
I always like to read about science, though I generally tend to read popular science non-fiction. I am a great fan of the potential of science fiction in stimulating people's thinking about potential futures (and the novel I'm writing could be defined as science fiction though I think of it as speculative fiction in the broader sense, as there isn't enough science in it for me to feel that it really qualifies as science fiction).
Pippa Goldschmidt chaired the Book Festival discussion between Jennifer Rohn and Neal Stephenson.
Rohn is a scientist and author, who set up Lablit, when she found herself disappointed by the scarcity of real scientists in mainstream and literary fiction (rather than in science fiction or crime fiction). Lablit publishes creative writing about contemporary science and discussions about books in that field.
Stephenson writes mostly novels about the history of science and has set up the Hieroglyph project to bring together science fiction writers and scientists to collaborate on bold ideas.
The discussion was wide ranging and thought provoking, covering topics including feminism and science, scientists as heroes and public distrust of scientists. I've pulled out some of the most interesting points below:
Stephenson said that the current trend for dystopian science fiction is the tail-end of a backlash against the techno-optimism of the 1950s/60s that lead to several environmental disasters and is still seen by some as a large part of the reason we face so many problems today.
Rohn claimed that good science fiction (particularly if it is then made into a movie) can reach a much larger audience than popular science books can, which she seemed to suggest are preaching to the converted. (Personally I think that many SF books are preaching to the converted, because there are a lot of people who won't read SF any more than they'd read popular science).
Rohn suggested that some people don't like to read fictionalised accounts of history (specially if they involve real people) because they don't like the uncertainty of the truth of the story (I agree with this entirely, I don't like historical fiction about well known people unless it is made entirely clear how much of the story is true and how much is made up). Stephenson said that he gets round this issue by using a fictional character as the Point of View character, telling the story, because their point of view doesn't need to fit perfectly with history.
Both authors agreed that large parts of science are boring (endless repetitive experiments!) and these need to be edited carefully to avoid dragging down the plot. At the same time, they both agreed that large parts of science are very difficult to understand, even by scientists studying a different branch of science and that getting information across to the reader can be a real challenge, if you are to avoid the ten page lecture! Rohn suggested conversations between scientists of different disciplines as being the best answer here!
All in all it was a thoroughly thought provoking event and gave me a lot of ideas for how to approach certain issues in my novel! Thanks to Clicket for the ticket and you can read more about all the Edinburgh festivals on the Clicket blog.
In other news, I'm delighted that my piece on Colinton and Craiglockart Dells has been published on the Scottish Book Trust's favourite places website.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other pages, where you can find out more.