February 4, 2010

I'm a scientist, but I don't write sci-fi!

My friend Liz Miller, talked about me to a student of her's, telling him that I am a physicist and a writer. His reaction was that of disbelief: he couldn't imagine a physicist writing. For some reason that was an image to difficult to comprehend - a creative scientist.  Evidently he's never heard of  a  polymath, which clearly I am (\sarcasm).  I don't think the two things should be mutually exclusive.

There are a lot of preconceptions about scientists - that we are all nerds who resemble the cast of the big bang theory: obsessed with Star Trek, comics and computer games. So when I tell people I am a scientist and a writer the natural assumption is that I write science-fiction. Understandable I suppose, since I have the background and the know-how of real science to back me up on that.

Truth be told is that while I respect good science-fiction, it's not really my cup of tea. My inner physicist starts questioning whether things are plausible or not when reading sci-fi, and I get so bogged down in the scientific details I find it hard to focus on the story or the writing itself. I hate writing sci-fi, because I would probably try to incorporate as much real physics into it as possible and really, I don't want to take my work home with me. Writing is a huge passion of mine and I dedicate a lot of time to it outside of my PhD. If I wrote sci-fi I would be drowning in physics. I had a discussion with a writer who is writing a science fiction novel, about the plausibility of the physics of his story. That was already a lot of work for me to think about, even though it was a very interesting discussion. Also writing about spaceships zipping in and out of galaxies raping Einstein's theory of relativity in the process, when you have a Masters in Satellite technology, seems a bit hypocritical to me.

What would be interesting for me to write, is about the dynamics of physicists in a lab. You wouldn't believe the drama that goes on down there. One experiment I wanted to place a hidden camera in the lab and sell it to someone who handles a reality TV show. I am more interested in psychology and interaction between people. I love the work of the modernists and stream of consciousness style writing (if done well!) so you are more likely to catch me reading Henry Miller, Anais Nin or Ernest Hemingway than Isaac Asimov, but that has more to do with my personal taste rather than which author/book is better.

Maybe I should do that - write a book about physicists - real, batshit crazy physicists, or a romantic comedy with physicists. Although maybe when I am out and away from the scientific community that is.

Maybe I should give sci-fi a chance. There are some very good sci-fi writers out there, and not all sci-fi is set in space with photon-torpedos and warp drives. I loved Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, for example. Anyone willing to convert me with a good book?


Anonymous said...

I think the viewpoints you have expressed are interesting and it is great that you see the two areas as completely disengaged from each other. It is a skill that I would like to learn.

However I still think that scientists in general have an analytical mind which definitely influences the way they write and probably to a lesser extent the themes and character traits.

A slightly less coherent version of what I am trying to say is contained in an ego boost.

B Chadwick said...

I had never thought of it that way - of scientists not wanting to bring their work home into their writing works.

I have a fleet of 'nerds' as friends (who am I kidding, I'm among them!) and they, as well as being smart, are very creative and hysterical when they want to be.

This nerd/scientist/smart person stigma stereotype is hard to overcome - but on a sidenote, a romantic comedy involving a physicist(s) sounds like a great idea! =^.^=

Deborah Nagy said...

@curioslymedicated the point you made:

"I still think that scientists in general have an analytical mind which definitely influences the way they write and probably to a lesser extent the themes and character traits." is a bit of a sweeping generalisation. Granted there is probably an element of truth in it for that kind of stereotype to exist, but I don't think it holds true to every scientist.

I don't think that having an analytical mind would affect being able to write about themes and interpersonal relations. But yes, this is probably not the norm though.

@B_Chadwick - there are some people who do live for their work in all areas. I could understand there may be some physicists who would be happy to apply physics even to their hobbies - I guess I'm just different like that. Writing/Reading is a form of escapism for me so being reminded of work is the last thing I want.

Nerds are cool. :) I just think they get a bad rep. I'm attacking the stereotype not the reality. I think science has a lot of creativity attached to it.