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Scientist Novelists

June 15, 2012

As readers of my blog must surmise, I enjoy writing. As any practicing scientist knows, science involves as much writing as experiment. Foremost, there are the articles that you write for publication in scholarly journals; and, perhaps, a few patent applications. Concurrent with this writing are the research proposals, quarterly and annual reports. Everyone needs to justify his paycheck.

Quite a few scientists have taken to writing science fiction. The astronomer, Fred Hoyle, who championed steady state cosmology against increasing evidence for the Big Bang theory, is a prime example. Sir Fred was an author of nineteen science fiction books, most of which were coauthored with his son, Geoffrey Hoyle.

Isaac Asimov, who wrote hundreds of books, was a biochemist. Surprisingly, for someone who wrote about people routinely criss-crossing the galaxy in spacecraft, Asimov was afraid of flying. I've read many of his short stories, and I quite enjoyed his original Foundation Trilogy, since expanded. This trilogy includes an early vision of societal computer models.

Charles Sheffield was a mathematician and physicist. His works are well-regarded, but I don't recall reading any of them. Sheffield was a president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

One contemporary and prolific SF author is physicist, Gregory Benford. I've read quite a few of his novels, and I've enjoyed them all. One reason that I like them is that they include quite a bit of speculative, but believable, science. This is what's called, "hard science fiction." The reader can actually imagine things in his novels happening without too much of that "willing suspension of disbelief."

Greg Egan is an author who also specializes in hard science fiction. Egan has a bachelor's degree in mathematics, and for a time he was a computer programmer. He's even coauthor of a mathematics paper on arXiv.[1]

Another practitioner of hard science fiction is David Brin, who has a Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, with credentials in applied physics and astrophysics. Brin has a website, replete with many interesting things.

Paul McEuen, who is presently running for Chair-Elect of the Nominating Committee of the American Physical Society, published his first SF novel, Spiral, last year. McEuen, who is a professor at Cornell University, apparently took Mark Twain's advice that an author should write about what he knows. The plot of Spiral involves the murder of an emeritus Cornell biology professor. McEuen is also an expert on carbon nanotubes, so I'm hoping that Mildred Dresselhaus will appear as a protagonist in his next book.

Mark Twain, who was not a scientist, has some science fiction credentials. Twain was apparently very interested in science, and he was a friend of Nikola Tesla, whom I wrote about in a recent article (Tesla and Schumann, June 1, 2012). Twain patented three simple inventions; and his novel, "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," involves time travel and a few technological feats that the time traveller uses to gain power in Arthurian England.

I've likely left out quite a few scientist-authors in this brief review; but, why am I writing on this topic? The reason is that I've joined the ranks of scientist-authors with publication of two hard science fiction books, as shown below. These books are available in paperback and eBook form from Amazon and other distributors.[2]

Mother Wode by Dev GualtieriMother Wode

Computer scientists will enjoy this book. The protagonists are a computer science graduate student, within months of his PhD; a female computer scientist working for a large corporation; and a computer hacker with a shady third-world past.

The team discovers a plot to control electronic financial transactions, and they attempt to discover its source.
(Click image for details.)

The Alchemists of Mars by Dev GualtieriThe Alchemists of Mars

Could alchemists of the fourteenth century build a nuclear reactor and use quantum entanglement to teleport themselves to Mars?

This is definitely not a "space opera" science fiction novel. It's heavy on the science, and it includes a believable set of scientists and engineers who attempt contact with these people who have lived on Mars for many centuries.
(Click image for details.)

I once visited a web site that gave an analysis of what writer you were most like. The answer palette must have been limited, but the answer I got was Hal Clement, the pen name for Harry Clement Stubbs (1922 - 2003), one of the first hard science fiction authors. Clement received a B.S. in astronomy from Harvard in 1943, and an M.S. in chemistry from Simmons College in 1963. There's a "Hal Clement Award for Young Adults for Excellence in Children's Science Fiction Literature" presented annually at Worldcon.

References:

  1. J. Daniel Christensen and Greg Egan, "An efficient algorithm for the Riemannian 10j symbols," arXiv Preprint Server, January 24, 2002.
  2. Tikalon Press Web Site.

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Thanks to Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing for his favorable review of Secret Codes!

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