Magazine article Times Higher Education

It Was the Best of Space-Time, It Was the Worst of Space-Time

Magazine article Times Higher Education

It Was the Best of Space-Time, It Was the Worst of Space-Time

Article excerpt

Scientists and novelists have joined forces to pen dramatic tales of discovery. Matthew Reisz writes.

The great advances in science - the moments when the periodic table, mirror neurons or green fluorescent proteins were first discovered - are full of passion and drama. Yet they have largely been neglected in literature.

A new anthology, Litmus: Short Stories from Modern Science (Comma Press), brings together 17 fiction writers and 16 academic scientists in order to fill the gap.

One of the great myths in this area, explains editor Ra Page in his introduction, is the idea of "the isolated scientist having an iconic 'eureka moment'".

Most science is "intrinsically collective" and, in cases such as the discovery of nuclear fission, the result of "an ongoing to and fro of experimentation, dispute and rivalry across disciplinary, geographic or even political borders". All this is fertile territory for fiction.

In order to ensure that the project was led by scientists, Mr Page invited dozens of them to suggest turning points in scientific history that they saw as "important and still relevant". Established writers were then offered the chance to choose from a shortlist.

Provided the science was accurate, they were left free to do whatever they liked to turn the material into a powerful piece of fiction. The scientists contributed afterwords.

Sarah Hall chose the discovery of HIV in 1981 and used it as a backdrop for the story of an English doctor working in a South African clinic. …

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