I’ve decided to post this special note to alert readers to the titles they can expect to see reviewed in coming months. You’ll recall that in my second post, I said that I’d read 19 of the novels on the Lab Lit List, three of which I’d recently re-read. In my third post I wrote four short reviews of the novels I think are among the best stories I’ve read about scientific research and therefore best fit my criterion for “fiction about science.” In my fifth review, I reviewed The Honest Look and in the seventh, Cantor’s Dilemma, two more novels meeting my criterion. However, since I began this blog in July, I’ve read five more, and I enjoyed all of them.
Actually, I’ve written reviews of 26 more books on the list. I’m so far ahead of my blog in real time that I feel slightly embarrassed by the situation. There’s another consideration. The holiday season isn’t the best time to be posting reviews of what I consider important novels that deserve the attention of serious readers. So I’ve decided to compromise and post a list of upcoming reviews along with a sentence or two about why I’m reviewing them and what issue I’ll be addressing in the commentary that will follow each review. I’m inviting anyone who’s interested in the titles below or the commentaries mentioned to contact me, and I’ll send my review as a Word (or PDF, if requested) attachment.
A couple of other points. I expect to post my next review (the first title below) on January 3, 2013. I’ll try to add a post once a week after that. That means that by April, exactly a year after I discovered the Lab Lit List, I’ll have fleshed out my concept of how fiction about science differs from lab lit and why I think the former is an important type of literary fiction.
Carbon Dreams by Susan M. Gaines is an excellent portrait of a working geochemist and has the additional attraction that part of the story takes place on an oceanography research vessel. It raised for me the problem of how to explain the science involved in a great story about scientific research.
The Girl Pretending to Read Rilke by Barbara Riddle is a delightful coming of age novel about an undergraduate science student. As such, this short novel is an unique example of the lab lit genre and deserves a very wide readership.
Cosm by Gregory Benford will strike most readers as traditional science fiction. So how is lab lit and fiction about science different from sci-fi? I picked Bensford novel to review because it spans both genres and manages to appeal to readers interested in either one (or both). In my commentary, I’ll also ask where “speculative fiction” fits in, because Cosm could be shelved under that heading, too.
Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlman, Kepler by John Banville, and The Properties of Light by Rebecca Goldstein are three good examples of fictionalized biographies. Each one raises questions about how this approach differs from regular biographies and why the former are worth readers’ attention.
Thinks… by David Lodge is important because it represents cognitive neuroscience, a field of science not often covered in fiction of any kind. I think the book is especially important because Lodge wrestles with the question of whether a fiction writer can contribute something to our scientific understanding of thought by describing the private thoughts of a character in situ.
A Whiff of Death by Isaac Asimov is a great murder mystery and the characters are realistic academic scientists working in a very realistic chemistry department. My only complaint is that the story is about who committed the murder and not about the outcome of the characters’ research. Still, for a mystery that avoids most of the stereotypes of the mystery genre, this novel is unmatched.
Petroplague by Amy Rogers is a techno-thriller with real scientific integrity. Indeed, “techno-thriller” is a misnomer. There is real and important science woven into the plot. I’m turned off by too much heroics in the thriller genre, but Rogers saves these until very close to the end, and by then I was totally identified with the protagonist. I’ll follow my review with a broader discussion of the suspension of disbelief in fiction about science.
Experimental Heart by Jennifer Rohn could be classified as a romance, except that would be a great injustice. It is much more, and the romance takes place in laboratories and is embedded in a plot rich of realistic molecular biology.
Seaside Pleasures by Ann Lingard tells one of those stories that occur in both the past and the present, and like the very best fiction, gives a reader a chance to see the world through a character’s eyes, in this case a biologist who studies mollusks.
I don’t have a commentary for either Mendel’s Dwarf by Simon Mawer or Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis, but I want to get these two titles out there for discussion. The former is a great read and the latter is a real American classic.
I just finished reading The God Patent by Ransom Stephens, and my desire to write a review is one of my motivations for this post. I was completely enthralled by the characters and the story. It mixes quantum physics with metaphysics and artificial intelligence with religion, and still manages to emerge with a coherent, compelling story. I may just stick my review in earlier and not worry about having a commentary to justify it.
If you’re interested in my reviews of the titles above that are not linked to blog posts or would like to exchange thoughts about a novel, please contact me on my author website.