Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Science and Fiction


Once upon a time (it was in the last century), I was a scientist. My field of research was symbiosis, using green hydra as a research model for interactions between animal hosts and single-celled algae inside host cells -- reef-forming corals are the most well-known example of this kind of relationship, but hydra are easier to grow in the lab, and because they mostly reproduce by asexual budding, you can cultivate relatively uniform clones. I had a couple of incubators stacked with glass trays of one particular clone, and another incubator that gently rocked flasks of a cultured strain of their green algal partner. I had amino acids laced with radioactive isotopes used to track metabolic uptake in the fridge, and an HPLC set up to separate and measure levels of amino acids in animal and algal extracts. One of my postgrads maintained an aquarium containing corals, sea anemones and a couple of clown fish. And so on.

I was also, in the later stages of my science career, a published science fiction author. The Secret of Life, published a few years after I became a full-time writer, and just now republished as a Gollanz Masterwork, is my attempt to write a novel that tapped into my life in the labs, foregrounding the practice and culture of science through the career of its central character, Mariella Anders. It's also a science thriller turning on the speculation, advanced by Peter Davies and others, that all of life on Earth may be decended from microbial life that first evolved on Mars, and the rivalries, politics and commercial chicanery Mariella must navigate to arrive at the truth.

This edition has been lightly edited to make a couple of topographical corrections and fix inconsistencies, continuity glitches and minor rough patches that for the most part are noticeable only to me. Some of the science has dated, as science often does, and we know far more about Mars now -- especially what it's like to rove about on its surface -- than we did at the turn of the century. But the idea of a global biological crisis involving a protean organism that thwarts attempts to control it does, perhaps, have an interesting resonance with one of our present ongoing crises.


Blogger Bars and Blood said...

I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret of Life and consumed it over a couple of days after luckily discovering an original hardback quite by chance in a second hand book store. Looking out for more of your stuff. Do I detect a smidgen of Kim Robinson here and there? You two seem to occupy overlapping areas so I would be surprised of you did not swap notes from time to time.

January 18, 2023 6:43 pm  

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