Dr Jennifer Rohn writes: Science in literary fiction occurs along a continuum, from passing references and peripheral scientist characters to a rich, full-blown experience in which realistic scientists feature as central characters and their research endeavors underpin the plot. What makes this latter end of the spectrum, which I call 'lab lit', so engaging is that while the delivery of the science is still subtle and unobtrusive, and human interest vitalizes the narrative arc, the reader is effortlessly drawn into a hidden world viewed from a scientist's eyes. Such a perspective is rare in today's environment where, despite the saturation of science in our media, non-stereotyped representations of researchers and their craft rarely see the light of day. I estimate that there have been only a few dozen pure 'lab lit' novels ever written; these are five of my favorites:
Cantor's Dilemma (Carl Djerassi)
A cancer researcher throws integrity to the wind in pursuit of the Nobel Prize. Immersed in my PhD research in the 80's, this was the first 'lab lit' book I ever encountered, and I was equally delighted to find a novel set in my beloved world and bemused that there seemed to be so few other examples.
Paper (John McCabe)
This black comedy/thriller features a disgruntled biochemist propelled from his tedious research rut by a second-hand laptop full of suspicious DNA code - 'lab lit noir' at its finest. When I read this in the 90's, I too was a disillusioned postgrad, and the experience resonated.
Mendel's Dwarf (Simon Mawer)
An intellectual, bittersweet story of a dwarf geneticist studying the molecular basis of his own condition; in the process, egomania and self-hatred mutate into enlightenment.
Long For This World (Michael Byers)
In this tense tale of love and hubris, a medical geneticist becomes so fond of his pediatric patient that he decides to treat the child in secret without going through the proper ethical channels.
Intuition (Allegra Goodman)
'Lab lit' hits the bestseller lists this year, giving the genre a well-deserved boost of popular exposure: Secrets, lies and scientific fraud threaten to tear apart a close-knit cancer laboratory in Boston.
Friday, July 21, 2006
As edition editor of the latest copy of Writers in Education, published by NAWE, one of the pieces that really excited me was an article on using science in writing by Ann Lackie. This wasn't just because it was interesting and well-written, but because it got me interested in science, something I'm ashamed to say years of school teachers never managed to do! So, I'm very pleased Dr Jennifer Rohn, editor of Lablit, has kindly allowed me to copy her favourite 'lablit' books on my blog. The site is well worth a visit, not just because of the interesting article by the novelist, Clare Dudman. In addition, news of 'lablit' (I'm going to keep repeating that, I love it!) publishing can be found here, and this list is constantly updated.
This work by Sarah Salway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.