Saturday, June 28, 2014

Balancing Fiction and Non

Writing fiction is fun, but it’s also great to do something else for a change. Yesterday I visited Princeton, my alma mater, to attend a conference on string theory. String theory, of all things! This stuff is so mathematically complex I can’t even pretend to understand it, and luckily I don’t have to. My alumni magazine asked me to write a “casual piece” about it. I’m going to write five lighthearted paragraphs about the scientists who are struggling to understand the universe.

Actually, that’s a perfect assignment for me right now. I’m about 25,000 words into my next novel and I don’t want to get sidetracked by writing a long, serious magazine article. On the other hand, writing 500 words about the quirks of genius physicists is a welcome distraction.

And you can definitely reap some benefits from writing both fiction and journalism. I gave up my full-time job at Scientific American six years ago when I got a contract to write thrillers, but I’ve remained a contributing editor at the magazine. A couple of months ago I contributed an item to the magazine’s website about a scientist at NASA who’s trying to build a real warp-drive engine, like the one that propels the Enterprise in all the Star Trek episodes. This silly little piece got more than 8,000 “like’s” in 24 hours.

I’ve also done a bit of book editing on the side. I’m on the editorial board of Science and Fiction, a series of novels and works of literary criticism published by Springer. I get a chance to read manuscripts and make suggestions for improving them.

I don’t do these things for the money. I get only nominal fees for this work and sometimes nothing at all. No, I do it because I want to keep one foot in the world of journalism. Although I love the fantasy of fiction, I don’t want to lose touch with reality.

And you can learn some fascinating things when you hang out with geniuses. Did you know that Chinese scientists are seriously considering building a gigantic particle collider, a machine so huge it’ll dwarf Europe’s Large Hadron Collider? This is big news in the physics community.

On Monday, though, I’m going right back to the novel. I have some new ideas for the book, ideas I gleaned from the living, breathing world.  

1 comment:

  1. I like to think that, if there is a god, he's got a sense of humor, and has designed the universe so that whatever theory scientists come up with, string theorgy and quantum physics or black holes or the world resting on the back of infinite elephants, there will be evidence for it.