Science in fiction

I’m a little behind in my reading of New Scientist, but I always make a point of studying the magazine as for one thing it provides me with a fair amount of blogging inspiration. However, one problem with blogging about New Scientist articles is that the magazine’s business model leads it to restrict to paying subscribers online access to all but a few short news items.

The 25 August issue of New Scientist carries a special on science in fiction. Not science fiction, most of which is crap, but rather novels that make use of scientific concepts in an attempt to explore consciousness and the human condition.

There are a number of good writers who feature science in their work, and in a New Scientist interview novelist Jeanette Winterson cites Jim Crace and Margaret Atwood as examples. Following the magazine’s example I would add Jeanette Winterson to the list.

The Winterson interview is in places provocative, and it should be interesting to read the letters page over the next few weeks. Winterson is sharply critical of faith in technology as a way of solving the problems of humanity, and despite my general technophilia I think the writer makes some good points. As she says, we’ve got into a “science can fix it” attitude, and this is not the fault of science.

Winterson goes on to have a dig at technologies that may help ameliorate environmental problems. While I would say morality dictates that we pursue such technologies, I agree with Winterson that we often push the responsibility for fixing problems onto “other” people … “whoever they may be, giving them enormous power and, at the same time, suggesting there really aren’t any problems.”

Jeanette Winterson’s latest novel is The Stone Gods, which explores how future humans might behave on colonising a pristine blue planet, just like Earth as it was 65 million years ago. I haven’t read the book yet, but I am tempted to do so. Fictional narratives are ideal for considering such profoundly moral matters.