Brave new words: literature in science

Written by Aija

“We react to the new world around us with awe and curiosity. In order to understand it, we tell ourselves stories.”

That is part of the description of the event Brave New Words: A Celebration of Words and Science at In Space that drew many science and literature buffs. In the form of prose, poetry and graphic fiction, the event celebrated the winner entries of Tales from Within – Imaginative Non-fiction on Stem Cells, with readings of Sarah Byrne’s short story “The Beginning” (read by lovely Ariadne Cass-Maran), Eliot North’s poem “He Blew Me a Kiss” (by rally of Rally and Broad, Rachel McCrum), all set with the graphic fiction display of Naomi Moris on the wall as well as a lively discussion with some special guest, led by storyteller Emily Dodd. The guest speakers were the writers Pippa Goldschmidt, Ken MacLeod, Barbara Melville and Mhairi Stewart.

Can literature and storytelling be a gateway to science? To make it more appealing and slightly more understandable – into the vernacular of layman –through these crossover platforms? After a quick poll of how many of the attendees were in science, and the total coming to less than 1/4th of those present, the answer seems to be yes. The interplay between narrative and science enables deeper levels of science to be explored, as well as ensuring a wider reach, especially for non-science plebs such as myself.  Unfamiliar things intrigue us. Same way as science fiction or crime literature carry an appeal of mysterious unknown territory, science non-fiction writing can provide an access to many complicated issues. It is a dialogue, engaging the members of the public. As Pippa explains; creative non-fiction is an interesting way to explore science – for fiction to be true, it has to borrow from the real world and from real science. This builds trust between the author and reader.

Emily continues on this train of thought by asking how does science use storytelling? The panel agrees, science does not work without words, and it has the same beginning and end structure. And science also readily provides action that makes a story captivating. Science and art are both creative forms and in order to succeed in either one needs to have an open mind. Whether science in entertainment is purposefully dumbing down the science it represents is a question that has Ken on the fence. It is not as much about dumbing down, Ken explains, as it is about simplifying, not lying but making it more understandable. Especially, as Ken puts it, when considering the abysmal amount of ignorance among people when it comes to basic scientific concepts, such as the solar system.

By default, is science writing dystopian or utopian? Gloom and doom stories do tend to attract more than fansical explorations of the uknown. Barbara believes science writing can be forward looking – yesterday’s beliefs of impending doom are today’s science. We wonder in order to create and explore – this is where creative writing and science can unite.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Brave new words: literature in science

  1. the metaphors that scientists use to render the maths into words put us fiction writers to shame. There are so many paradigms about quantum physics, theory of mind and cosmology which fiction writers ought to be considering for our narrative structures. Why be bound by narrative of beginning, middle and end. Quantum physics for example suggests that may not in fact be the case, but merely human patterning in order to try and render meaning.

    There’s science fiction, but then there’s also science in fiction.

    Many thanks for your post

    • I have always envied creative non-fiction writers as much, or even more, than pure fiction writers. To render facts in such a way that it becomes almost a new reality is a talent.

      For a aspiring publisher, to see all the different variations of writing is a novelty.

      Thank you for reading!

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