Science in fiction

Published in Protocols & Methods

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In July of 2007, we highlighted several popular nonfiction science books on our “summer reading” lists in our Editorial. Given the abundance of nonfiction books on scientific topics, many of which are written for the general public, it was not too hard to identify a short list of stellar examples of science writing. For this month’s Editorial, we sought to highlight fiction books with realistic scientists (even more specifically, biologists) as main characters in laboratory settings.

This did not turn out to be a very easy task, because few books fall under the label of “science in fiction” or “lab lit”, and stories about biologists doing believable biology research are even rarer. The list of books of this sort featured in the Editorial is not comprehensive, but it is perhaps nearly so. If you are interested in finding more books in the science-in-fiction genre, is an excellent resource. This online magazine is edited by Jennifer Rohn, the author of Experimental Heart (one of the books profiled in the Editorial) and a practicing cell biologist at University College London. Rohn was inspired to try to raise the profile of books in this genre after reading Cantor’s Dilemma by Carl Djerassi, when she was in graduate school. has become quite a popular site, and now more than 80 books are profiled on the “lab lit list”. Many of these books have been best-sellers or won awards, indicating that there is interest from the general public in stories about scientists.

Despite the more in-your-face forms of entertainment – television, movies, the internet – an old-fashioned novel is still a source of pleasure for many of us. It’s also a fantastic medium for overturning stereotypes about scientists, and for getting more people interested in science and for educating them about what scientists do. It also allows authors to draw attention to the important issues of ethics and the societal and personal impacts of scientific research. The books highlighted in the July Editorial are great examples of realistic representations of biologists in page-turning stories.

Happy summer reading!

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