SCIENCE FICTION BY SCIENTISTS
Edited by Michael Brotherton
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Several years ago, I had breakfast with Martin H. Greenberg and pitched several anthology ideas to him. One of those ideas was for a collection of stories written by science fiction authors who were working scientists, writing stories in their areas of research. Marty got a distant look in his eye and said, “I love the idea. I could have sold it with Isaac, but nobody else.” Now, Mike Brotherton has come along and proven that somebody else could sell the idea. Science Fiction by Scientists takes fourteen working scientists and presents hard science stories by them in their chosen fields.
Andrew Fraknoi’s “Supernova Rhythm” suffers from a problem that is recurring in the stories included in this anthology. He establishes the scientific background of the story, but then fails to deliver an ending. In Fraknoi’s case, however, the story works on some level because of this. Fraknoi establishes a scientific mystery, the galaxy NGC 6946 has an overabundance of observable supernovas which appear, against all likelihood, to be times or artificial. Rose Laredo, the graduate student who discovers the pattern goes to her advisor to find out if there is an error in her methodology. And there is no denouement. While this makes for a poor narrative, it is indicative of the way science really works, not always wrapping things up neatly, presenting questions which are unanswerable. That may be the point of Fraknoi’s story. While other stories have a similar problem, because of the way Fraknoi presented it in the narrative, it works and provides a message about the scientific method.
Tedd Roberts offers a look at a zombie professor and the difficulties that arise aorund being undead, even though John Wissen doesn't crave brains or show any other signs typically associated with zombieism. instead, he is interested in keeping his position at the university, teaching classes, and figuring out how he managed to survive the car crash that took his life. The story is interesting because it doesn't explain what happened to Wissen, instead following him as he manages to come up with some clues, whcih point in the direction his research needs to go.
While many of the stories look at the hard science and astronomy, “Upside the Head,” by Marissa Lingen is an exploration of healthcare and the science behind dealing with repeated head trauma. He protagonist is heading up a study using (mostly) injured hockey players to determine whether a drug that is designed to regrow damaged amygdala. The process is halting at best and there is no clear and steady improvement on any of the subjects, nor does the protagonist know which of her patients are taking the new drugs and which are on placebos, although she can make an educated guess. Lingen brings her characters to life and makes them sympathetic as they cope with their anger and personality issues brought on by their brain damage.
Jon Richards seems to give a relatively straight-forward description of his job at the Allen Telescope Array in “One for the Conspiracy Theorists” rather than a story. Richards does tack on a coda to his job description, in which the main character does find possible evidence of alien intelligence sending out radio waves, but is at a loss as to the next steps.
If there is only one concept in quantum physics that most people have heard about it is Schrödinger’s thought experiment. In “The Schrodinger Brat Paradox,” Carl(ton) Frederick uses the thought experiment to set up to prove or disprove aspects of the Multi World Interpretation which his scientist, Roger Tate, does not believe it. In this case, the experiment is in support of a child who is undergoing psychiatric evaluation and Olivia Van Staaten and Tate begin to wonder if rather than simply being on the spectrum the child might be in a state of quantum flux. The initial suggestion and the eventual experiment are presented so separately, that it almost feels as if Frederick provide two halves of a related stories without the connector between them.
“Spreading the Seed,” by Les Johnson feels more like the set up for a story than a story itself. It follows a group of humans who are leaving Earth to settle the planet Kepler 186f, which was the first Earth-sized exoplanet discovered. Johnson explores some of the hopes and fears of a couple of colonists before turning his attention to a mission briefing made on the eve of their ship’s launch. The information in the briefing, about inability to communicate due to the speed of light, seems like it is information the characters should already know, although it doesn’t come across as a pure info-dump. What makes the story feel unfinished, however, is that Johnson hints that all the other colonial missions are known to have been failures, but he doesn’t have the time to explore those circumstances.
Too many of the stories don't reach a satisfactory conclusion, instead presenting the problem science needs to explore without resolution. This is compensated for by including a short afterword to each story in which the author/scientist explains how they built the story around current scientific theories as well as the importance of those theories and the research being done in support of them. This volume isn't entirely satisfactory, but, like many of the stories included, it points out the direction for future anthologies.
|Ken Wharton||Down and Out|
|Jennifer Rohn||The Tree of Life|
|Andrew Fraknoi||Supernova Rhythm|
|Edward M. Lerner||Turing de Force|
|Tedd Roberts||Neural Alchemist|
|Jed Brody||Hidden Variables|
|Marissa Lingen||Upside the Head|
|J. Craig Wheeler||Betelgeuse|
|Stephanie Osborn||Sticks and Stones||Jon Richards||One for the Conspiracy Theorists|
|Carl(ton) Frederick||The Schrodinger Brat Paradox|
|Eric Choi||Fixer Upper|
|Les Johnson||Spreading the Seed|
|J.M. Sidorova||The Gatherer of Sorrows|
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