"Science-in-fiction is not science fiction. Is it autobiography?"
- Carl Djerassi
Several factors have always influenced the conduct of scientific
research: the quality of the mentor-disciple relationship; trust in the
reliability of scientific results; and like it or not, the drive for scientific
priority. A more recent aspect of the scientific scene is society's recognition
that women should play a much greater role in hitherto male-dominated disciplines.
Topics such as these should be presented to a general public, but writing
about them in specialized journals will not bridge the gulf between the
two cultures. My bridge is a special literary genre, science-in-fiction,
wherein I illuminate in a projected tetralogy of novels the tribal culture
of scientists, rather than dwelling on the science they do. The reception
of the first volume, Cantor's Dilemma, which addresses these issues,
convinced me that science-in-fiction is an effective way of smuggling serious
topics of scientific behavior into the consciousness of the scientifically
The second novel, The Bourbaki Gambit, published in late 1994, deals
with three other important subjects: the passionate desire of scientists
for recognition by their peers; science's inherent collegiality; and the
graying of Western science (hence five out of the six main characters are
above the age of 60!). In the process, a fictitious account is presented
of the discovery of the PCR methodology - an invention that won the 1993
Nobel Prize in Chemistry and also formed the unacknowledged basis for the
Jurassic Park fantasy as well as the chief bone of contention in
the O.J. Simpson trial. In other words, a fiction format is used to explain
PCR to a lay public while weaving a story around scientists and their tribal
The third volume, Menachem's Seed (focusing on recent advance in male reproductive
biology and on the involvement of scientists with international policy issues),
has just been published, while the final volume, NO (dealing with the
"biotech" industry and the treatment of male impotence) appeared in 1998.
However, in between the second and third installment of my tetralogy, I departed from
my stress on the scientific community by writing a novel, Marx,Deceased
(1996), which centers on creative writers rather than creative scientists.
Although seemingly departing from the central theme of my "science-in-fiction"
tetralogy, there is an important common thread:
A recurring motif in my fiction is the compulsive drive of research scientists
for peer approval and hence for name recognition. Most writers also display
a need for approbation by their peers and such preoccupation with their
own image is not very different from a scientist's hunger for peer validation.
In each instance, that urge is both the nourishment and the poison of a
creative mind. But writers also lust for recognition beyond the community
of their peers-for acclaim by the general public (which is of no concern
to scientists) and by professional book reviewers and critics (a breed that
does not exist in the intellectual world of the scientist). The difference
between these two groups of creative minds-the issue of individual identity
and ego, the ultimate source of all this hunger for success-is the focus
of Marx, Deceased.
A few years ago, I published an autobiography, The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and
Degas' Horse. A reader could well ask: How much of Djerassi's science-in-fiction
is autobiography and the corollary: How much autobiography is fiction?
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