Today I have on fellow International Thriller Writers Debut Author, Amy Rogers, talking about science in fiction. Amy, Harvard-educated and holding an M.D. and a Ph.D., writes thrilling science-themed novels that pose frightening what if? questions. In addition to writing her own fiction and medical nonfiction, Amy reads every science- or medical-themed thriller she can and reviews these books at her website ScienceThrillers.
Her debut science thriller, PETROPLAGUE, poses the question: What if all the gas in LA suddenly turned into vinegar? Carmageddon doesn’t begin to describe it.
On Science in Fiction
by Amy Rogers
I’m a scientist and a writer. I write fictional science. Sci with fi. Science-y fiction. Science thrillers (SciThri). Fiction with science.
I’ve heard all these terms used by writers working in this genre, a genre that was launched by Michael Crichton with THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN back in 1969. What I don’t want to call my work is science fiction. SciFi is a marvelous, diverse genre with a great history but the label conjures up images of space and time travel, futuristic extrapolations, and dystopian visions.
I don’t write about possible futures. I write about possible presents. My science thrillers are grounded in the present, in reality, in real science. The stories could happen tomorrow; they just haven’t happened yet. For example, my debut novel PETROPLAGUE presents a disaster scenario based on science so realistic you practically need a PhD to figure out where I start making things up. In PETROPLAGUE, bacteria that “eat” petroleum contaminate the fuel supply of Los Angeles and paralyze the city.
Such bacteria exist in real life. So do the kinds of people whose actions inadvertently lead to the release of these genetically-altered microbes into the environment (a UCLA graduate student, an environmental extremist, a Peak Oil survivalist). By keeping the plot elements real—including the science—I strive to create stories that readers will think about long after the last page is turned
Science is a rich vein of material to mine for thrillers. I’ve been studying, doing, or teaching science my whole life. Combining that knowledge and experience with fiction writing gives me a unique opportunity to get people thinking about science—and learning a little bit too. People read thrillers to be entertained. If they want to information about the oxygen requirements of hydrocarbonclastic bacteria, they’ll pick up a work of nonfiction. But by incorporating real science into good fiction, I can plant seeds of scientific literacy and maybe encourage readers to learn more. (At the end of my book, I provide “behind the scenes” technical information which does just that.)
Page-turning plots and fidelity to accurate science: that’s what SciThri is all about. Interested? Visit ScienceThrillers.com to learn more about PETROPLAGUE and over 75 other science- or medical-themed thrillers by writers you know and writers you’ll be glad you discovered.
Amy Rogers, MD/PhD, is a writer, scientist, educator, and critic. She is a member of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Class 2011-2012. To connect with Amy visit ScienceThrillers.com, subscribe to the ScienceThrillers quarterly e-newsletter, follow @ScienceThriller on twitter, or become a fan on Facebook.