The Science of Fiction

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Photos of the Month - November 2017

November is National Novel Writing Month, or as it’s known by many on the internet, #NaNoWriMo. Founded in 1999, NaNoWriMo is a month-long creative writing campaign designed to encourage willing participants to write 50,000 word novels, creative pieces, and fiction of any sort during the 30 days of November. Regardless of if you are participating in NaNoWriMo or not, we thought we’d take this opportunity to share with our audience a selection of physicists and scientists who are also novelists themselves. Often, these novels tend to be influenced by the real-life works of the scientists who write them.

Norbert Wiener, mathematician and the “father of cybernetics”, also wrote short stories and authored a 1959 novel The Tempter, a tale about business interests and the sciences colliding. Fred Hoyle of the Institute of Astronomy wrote science fiction novels, children’s books, plays, and a television series. Gravitational wave detection researcher and physicist Robert Forward’s work sometimes bordered on science fiction, which is perhaps what inspired him to write roughly a dozen science fiction novels. Carl Sagan, although known for his non-fiction, also wrote a hugely successful novel Contact which was made into a Hollywood movie in the 1990’s. University of California, Irvine professor of physics Gregory Benford also writes science fiction, including his award-winning Galactic Center Saga series about biological and artificial life forms. Lastly, Timothy Zahn, author of dozens of fantasy and sci-fi novels and short stories including a series of Star Wars expanded universe books, studied physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

We hope you find some time to write this November or, at the very least, read some physics-inspired or authored novels!

Norbert Wiener, mathematician, was also a short story author and novelist.

Credit line: MIT Museum, AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Fred Hoyle, astronomer, wrote sci-fi, children’s books, plays, and a TV series.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Clayton Collection

Robert Forward, science fiction author, converses with William Fairbank.

Credit line: Photograph by Rosemary Gaffney, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Carl Sagan wrote non-fiction but also authored a famous novel Contact.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, John Irwin Slide Collection

Timothy Zahn, fantasy and sci-fi author, studied physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Credit line: Department of Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Kevin Marvel stands with science fiction author Gregory Benford at the Owens Valley Radio Observatory.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Gift of Kevin Marvel