"Science-in-fiction is not science fiction. Is it autobiography?"

- Carl Djerassi
Several factors have always influenced the conduct of scientificresearch: the quality of the mentor-disciple relationship; trust in thereliability of scientific results; and like it or not, the drive for scientificpriority. A more recent aspect of the scientific scene is society's recognitionthat women should play a much greater role in hitherto male-dominated disciplines.Topics such as these should be presented to a general public, but writingabout them in specialized journals will not bridge the gulf between thetwo cultures. My bridge is a special literary genre, science-in-fiction,wherein I illuminate in a projected tetralogy of novels the tribal cultureof scientists, rather than dwelling on the science they do. The receptionof the first volume, Cantor's Dilemma, which addresses these issues,convinced me that science-in-fiction is an effective way of smuggling serioustopics of scientific behavior into the consciousness of the scientificallyilliterate.

The second novel, The Bourbaki Gambit, published in late 1994, dealswith three other important subjects: the passionate desire of scientistsfor recognition by their peers; science's inherent collegiality; and thegraying of Western science (hence five out of the six main characters areabove the age of 60!). In the process, a fictitious account is presentedof the discovery of the PCR methodology - an invention that won the 1993Nobel Prize in Chemistry and also formed the unacknowledged basis for theJurassic Park fantasy as well as the chief bone of contention inthe O.J. Simpson trial. In other words, a fiction format is used to explainPCR to a lay public while weaving a story around scientists and their tribalbehavior.

The third volume, Menachem's Seed (focusing on recent advance in male reproductivebiology 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 frommy 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 scientistsfor peer approval and hence for name recognition. Most writers also displaya need for approbation by their peers and such preoccupation with theirown 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 acreative mind. But writers also lust for recognition beyond the communityof their peers-for acclaim by the general public (which is of no concernto scientists) and by professional book reviewers and critics (a breed thatdoes not exist in the intellectual world of the scientist). The differencebetween these two groups of creative minds-the issue of individual identityand ego, the ultimate source of all this hunger for success-is the focusof Marx, Deceased.

A few years ago, I published an autobiography, The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, andDegas' Horse. A reader could well ask: How much of Djerassi's science-in-fictionis autobiography and the corollary: How much autobiography is fiction?

go back to Home Page.