It’s actually been a pretty good year on the publishing front for my friends and fellow members of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference board. Larry Atkins is getting rave reviews for his work on Skewed. Auctus Publishers will be publishing the incredible Miriam Segal Shnycer’s book Of Love and Death: Young Holocaust Survivors’ Passage to Freedom in 2019. And my good friend (and brother in geekitude) David Siegel Bernstein put his huge brain to work and brought us Blockbuster Science: The Real Science in Science Fiction. I caught David at lunch a few weeks ago, and locked him up in a supply closet until he answered my questions. Here’s what he shared.
Let’s start off with an easy question. What is Blockbuster Science: The Real Science in Science Fiction all about?
It’s all in the title. Really. I wrote Blockbuster Scienceto help readers to understand a few of the more popular topics in science as well as how they are used (and sometimes misused) in science fiction. However, there is something important the title doesn’t tell you. It isn’t only for science fiction fans who want to know more about the science behind the plot. This book is for the curious—anyone who wants to know more about the natural world and the universe of which they are a part. It’s for the science geek in everyone, especially those who smirk at jokes such as: Schrödinger’s cat walks into a bar, and doesn’t. My kind of people!
Blockbuster Science was incredibly fun to write. How could it not be? I got to explain the science behind popular narrative concepts like time travel, AI, genetic mutation, asteroids, cyborgs, alien invasion, the zombie apocalypse, and more
Was writing this book different than writing science fiction?
The entire experience of writing this book was different from my fiction writing, where I’m mostly locked inside my head. Blockbuster Sciencewas much more an external journey. I scoured research journals, textbooks, newspapers, and magazines to learn what is old news, where cutting edge research is heading, and new outcomes possible from widely accepted theories. I made my best attempt to explain key scientific principles in jargon-free, easy-to-understand narratives. For the creators of hard-science fiction, I hope this book draws the boundaries that cannot be broken and teases those that are begging to be broken with the right what-if.
What gave you the idea to use science fiction to teach science?
My geeking love for both. There, I said it. I feel liberated! Come on, what could be a more fun way to explore the world of science than through its use—accurately or fantastically—in science fiction entertainment: movies, books, and TV shows?
Science fiction has always had the power to inspire breakthroughs that change our world. Companies used words like “robot” and “android” after they were popularized in fiction, and today’s STEM experts often say they were first inspired by stories they read when they were young.
Why do many humanoids love science fiction?
I’d say because of how inclusive it is. Any bookstore (brick-and-mortar or online) will stock authors and characters who represent a full array of racial, ethnic, and gender groups. And because fictional worlds can support a variety of societies and cultures, a multitude of worldviews, norms, and sexual orientations have appeared.
Because of this inclusiveness, the typical science fiction fan isn’t the clichéd man-child who lives in his parent’s basement. I think the typical science fiction fan is all of us: men, women, engineers, lawyers, scientists, actors, sports stars whose parents live in the basements of their houses, and so on.
Do you have any plans on writing any more books about science?
Yes, I would like to follow up this book with an under-reported history of science. For example, in Blockbuster Science,I briefly cover how women were the original computers. A kilo-girl was a unit of measurement roughly equal to the calculating ability of a thousand women. Also, did you know that robots existed back in ancient Greece? I’d like to delve deeper into topics such as these.
When not writing what other work do you do?
To support my writing addiction and excessively extravagant lifestyle, I am a data magician—only without the magic. Math and science are my tools. I’m a forensic data scientist who specializes in looking for patterns in data that reveal patterns in human behavior. I know that sounds boring until you realize that my company’s clients include the US National Security Agency (NSA), the Secret Service, the FBI, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and a host of other alphabet agencies who cultivate exciting and shadowy reputations. Alas, those reputations are mere facades that disguise the real reason these organizations exist, which is to pay my salary.
If you were stranded on a deserted island and only had one book, what would you want it to be?
I’d choose War and Peaceby Leo Tolstoy. It would be the only time I’d be able to get through it.
Obviously meeting me was the best part of being involved with the PWC, what are the other benefits to attending conferences and other writers’ events?
Anything else I can think of is obviously a steep drop to second place when compared to the honor of meeting with you. With this acknowledgment, I’d say the biggest benefit is connecting with the writing community. It is knowing you are not alone. This is an inspiration to keep on perusing the most solitary of arts—writing. At the PWC you get to meet new people (reconnect with old friends) and network with editors and publishers.
What about time travel? Is everything predestined and any time traveling that occurs actually causes the thing the time traveler wants to prevent (as in Terminator I) or is the past malleable (like Back to the Future) or is it all irrelevant because there are an infinite number of realities (as in Marvel Comics)? Can you prove this with data?
Unfortunately, that’s all I got before the restaurant staff showed up and freed David. If you want to learn more about what he knows about the rules of time travel (and lots of other stuff), visit the PWC blog in a few weeks.
You can find David’s mostly harmless musings at his website, share more of his scientifically-inspired humor over at The Facebook, and learn what he really thinks about the state of the world on Twitter.