From time to time people tell me they have a great idea for a story or a novel but lack the know-how, discipline or time to write it. Usually I go into a psychological crouch when I hear this since I don't lack ideas and when I do, I just start writing and follow my pen. Is it easy? The fact is that it's all-consuming and requires all of my concentration, but as the recently deceased Christopher Hitchens once said, it's recreational for me and I wouldn't know what to do in the morning if I didn't get up and write (as I'm doing now.)
Last night at Christmas party I heard someone out with a more open mind than usual. He is a senior scientist who works on extremely complex space missions, designs computer games on the side, and also races Mini Coopers.
At different points in his life, he told me, he's wanted to "write," but not had the time. And he still doesn't have the time. But some of the most important moments in his life have come through reading. Certain passages and settings in The Lord of the Rings were like deja vu to him. Rereading an Isaac Asimov trilogy recently, after a fifty year lapse, put him right back into his thirteen-year-old youth.
Normally he speaks thoughtfully but with a natural rhythm. Last night he hesitated a lot and he was a bit tongue-tied. He recounted something to me that had happened in the 19th century--a natural phenomenon--that could happen again. It was disruptive then and would be much more disruptive now.
I commented that he was sketching something out that fell into the general rubric of "apocalyptic visions," but I found his idea compelling because real science underpinned it, and there was a historical backdrop to confirm that.
This was a man who recently went through by-pass surgery and on his return to work as a physicist asked himself if he still had the energy to solve the complex problems that confront him on a day-to-day basis. Fortunately, he found out that he's fine. Although he's seventy, he wants to work forever. He's like my son, also an aspiriring physicist, who says quite seriously that he would like to live 500 years because there is always more to know.
I hang out with physicists a little bit because of my son's interests, and it seems to me they all share something in common: a kind of religious passion about the unknown. Recent coverage of the search for the "the God particle" underscores that point. But this term carries with it a tone of scientific irony. As the renowned physicist Freeman Dyson recently wrote in the New York Review of Books, "...literature digs deeper than science into human nature and human destiny."
I don't read science fiction and am not sure if there is a sub-genre that could be called "scientific" fiction, i.e., fiction grounded in and determined by the laws of nature. There probably is.
Anyway, I'll think about this. Fiction for me has been (all my life) the ultimate freedom. Science, while compelling, always has annoyed me a bit because natural law is so inflexible. Can the two be combined, each in its richness?
Causes Robert Earle Supports
World Wildlife Fund