Friday, June 04, 2010

lablit up and coming?

Jennifer Rohn writes in the current issue of Nature that lablit (i.e. realistic novels with scientists as central characters shown to engage in scientific research) appears to experience a boom, with an increasing number of lablit novels being published every year since around 1990.

Come to think of it, I haven't read all that many books that fit her definition. Off the cuff, I can remember:

Carl Djerassi: Cantor's Dilemma (which also got Rohn interested in this)
Carl Sagan: Contact
Daniel Kehlmann: Measuring the world


Missing from the LabLit list is German author Karl Aloys Schenzinger who is a pioneer of the genre:

Anilin. Roman eines Farbstoffes (1936)
Metall (1939)
Atom (1950)
Schnelldampfer (1951)
Bei I.G. Farben (1951)


but who is somewhat discredited by being also the author of Hitlerjunge Quex (1932), a novel glorifying the Nazi youth organisation.


An Austrian refugee working in Canada, Charles Wassermann (1924-78) novelised the discovery of insulin in the book:

Insulin (1966)


Also missing is Jules Verne. Looking up by topics, one can find loads of novels about scientists, eg about Kepler the German wikipedia entry lists:
Rosemarie Schuder: Der Sohn der Hexe – In der Mühle des Teufels. Berlin: Rütten & Loening 1968
Wilhelm und Helga Strube: Kepler und der General. Berlin: Neues Leben 1985
Johannes Tralow: Kepler und der Kaiser. Berlin: Verlag der Nation 1961



As for the reasons for the increase over the last 20 years, I reckon that Djerassi's success with Cantor's dilemma may have triggered something like a chain reaction.

On second thoughts, the graph shown in Nature would also be compatible with the interpretation that lablit novels decay with a half life of 10 years.

PS Many years ago I read a book that comprehensively analyses the image of scientists in literature - I vaguely remember I found it quite inspiring at the time (need to read it again at some point). That's "From Faust to Strangelove" by Roslynn Haynes, Johns Hopkins University Press 1994 (Paperback 1995)

2 comments:

Jenny Rohn said...

Hi Michael, and many thanks to your suggestions for our List. We will look into them straight away! Foreign language books are especially difficult for us to find, though we have a few on the list.

Meanwhile, just to note that given the long gestation time of novels (5-10 years), I didn't think that Cantor's Dilemma could explain a contemporaneous upswing - though could definitely have reinforced it along with the other established authors I mentioned.

Michael said...

all those frustrated lablit writers that had a novel in their drawer may have come out of the closet after Cantor's dilemma, that would remove the lag time :)

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