Skip to main content

Sam Kean – Four Way Interview

Sam Kean spent years collecting mercury from broken thermometers as a child and now he is a writer in Washington D.C. He studied physics and English and his work has appeared in the New York Times magazine, Slate and New Scientist. His first book is The Disappearing Spoon.
Why Science?
I love literature and have grown more and more interested in politics since moving to Washington, D.C. But in those fields you’re dealing with the same themes and problems as people hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Science excites me because it’s one of the few things that’s truly new and that has truly changed across the millennia. We’re no smarter than the ancient Greeks or Egyptians or Chinese in the arts but we know immeasurably more science, and it’s fun being a part of that, however modestly, through writing.
Why this book?
I’d always gravitated in school toward teachers who neglected the lesson plans in favor of telling us stories, and I finally wanted to collect all the fabulous tales about elements into one place. Plus, we talked about so few of the 118 elements in school and I just knew there had to funny, unusual, and spooky stories about elements most people have never ever heard of, too.
What’s next?
I’m working on a new book about genetics – fun, peculiar, and strange stories from the long history of human evolution. Most of them would have been lost forever if they weren’t etched (or rather encoded, waiting to be read) into our DNA.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
Astrobiology – hunting for life on other planets. It’s such a great blend of so many different fields (physics, geology, astronomy, biology, atmospheric chemistry, virology, etc., etc.) And if we do find life somewhere else in the universe I think that will be the most important discovery we could ever make.
Photo (c) Voss Studios, Austinville, Iowa, US – reproduced with permission

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

De/Cipher - Mark Frary ****

I was a little doubtful when I first saw this book. Although it has the intriguing tagline 'The greatest codes ever invented and how to crack them' the combination of a small format hardback and gratuitous illustrations made me suspect it would be a lightweight, minimal content, Janet and John approach to codes and ciphers. Thankfully, in reality Mark Frary manages to pack a remarkable amount of content into De/Cipher's slim form.

Not only do we get some history on and instructions to use a whole range of ciphers, there are engaging little articles on historical codebreakers and useful guidance on techniques to break the simpler ciphers. The broadly historical structure takes the reader through basic alphabetic manipulation, keys, electronic cryptography, one time pads and so on, all the way up to modern public key encryption and a short section on quantum cryptography. 

We even get articles on some of the best known unsolved ciphers, such as the Dorabella and the Voynich ma…

Paul McAuley - Four Way Interview

Paul McAuley won the Philip K. Dick Award for his first novel and has gone on to win the Arthur C. Clarke, British Fantasy, Sidewise and John W. Campbell Awards. He gave up his position as a research biologist to write full-time. He lives in London. His latest novel is Austral.


Why science fiction?

For one thing, I fell in love with science fiction at an early age, and haven’t yet fallen out of love with it (although I have flirted with other genres). For another, we’re living in an increasingly science-fictional present. Every day brings headlines that could have been ripped from a science-fiction story. Giant robot battle: Who knew a duel between chainsaw-armed mech suits could be so boring? for instance. Or, Roy Orbison hologram to embark on UK tour in 2018. And looming above all this, like Hokusai’s famous wave, are the ongoing changes caused by global warming and climate change, which is just one consequence of human activity having become the dominant force of change on the planet…

Karl Drinkwater - Four Way Interview

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester, but has lived in Wales half his life. He is a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics and Information Science. When he isn't writing, he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake and zombies - not necessarily in that order. His latest novel is Lost Solace.

Why science fiction?

My favourite books have always been any form of speculative fiction. As a child I began with ghost stories, which were the first books to make me completely forget I was reading. By my teenage years I was obsessed with fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Although I read literary and contemporary books, non-fiction, historical works, classics and so on, it is speculative fiction that I return to when I want escape and wonder. When I read reviews of my last book, the fast-paced novella Harvest Fe…