Skip to main content

Hugh Aldersey-Williams – Four Way Interview

Hugh Aldersey-Williams studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge. He is the author of several books exploring science, design and architecture, and has curated exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Wellcome Collection. His latest book is Periodic Tales.
Why Science?
Science is ultimately the only way of knowing our world. It is also a major part of culture – not something on one side from it or opposed to it as some scientists seem to think. Anything I write about science will always be guided by that.
Why this book?
I feel we have lost touch – often literally – with the elements. I wanted to give readers a real sense of look and feel of the elements, their colours, their weight, their smells, their sounds. It is through these qualities that most of us come to know the elements far better than we think – not by crossing the threshold of a chemistry lab. In other words, we know the elements culturally, through the way they’ve been wrested from the ground, worked and traded.
I think chemistry as it is taught can sometimes be its own worst enemy, and since giving readings of Periodic Tales I’ve found people coming up to me complaining that their son or daughter is having ‘to do the periodic table’ at school. Teaching this artificial construct by rote, as if to equip a child for some trivia quiz, is a disaster.
To use some horrible marketing-speak, I think chemistry’s brand needs refreshing. It seems that chemistry is losing popularity, but in fact what is happening is that its thunder is being stolen by ‘sexier’ fields – environmental sciences, nanotechnology, forensics, molecular biology etc. It doesn’t really matter though. The elements will always be there and we will always depend on them.
What’s next?
Too soon to tell. Probably something that gives me an excuse to learn more about some area of science I know even less about than chemistry.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
My eleven-year-old son’s piano-playing. Where has it comes from?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Adam Roberts - Four Way Interview

Adam Roberts is commonly described as one of the UK's most important writers of SF. He is the author of numerous novels and literary parodies. He is Professor of 19th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, London University, and has written a number of critical works on both SF and 19th Century poetry. His latest novel is The Real-Town Murders.

Why science fiction?

Because it's the best thing in the world. I work for the University of London, which is to say: in effect, I'm paid to read books (and teach them, and write about them) and that means I read a lot of books; and that means you can believe me when I say that SF/Fantasy, and especially (even though it's not something I write) YA SF/Fantasy, is where all the most exciting writing is happening nowadays. You might wonder why I think so: but that's a whole other question, and you've already used up your four ...

Why this book?

So, I came across an account of one of Alfred Hitchcock's (many) unfinished projec…

The Real-Town Murders (SF) - Adam Roberts *****

Of all the contemporary science fiction writers, Adam Roberts can most be relied on to deliver a book that combines an engaging story with extensions of current science and technology that really makes you think - and The Real-Town Murders does this perfectly.

Set in the south east of England, a few decades in the future, this book delivers a trio of delights. The main character, Alma, is faced with constant time pressure as she faces physical and mental challenges (including a lovely homage to North-by-Northwest), there is an apparently impossible locked room mystery and there is fascinating speculation about the impact three technologies - AI, nanotechnology and virtual reality - may have on human life and politics.

Roberts' inventiveness comes through time after time - for example, Alma's partner is locked into a genetically engineered nightmare where she suffers a different medical emergency every four hours which only Alma can fix. It's just a shame, in a way, that Marg…

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…