Science and scientists are a huge part of our society. So, perfectly reasonably, a good number of men and women in white have had starring roles in our fiction. Be it in books, comics, or even on the silver screen, there really are a vast array of fictional scientists influencing how people perceive science-types and, by extension, the disciplines they devote their lives to. In this post, I want to discuss why I’m not entirely comfortable with some of the ways scientists have been represented in recent years, and muse over some of the problems Hollywood et al may be causing.
To put it straight out there, my major gripe with science in fiction is what I like to refer to as the polarisation of fictional scientists trend. By this I essentially mean that, more often than not, a fictional scientist is either a saint-like expert who is ignored as he/she warns of impending disaster or doom (think Dennis Quaid in The Day After Tomorrow), or an evil-genius who is hell-bent on causing said disaster or doom (think Syndrome in The Incredibles).
‘But wait!’ I hear you shouting at your screen, ‘Surely it’s good that fiction is warning us to listen to the under-appreciated scientist, and to be wary of all the evil genii plotting away out there?’ Well, to a point I suppose, but painting this extreme picture of scientists denies what they really are: normal human-beings with a normal amount of strengths and shortcomings. Having the public believe they must always listen to what someone says because they are a scientist is dangerous, and, perhaps just as vitally, it has the potential to put people off from engaging and debating with scientists about something they feel passionate about. And I think we can all agree, that is a very bad thing.
I admit that not all fiction is wide of the mark. Way back in 1818 Mary Shelly published the sublime Frankenstein which is a ground-breaking account of a conflicted scientist who tries to do good but ends up, well, causing a stir to put it lightly. More recently the film Contact did a decent job of showing physicists as they (sort of) are, and I think we need more of such works to better portray scientists and encourage confident engagement/debate.
In my first novel, Tethers, I tried my best to write a scientist (Dr Parfitt) who is an accurate representation of a real scientist/human. He is a man on the verge of a world-changing discovery but, to develop his ideas, he makes some very questionable decisions. I cannot say whether such actions are ever justified, it’s a topic that requires wider debate. And really, that is my point; we need to be encouraging conversation and engagement between scientists and the wider public, we shouldn’t put scientists on pedestals where they are totally out of reach!
October 23, 2014Leave a comment
I’ve mentioned my talented filmmaker brother, Jason Croxall on this site a few times now, but I’ve never actually showcased any of his excellent short films! All of my factual videos are shot and directed by Jason, but below is one of his drama pieces, Retrograde. The film is about a young man struggling with retrograde amnesia, and was released earlier this year. Have a watch and see what you think.
October 19, 2014Leave a comment
We’ve all heard a fisherman’s tale before; those far-fetched stories concerning ‘the one that got away’ shared in the corner of dimly lit pubs. Well, oddly enough, it turns out some of them were true.
Of course, zoologist and extreme angler Jeremy Wade has known this for a long time. For the past twenty-five years, he’s been travelling the world collecting the stories of ferocious freshwater attacks previously written off as folklore by the masses. From tales of sharks attacking horses at river crossings (yes, sharks in rivers!), to spiked fish lodging themselves inside gentlemen’s nether regions, it really is incredible how many of the myths Wade investigates in River Monsters turn out to have a basis in fact.
From the opening sentence, it’s clear Wade can write (he’s previously been employed as a copywriter and reporter) and he works intrigue and imagery into his prose with a skilled hand. It’s a good job he’s able to as well, because River Monsters is far, far more than just a transcript of Animal Planet’s television series of the same name. It’s the story of Wade himself, of a man who wandered through his early adult life lost, until his passion for adventure and the natural world was reignited, and, with it, his sense of direction and purpose.
And what a passion he has. You can feel it coursing through every sentence, and, when he’s stalking creatures such as the goliath tigerfish, the alligator garr or the Illiamna lake monster, it’s easy to get caught up in Wade’s enthusiasm. His knowledge of the creatures he’s hunting and the history of locations he hunts them in is impressive; a particular highlight is Wade’s comparison of his exploits to those of past explorers, including none other than Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt’s (after an election defeat in 1912, Roosevelt left America in order to explore a perilous tributary of the Amazon River).
Naturally, the question that comes to mind with a book like this is, what’s here for non-anglers? Well, the emphasis is on the fauna and the exotic locations, not on bait rigs or tackle selection, and most readers will much prefer it that way. But the passages on local peoples (tribal and otherwise) and the personal accounts of Wade’s experiences with them are the book’s surprise strength – they’re just as fascinating as the river monsters themselves.
October 12, 2014Leave a comment