March 2019    
         
         
 
     
     
  Parts unknown  
     
     
  Renaissance scholar and science fiction author Ada Palmer discusses her book series, Terra Ignota.  
     
     
   
 
     
  A detail from the cover of Ada Palmer's The Will to Battle. (Art by Victor Mosquera, courtesy Ada Palmer, animation by Joy Olivia Miller)  
     
 
     
     
  Many scientists are first inspired by reading science fiction (see "Spotlight" below), and scientific discoveries influence science fiction. This issue features the imaginations of writers who invent strange new worlds.  
     
     
  The world of Terra Ignota is set in the 25th century, obsessed with the 18th century, and presented in a style borrowed from the Enlightenment.  
     
     
  A lot of classic science fiction is set in a future obsessed with the past, explained UChicago historian Ada Palmer during a 2017 reading from her Terra Ignota series at 57th Street Books. Palmer studies the Renaissance, which was obsessed with ancient Rome, so she understands how time periods can have a fondness for earlier eras.  
     
     
  As with time, Palmer also plays with space. The series published by Tor Books--Too Like the Lightning (2016), Seven Surrenders (2017), and The Will to Battle (2017)--takes place in a world without geographic nations. Thanks to automated flying cars, people can travel anywhere in the world in two hours; they can live, work, and play in different corners of the earth, shifting notions of identity, nationality, and citizenship.  
     
     
   
 
     
  The first three books of Palmer's Terra Ignota series. (Image courtesy Michael Vendiola)  
     
 
     
     
  She got the idea as a graduate fellow at the Villa I Tatti in Florence, where researchers from different nationalities converged, many with children. Within three months, the kids had created a pidgin language to communicate. She began thinking about a world where birthplace was but one factor of citizenship.  
     
     
  Back in our world, Palmer is excited to see more international science fiction. Foreign-language sci-fi isn't often translated into English, but following the success of the 2008 Chinese novel The Three-Body Problem, the first English translation of which was published in 2014, the floodgates have opened for Chinese, French Canadian, Japanese, and Eastern European writers.  
     
     
  Immersed in another culture's storytelling with different literary tropes, readers--even more than with their native-language science fiction--don't know what to expect.  
     
 
 
 
     
  Speculation and speculative fiction  
     
     
 
     
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Writer's Digest discusses how to write "scientific fiction" by analyzing the 1985 novel Contact by cosmologist Carl Sagan, AB'54, SB'55, SM'56, PhD'60.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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The Science Fiction Club at UChicago, known colloquially as Skiffy, has a storied--if occasionally inactive--history.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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Sylvain Neuvel, PhD'03, offered to build his son a toy robot. His son's barrage of questions about the would-be robot inspired his debut sci-fi novel, Sleeping Giants.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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James Cambias, AB'88, takes you to the bottom of the sea on a distant moon in A Darkling Sea.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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Army major, CIA agent, chicken farmer, and award-winning science fiction author: Alice Sheldon, who attended Lab in the 1920s, adopted her pseudonym, James Tiptree Jr., from a marmalade jar.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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UChicago scientists fact-check science in pop culture.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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And a little science nonfiction--computer scientists share the fantastical tech they hope gets invented.
 
     
 
     
 
         
         
    Spotlight    
         
         
 
     
     
  Galvanizing literature  
     
     
   
 
     
  Italian physicist Luigi Galvani's experiments with muscle response to electrical stimulation--a field that became known as Galvanism--inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. (Illustration by Cornhill Publishing Company, 1922)  
     
 
     
     
  We asked UChicago researchers which books sparked their interest in science. No surprise--many of them listed science fiction:  
     
     
  A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.
Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
"The Comet" in Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil by W. E. B. DuBois
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
 
     
 
 
     
  In case you missed it  
     
 
 
Stayin' alive: Hearts--protecting, jump-starting, healing, and replacing.
 
 
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