Popular science, as a genre of non-fiction, seems to be doing a brisk trade. Although a publishing insider one told me that the halcyon days of million pound advances for popsci authors are long over, she did add that it was still selling well and considered to be a much safer bet than, say, fiction. As if anything could be worse!
My brief internet search to try to find some relative sales numbers failed (largely because T-mobile, the ISP in my German hotel room, prohibits me visiting many foreign websites – perhaps a wire has crossed somewhere and it thinks I’m in China). As an aside, I was fascinated to see on the Wikipedia article that of the 75 examples of “Notable popularizers of science” listed, only two were woman. If anyone with a Wikipedia editorial bent can think of any others besides Olivia Judson and Kirsten Sanford, it would be great to rectify this glaring deficiency. But that’s another story.
So, popular science: I don’t read it very often, but I’ve enjoyed the authors I have read, in particular Steve Jones, Armand Leroi, Oliver Sachs, Janna Levin (ah! another woman) and William Calvin to name a few. And people on the Tube – my unscientific metric of London literary habits – seem to indulge on occasion as well. I was surprised, however, to receive an invitation from Science London, the Central London chapter of the British Science Association (formerly the British Association for the Advancement of Science, for those who’ve been hiding in a cave from swine flu for the past few weeks), to discuss my novel Experimental Heart at their May popsci book club.
In the interests of full disclosure, I wrote back meekly to alert her that my book was actually fiction and not popular science. She replied that the organization was about popularizing science, whatever the format might be, so they thought it was okay to be “fluid” on their interpretation of the term.
I haven’t felt so chuffed since that magic moment when Sara Abdulla was chosen to be on a panel selecting the world’s best popsci books. After the others had mooted such worthy causes as Origin of Species, The Double Helix, Pluto’s Republic and so on, she stood up and named three works of lab lit fiction — which possibly irritated the organizers no end but caused a spontaneous cheer from the Labliterati section of the audience that evening.
The Science London website hasn’t been updated yet, but as I understand it, the discussion will take place on 26 May at 7 PM at the 5th View Cafe (top floor), Waterstones, Piccadilly. (If the venue changes, I’ll let you know.) And I have a tough act to follow: our very own Brian Clegg talked about his new book Ecologic there just last week.
So if you live in or near London and would like to come along on the night, do pick up a copy. Or for those who prefer to travel light, this might be an appropriate time to mention that the novel is now available as an eBook for the Kindle, an edition that works on the iPhone or iPod Touch after installing the appropriate app.
I look forward to seeing some of you on the 26th!
Handy: An American fan shows off the goods