In which there’s no cure like a good geeky read

With the arrival of September, autumn has arrived in London with a vengeance. The air is crisp and cold, marigolds wither on my back porch, and the campus is full of robed, jubilant undergraduates ready to accept their diplomas and take their place in the world. Summer holidays are already a distant memory, and months of uncertainty lie ahead – will I finish up my second paper before I run out of funding? Will one of the various career possibilities on the horizon pan out for me, preferably with no interruption in salary?


Heck – I don’t know, and right now, frankly, I don’t care. Because there are a whole heap of literary bright spots ahead. First and foremost, I am delighted to report that Fiction Lab – the monthly geeky science novel book group I run at the Royal Institution – has been invited to conduct its October gathering at OneCulture, the Royal Society’s very first literary and arts festival. When we were initially asked to participate, one of our regulars asked, “What’s the deal – are they going to watch us having Fiction Lab and throw buns at us like chimps in the zoo, or are the great British public encouraged to read the book and join in?”

Happily, I can report that the latter condition applies – everyone is invited to read the book in advance and show up on the night to discuss it with me and the Labliterati – our coterie of incisive, amusing, witty and often excoriatingly critical book lovers. The book we have chosen is State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, a beautifully wrought tale of scientific intrigue ranging from the labs of Big Pharma to the Amazonian jungle (more details here).

(If you’re a quick reader, you could also rock up for September’s Fiction Lab in its usual home at the Ri, where we’ll be discussing Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman on 12 September).

For those of you stalwart enough to brave a trip south of the river, I’ll be appearing at the Lewisham Literary Festival on 14 September with Sid Rodrigues, Manjit Kumar and Michael Brooks. We are meant to comprise “a panel of science writers and scientific novelists [talking] about science in popular culture, the weirder aspects of science and anything else you want to ask them.” Interpret that how you will!

I also want to plug an upcoming short story competition sponsored by the Diamond Light Source called “Light Reading”. is a media partner and I’ll be one of the judges! From the website: “The rules are simple: we’re inviting you to submit a story of up to 3,000 words inspired by Diamond – the facility, the science and the people. There’s also a Flash Fiction prize for stories under 300 words. Stories can be in any genre and there is no minimum word limit. Diamond will shortlist the best of these stories, which will then be judged by an expert panel. The top three writers will receive a cash prize, and these, along with those highly commended by the judges, will be published in an anthology of short stories. The competition will open on Monday 5 September 2011.”

(Psst: here’s a plot idea for free: Professor Curry did it in the Synchrotron Hutch with the beamline.)

Finally, I would be woefully remiss if I didn’t suggest the ultimate cure for post-holiday blues: an intrepid scientific romp or two. If you haven’t already indulged, why not cheer yourself up with one or both of my novels, Experimental Heart and The Honest Look?

Geeky satisfaction guaranteed.

Thus ends this regularly scheduled blog post. Read on for random puffs of my novels to whet your appetite:

“Science as it is practiced today can be conceptualized as a mystery story, or a love story, or a thriller. In Experimental Heart Rohn has made a brilliant synthesis of these three modes, resulting in a page-turner with depths, exploring the hope and danger of both bio-medicine and lab romance. In short, a true novel. Scientists who gave up reading fiction about science because it’s never right — check this out. Non-scientists wondering what goes on it in that weird culture — find out here. By the end you’ll be reading as fast as you can.” — Kim Stanley Robinson, Hugo- and Nebula-award winning author of Red Mars, Antarctica and Forty Signs of Rain

“Scientific publishers usually work diligently to avoid any allegation of publishing fiction. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, renowned for its prestigious scientific journals and books, smashes that mold with publication of its first novel…It’s a thriller whose subject is romantic self-discovery, and its milieu is the complex world of basic and applied life science research. It’s a good read, as Rohn makes her characters in the laboratory and the biotech communities come alive. I hope it’s a harbinger of more ‘lablit’ to come…Rohn’s skill in melding the scientific and literary worlds will give you a fresh perspective on life and work.” — Cell

“[Experimental Heart] realistically and humorously portrays the inner workings of a biology research lab, relations between the scientific community and the public, and the highs and lows of research life…Rohn spins a riveting thriller — replete with scientific discovery, fraud, falsified reagents, romantic darkroom encounters, threats, and even abduction — as Andy searches for personal and scientific fulfillment.” — Science

“She’s done it again! Cell biologist and novelist Jennifer L. Rohn has written another taut, suspenseful story about a young scientist’s journey to find oneself [The Honest Look]. … The story is witty, zingy, and fast paced. It is credible and compelling. I cannot say anything more than ‘read this book’ and ‘enjoy the suspenseful thrills.’ You will be gratified that you did.”
– Cell

“Set in the high-stakes world of biomedical research, this fast-paced novel [The Honest Look] is populated by strong characters facing difficult choices, driven by twisty plotting and compelling writing… After you’ve finished, you’ll snap the book closed in satisfaction, realizing that scientists are human, just like everyone else. Whether you are a scientist, a mystery buff or you simply enjoy immersing yourself into a tightly-written story, you will enjoy this thought-provoking thriller.”
– Nature

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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6 Responses to In which there’s no cure like a good geeky read

  1. cromercrox says:

    No buns, then? If I can’t throw buns I won’t come.

  2. ricardipus says:

    I’ve got ’em both already (yours, that is, not Patchett’s or Lightman’s). Quick, novel #3 please! 😉

    Also – how exactly do you ever find time to do these “experiments” and analyze these “data” of which you speak?

  3. rpg says:

    @cromercrox: only if they’re nice buns and you’ve baked them yourself.

    @ricardipus: it’s a secret. There’s actually an army of cloned Jennies in the basement.

  4. @ricardipus – Actually, nothing I’ve described in the blog post is terribly time-consuming – a few hours here and there, nowhere near as much time as your average Brit spends in the pub or watching TV. As far as writing, I haven’t done much of that recently. It’s not really a time thing; I just get home and don’t feel like it. I think it’s something to do with the ever-present anxiety and uncertainty of my life at the moment. I am hoping that once something resolves as far as what, exactly, I’ll be doing to earn a living next year, I won’t be able to settle properly into Novel 4.

  5. Have just finished Patchet’s book State of Wonder and was wondering whether I would put it under the umbrella of Lablit. I certainly will now! It’s a fascinating account of developmental microbiology and also medical science. I loved the book. Hope you get round to writing your next one, however, know about the tensions between work and literary ambitions!

  6. Yes, it’s definitely Lab lit and it’s on the official list!
    I loved it as well…really beautifully done.

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