Thursday, July 3, 2008

Interview with Peggy Kolm

This is the next installment in my series of interviews with interesting people about the relationship between science and science fiction. After the interview with Peter Watts I'm interested to see what other biologists say. Who can be more qualified to talk about this than Peggy Kolm, of the Biology in Science Fiction blog.

What came first: your interest in science fiction or your interest in biology? What is the relationship between the two interests?

That's a tough question, since I've been interested in both since I was in elementary school. I think, though, that my interest in science probably came first, since I went through a long Nancy Drew phase before I really got into science fiction. What drew me to science fiction was mix of science and adventure. I gobbled up the descriptions of space ships orbiting black holes and aliens, and that, in turn sparked my interest in learning more about the real science.

You have been blogging about biology in science fiction since 2006. Have you learned or discovered anything interesting by doing this, that you would like to share?

Before I started my blog, I didn't really read that much new science fiction. I purchased the occasional copy of Asimov's or the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and a few end-of-the-year "best of" anthologies, but most of my reading was from used book stores, which put my knowledge of science fiction novels at least a decade behind the times. Once I started blogging, I realized there was a lot of great fiction that I hadn't even heard of, let alone read. As a happy coincidence one of the major developments of the past few years is the expanding availability of fiction
online. I still prefer reading old-fashioned paper books, but e-books have helped get me up to speed with what's been published in the past few years. My "want to read" list is still pretty long, but at least know I know what books to look for.

How well do you think science fiction needs to be founded in real science? What is the relationship between idea and story?

I think that the story - the characters and the narrative - is the most important part of any story, science fiction or otherwise. If the story is engaging and entertaining I find it easy to overlook scientific absurdities. However when the science or technology, rather than character development, is the central element of the story, it's more important to me that the science is plausible. That's especially true when the science is something we're close to achieving, or have actually already achieved - I am much less bothered by faster-than-light drives and travel by wormhole than implausible genetics or cloning. But maybe that's my biology bias showing.

Do you think biology is under-appreciated or under-represented in science fiction or in the sf community?

I do think that biology is often unfairly considered a less "hard" basis for science fiction than physics. That seems to have been slowly changing over the past 20 years or so, as genetic engineering has become routine and cloning of humans has gone from being pure speculation to a likely reality. I suspect that the increase in biology-based science fiction in recent years is also due to the fact that there are more writers with backgrounds in the biological sciences now than there ever have been. (Has anyone actually done a survey? I'd hate to think it was just my imagination.) I'd like to think that trend will continue.

Find more at Biology in Science Fiction .


Peggy K said...

Even though I don't think I'm as interesting as Peter Watts or Jo Walton, I enjoyed answering your questions. Thanks for asking!

Arvind Mishra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arvind Mishra said...

I knew the blog and now its heartening to know more about the blogger-thanks to both the interviewer and the interviewed.