‘Science Fiction by Scientists: An Anthology of Short Stories’ edited by Michael Brotherton

Science and science fiction may seem like two sides of the same coin, but much of the genre gracing bookshelves and cinemas today is actually missing an integral piece of the puzzle – the ‘science’.

SF by Scientists (front cover)

Without science, says Michael Brotherton, sci-fi is little more than a western set in space, or a fantasy set in the future. As a lover of all things scientific and a trained astrophysicist, Brotherton characterises science fiction as providing a glimpse into amazing futures not outside the realms of possibility, or terrible and grotesque scenarios that we should try to avoid.

It may not surprise you to learn that many renowned sci-fi authors were trained in science – Isaac Asimov had a PhD in biochemistry, and Arthur C Clarke was known for his essays on space travel. Perhaps it is the accuracy, or indeed the believability of their fiction, the notion that these situations are not outside the realms of possibility, that makes their work so profound.

As editor of ‘Science Fiction by Scientists’, Brotherton introduces the latest generation of science-trained sci-fi writers, among them current researchers pursuing a love of fiction on the side, retired experts, or those who have set aside prosperous careers to write full time.

In ‘Down and Out’ by Ken Wharton, the reader meets Ogby, a strange, spiderlike creature living within the nutrient-rich oceans of a mysterious, ice-​encrusted land, with odd perceptions of gravity, sinking to the bottom of her habitat by filling one of her many gaseous bladders with air.

In ‘Supernova Rhythm’, Andrew Fraknoi writes of an optimistic young research scientist who discovers a strange pattern of exploding stars in galaxy NGC 6946, and so finds that there may be life forms billions of years ahead of us developmentally, whose actions we cannot possibly understand.

Alongside tales of obscure lands, terrifying futures and pending zombie apocalypses, the authors have taken time to explain a little of the science behind the sci-fi, unveiling origins of the tales and shedding some light on their motivation. In this way, we learn that Obgy is an alien lifeform from Europa, the ice moon of Jupiter, who scuttles upside-down upon the layers of ice enclosing the moon’s subterranean ocean; that a new musical piece created by a group of astronomers uses notes supplied by supernovae in far-off galaxies and that future scientists could theoretically sequence the DNA of hundreds of species of animals to be contained, and later deployed, within a single piece of fruit.

‘Science Fiction by Scientists’ is an interesting and intriguing anthology of short stories, which is sure to set the reader’s mind in motion a little better than the average collection of sci-fi shorts. Leisure is combined with learning to leave not just a sense of wonder and amusement, but also the desire to find out a little more about each author’s particular field.

For those interested in exploring further, a more challenging read comes in the form of ‘Murder on the Einstein Express and Other Stories’, also from Springer. This short anthology by assistant professor in mathematics and physics Harun Šiljak, touches on the realms of the theoretical, physical and computational to create obscure tales, including an Alice in Wonderland-type adventure set within the realms of mathematical analysis.

This review was first published online for E&T magazine

“Europe is overpopulated, the world will soon be in the same condition, and if the self-reproduction of man is not rationalized… we shall have war.” ― Henri Bergson

Terrifyingly brilliant (Soylent green is PEOPLE!)

Make Room! Make Room! ― Harry Harrison


I bought this book while I was at university for a class I was taking on utopias and dystopias, but I was somewhat ambitious with the amount I expected to read, and invariably this one was left untouched, until now.

Written in 1966, and set in 1999 Make Room Make Room is a dystopian science fiction novel, set in New York City, which follows the lives of several characters, exploring the potential repercussions that unchecked population growth could have on humanity. Set in a future where New York has a population of 35 Million, the earth itself has a population of 7 million, and humanity is more or less on the brink of collapse. The city is overcome by overcrowding, resource shortages, crumbling infrastructure, disease, crime and poverty. The welfare state is no longer able to support the growing population, fresh food is a distant memory, water is rationed, social housing has been extended to include sewers and in times of crisis only the young are given medical care. Despite all this, the population of New York city is divided over the issue of birth control.

Harrison wrote ‘Make Room Make Room’ as a social commentary, with the underlying theme of the novel being the importance of sustainable development and population control. The bleak world Harrison portrays, is that of future generations left to deal with the wasteland left behind once all the natural resources are used up, and the earth is no longer able to sustain itself. The book opens with a dedication to Harrison’s two children Todd and Moira – ‘For your sakes, children, I hope this proves to be a work of fiction’. With the Earth’s current population having just reached 7 billion the book has proved to be a work of fiction – so far. ‘Make Room Make Room’ is a terrifying reminder of what could be waiting for our children real efforts are not made to move towards sustainable growth, and population control.

The Book really is truly excellent. Harrison is able to paint a bleak, desperate and depressing view of New York City, but without going off into long tiresome descriptions. Through the eyes of the characters that Harrison creates the reader is able to view the city, and get a real feel for atmosphere of this dismal future, which may not be too far away. The reader is transported into a place where the streets are lined with filth, the poor huddle together in stairwells and burnt out cars, and riots caused by food and water shortages are quickly becoming the norm.

Through his choice of characters Harrison was able to portray the problems faced by the wretched citizens of New York through several different perspectives, while ultimately keeping the underlying issues same: Billy Chung, the poverty stricken boy who is so desperate to escape he will do anything; Shirl, a girl whose only hope of escaping reality is her body; Andy, a police officer who works his fingers to the bone for literally nothing; and Sol, the pensioner who remembers the time before, but can do nothing to change the course of history. All the characters are helpless, helpless to undo the damage caused by those who came before.

‘Make Room Make Room’ really is an excellent, thought provoking book. I have explored a few dystopian novels and this is the first one which really hit home for me. Despite having written this book almost 50 years ago, the issues Harrison explores are incredibly topical, and while the world Harrison painted did not come to light at the turn of the century, there is every possibility that it could still be waiting just out of sight.