Sunday, April 21, 2013

"Do You Read Science Fiction Books?"

I wrote a while back on one of the most frequent question that I get asked once people find out that I'm a physicist. "Do You Watch "The Big Bang Theory"?" is one of them. The one other most common question: do you read science fiction books? They think that since I deal with a lot of science, then reading science fiction would be almost second nature.

Simple answer: I don't!

First of all, I seldom read fiction books. I seldom read books anymore, actually. I just can't have any long-term relationship with a book of any kind. I do so much reading in a day, the last thing I want to do when I wind down is read some more. So putting in a lot of time to read and finish a novel is not my idea of a good time.

Secondly, while I know of many scientists who enjoy reading science fiction novels, and many find them "stimulating", I don't. This is because I often find it a bit annoying that that some parts of logic, reality, and even some aspects of physics is "bastardized" to such extent. I suppose it is my problem that I simply can't let go of reality when I try to read such novels. While I do enjoy watching sci-fi movies, I find them to be more of an entertainment for a couple of hours, view them more for the story than for the accuracy. The exception being some of the more awful sci-fi movies that simply makes no sense and force you to suspend logic and reality way too many times.

Lastly, many of the sci-fi novels tend to use the more "sexy" aspects of physics, but they miss many more fascination parts that do not get wide press coverage. This is where I find stuff in physics a lot more imaginative and a lot more fascinating than even some of the most outlandish imagination in sci-fi. The concept of "phase coherence" is a conerstone in quantum mechanics. But has it been used and depicted in sci-fi novels? Or what about the fact that in 1D conductors, the many-body effect of spin-charge separation would cause a "particle"'s spin and charge to move separately?

These are details that those who are not in physics would not have understood, and thus, unable to exploit. Yet, to me, they are extremely fascinating. If I were a sci-fi writer, I could make one heck of a story using those principles alone.

As imaginative as sci-fi stories are, I find actual physics to be significantly more fascinating. So kids, that is why I don't really read science fiction books.



Unknown said...

I also get this question a lot (a little less than the Big Bang Theory question, though...) and also don't read science fiction novels for pretty much the same reasons as you.

I do, however, enjoy fantasy books. One of the defining characteristic of these books is magic, which may seem completely unrelated to physics, but usually is.

See, to introduce it, the author must make up some rules about magic, its inner workings and its relationship with the physical universe (at least the one who created). A great fantasy author will strive to make this new world entirely self-consistent in its rules and in its incorporation of magical abilities. Some throw away the basic rules of physics and "go crazy", so to speak, but others enforce a strict internal logic.

And since it is literature, the thing I like is the incorporation of magical abilities and its relation to the plot of the story. A prime example of this is Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. I think it's one of the best fantasy authors as to respecting the internal logic of his universes. And he is such a master writer.

Anyhow, this comment goes on almost longer than the original post. Time to end it.

Garrett Curley said...

Hey there.
I'd recommend giving Terry Pratchett's Disc World novels a chance. Try "The Color of Magic" to start. Not science fiction nor fantasy. Just messed-up, twisted nonsense. It also exists as a TV movie if you don't want to read the book.

After a day of literature research, I understand what you mean when you say that you don't find reading to be a good way to wind down. But, I find that a John Grisham or a Harlan Coben book goes down pretty well, as the vocabulary is relatively simple and the font is ususally big ;). The opposite of, say, a Harry Potter novel.