Asking a science communicator whether they have ever written fiction is kind of like asking a lion tamer if they've ever tried their routine with a hippopotamus. Yes, that would also be impressive, and yes, there are skillsets that would transfer, and yes I have entertained the idea and have also attended many hippopotamus shows that make me want to find my own hippo mouth to stick my neck into -- but no, it's not really my thing.
Young me tried out fiction quite a bit. I pray every night that every scrap of my old fanfiction has been wiped clean from the net. It had the same problem that a lot of teenage fanfiction had. Here is an actual excerpt: "The tunnel was very deep, and everyone was screaming and wailing as they went down." And another: "My crutch fell out from under me and I collapsed into a kneeling position, waiting for the end." I wrote some weapons grade angst back in the day.
And every once in awhile, I just let myself write some unhindered nonsense that usually ends up as a poem or crumpled up in the wastebasket or both. But, truth be told, there is enough interesting stuff going on in the world around us everyday that we don't need fiction nearly as much as we need non-fiction.
I think everybody goes through a phase in their life as they are growing up when they get downright depressed about reality and what it has to offer. Declaring in a frustrated and yet somehow monotone voice “This is lame. Everything’s lame.” Fortunately, later on in life (at least I hope so), something unusual and true tickles them in the brain in just the right way to spark up their wonder yet again. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re all held hostage on a space rock hurtling around a ridiculously hot ball of gas suspended by nothing but the as of yet poorly understood fabric of spacetime. Or maybe it’s a particular moment staring into the eyes of an animal and realizing the alienness that lies within, capable of staring back at you in just such an alien moment of non-understanding. Or maybe it’s the color of the sunset, and realizing that those colors aren’t in the sky but twirling and mixing at the back of your brain in an inexplicable way wherein red might not be red at all to anyone else you know.
And so, I think it is important to communicate wonder where we see it. And as appealing as it is to disappear into a land of fairies and magic, the true tales of amoeba and black holes are not some sort of poor substitute hocked by a secondary school teacher attempting to trick you into paying attention in class -- and in my opinion, these non-fictions are the more powerful for wonderment.
What do you think? What do fiction and non-fiction mean to you?