Fiction Meets Science

There is no art without facts, and no science without fancy. - Vladimir Nabokov


Fiction Meets Science

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The Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (HWK), together with the Universities of Bremen and Oldenburg, serves as a home base for the international research and fellowship program, Fiction Meets Science: the World of Science under the Literary Microscope (FMS). 

Contemporary literature has, in the past two decades, begun to pay serious attention to science — not as background for the space and techno adventures that dominated the science fiction genre for most of the 20th century, but as a central human undertaking that is woven into the fabric of modern society. FMS brings together sociologists, literary scholars, novelists, and scientists to participate in this discourse on science that has been emanating from the literary arts, and to examine its social and literary implications.  How do these new fictional representations of science and its place in society compare to sociologists’ empirical observations and to scientists’ own reflections? Can this new cultural scrutiny serve to demystify and add to the transparence of science, or does it merely parrot the established media stereotypes and misconceptions of the past? What special narrative devices are used to represent scientific concepts? Do we see the emergence of new forms of fiction, and what are their implications for the forms of literacy expected of a reading public and required by reviewers and critics? And, finally, how might this new literary discourse on science affect public perceptions of science and discourses within the scientific community?

The new novels about science are typically concerned with the processes of scientific research and the individuals who conduct it, and with the nature and implications of scientific discovery and knowledge. Sometimes they are referred to as “lab lit” (list of  novels), sometimes as “science in fiction.” They include bestselling novels like Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, Ian McEwan’s  Solar, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, and Daniel Kehlmann’s Vermessung der Welt, as well as the works of well-known novelists of ideas like Richard Powers and A.S. Byatt, and many more mid-list and small press literary works. A small collection of science novels can be found in the HWK library. Fellows and staff are encouraged to peruse it for their leisure-time reading and to join FMS book discussions or contribute to interviews, or even join the “FMS Scientists Network” and serve as consultants for an FMS novelist.

In addition to hosting FMS meetings and conferences, the HWK serves as the center for the Project Group “Invention: Novelists and Scientists,” which supports the creation of new science novels and investigates the associated working relations between novelists and scientists. In particular, the HWK maintains the FMS writer-in-residence project, in which selected novelists are offered fellowships to work on new science novels at the HWK, with support from the local scientific community.


For more information, please contact:

Dorothe Poggel:  dpoggel[ at ]h-w-k.de  

Susan Gaines: smgaines[ at ]uni-bremen.de

or the appropriate member of the FMS Team.