Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"The Curiosity"

Stephen Kiernan's nonfiction books are Last Rights and Authentic Patriotism.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Curiosity, his debut novel, and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Curiosity contains a moment that presented two challenges for me as a writer. That page is the midway point of a two hour long scientific experiment, led by a character named Thomas, which unexpectedly succeeds.

The first challenge was to maintain tension for a long time. My response was to use pacing – periods of lesser and greater intensity – so the situation can build. Page 69 is a moment of relief.

The second challenge was to teach the reader the science of what was happening, without being dull, to make the moment believable and to provide information that will be useful later.

The answer to both problems came in the form of David Gerber. He is a polymath, a computer savant, and a devout Deadhead. While everyone around him believes this experiment could redefine the idea of human mortality, Gerber may possibly be stoned.

Page 69 is narrated by Daniel Dixon, reporter with the fictional science magazine Intrepid:
“Procedure forty-five.” Thomas is grinning like a jack-o’-lantern. “Commence magnetic field.

A technician near Gerber turns a large black dial. “Done,” he tells Thomas.

Gerber turns to me. “Remember magnets when you were a kid?”

“Excuse me?” I say. For nearly two hours, no one has been speaking but Thomas.

“Remember?” Gerber says. “How you’d try to force the ends that didn’t like each other to touch anyway? My family had these colorful letters of the alphabet, for the fridge, right? Those little suckers had surprisingly strong aversion to one end of the other letters. That’s what we’re doing now with the electrons in this guy’s body. Pushing the magnetic dislike.” He sniffs.
“I know it’s complicated science, but I keep thinking about those fridge letters.”

“Gerber,” I reply, “sometimes you are one spacey dude.”

He laughs, then sings quietly. “Friend of the devil is a friend of mine.”

“Procedures forty-six and forty-seven,” Thomas continues as if he hasn’t heard us. “Commence electric signal and initiate reanimation clock.”
Perhaps this is a rule of science writing in fiction: The more complicated the technology, the simpler the explanation ought to be.
Learn more about the book and author at Stephen Kiernan's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Curiosity.

Writers Read: Stephen Kiernan.

--Marshal Zeringue