Writing Science into Scifi
After spending most of the first 24 hours of marriage in various airports and flights, I can finally spend some time with my new husband. I smile, lay my head on his shoulder and say “So another thing I would have changed about Rogue One would have been—”
On buses, during fancy dinners, or in any number of other places of our Alaskan honeymoon one conversation kept cropping up: what we would have changed about the newest Star Wars movie Rogue One. It wasn’t a bad film, but I just couldn’t shake the idea that instead of yet another story about down-on-their-luck rebels fighting yet another evil empire, we could have had an exciting new story starring a scientist working from the inside. I’ve always been interested in science, my bachelor’s degree is in Biology and I have a Graduate Certificate in Science Communication, so having a scientist as a protagonist — spreadsheets, control groups, poor work/life balance and all — seemed like a natural choice.
By the time we were boarding the flight home, I already had the shape of the story that would become Memoir of a Mad Scientist.
Putting the Madness in Mad Science
I feel like everyone’s had a bad work experience at one time or another. Working for overly demanding supervisors, anything in the service industry, but for me the stand out was running tests in a laboratory. We were supposed to be gathering data for cigarette companies — already a bad start — but the work environment was so toxic and the demands so outrageously beyond our capabilities that I started to crack. I knew that it was a bad situation, and had already put in my two weeks’ notice, when my supervisor got fed up with me calibrating machines and insisted that I just sign off on it regardless. After months of powering through and putting on a brave face, I finally broke down. Looking back, my emotional breakdown was a good thing. It got me out of that place, drew attention to the depression/anxiety that had been dogging my steps for years, and got me the medication I need to function. But at the time, it was the closest I’ve ever been to hell.
Writing about that level of stress, putting in bad bosses who insist that you ‘just make it work,’ felt strangely good. I could have my character react how I did, or do better now that I had come out the other side (I wish I could have taken a giant space laser to that place). I like to joke that my protagonist inherited his crippling anxiety from me, and in a way he did. When he pushes himself too hard, or throws up from stress, that’s my neurodivergence looking down at the way things used to be before I got the help I needed. When my protagonist is waiting for his execution — distracting himself by writing so his brain doesn’t start spiraling — that’s me. That’s my coping mechanism right there on the page.
Even though I started this manuscript with a character working for an evil empire, I didn’t want him to be just another cackling ‘mad scientist.’ I’m not the biggest fan of the crazy scientist caricature or the idea that knowledge will somehow ruin your mind. For my “Memoir of a Mad Scientist,” I wanted someone struggling with real mental health problems: overwork, toxic expectations, and honest-to-goodness anxiety attacks.
It’s been over five years since my Alaskan honeymoon. I’ve moved twice, started a business, joined a science podcast, Covid happened, and now at long last I have officially published a book. I’m still writing and am already submitting my next sci-fi novel to agents.
If you are interested at all in what all this effort went towards or want to support me, Memoir of a Mad Scientist is available on Amazon in digital and paperback and I am on most social media at @ErintheZ.