“I’ll be your gypsy joker, your shotgun rider.”
– Bruce Springsteen, “Soul Driver”
The first book I clearly remember reading was the unexpurgated Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Its portrayal of Captain Nemo as a swashbuckling polymath certainly influenced my decision to become a research scientist. But the story, hands down Verne’s best, also irrevocably inclined me towards science fiction (SF; fantasy was already in my blood courtesy of my people’s myths, songs and aeons-long history). By cultural background and temperament, I disliked the Leaden… er, Golden SF Era. I preferred the Silver Age and the New Wave, with their explicit charters to write worlds and characters with more depth and flavor than cardboard. Not Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, but Anderson, Butler, McIntyre, Scott, Jablokov, Zelazny, LeGuin.
When I did become a scientist with a lab of my own, I found out that the vocation was much more ambiguous and complex than my starry-eyed young self had envisioned. And just as science beguiled me while frustrating me, so did SF: the quasi-sanctified Campbel/lite neoteny, the mangling of basic scientific concepts, the false dichotomy between inspiration and craft… above all, the almost-proud parochialism.
So here I was, holding several tangled threads: a research scientist, a space exploration enthusiast, a biology-based spokesperson for astrobiology; a politicized world citizen aware of the larger contexts and double edges of all scientific undertakings; a zero-generation immigrant to whom cultural fault lines are visible; an unrepentant feminist and book devourer who detests the standard SF portrayal of scientists, women and non-Americans (to name but a few sore spots); a decades-long reviewer and editor, and a published writer of fiction and non-fiction.