the Scottish play of ideas

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Mon Apr 16 2001 - 18:39:14 MDT

Anders mentioned the insidious memetic virus encouraging us to worship
recent sf from Scotland. Actually this temptation is completely justified,
but more subtle than it looks. The virus propagates through sf writers
sharing the Scottish patronymic prefix, though some are Irish, English or
even American: Ken MacLeod, Ian R. MacLeod, Ian McDonald, Wil McCarthy,
Paul McAuley, Iain M. Banks. (The M., of course, is short for `Mac'.)

Here's a nice exhortative fragment from Paul McAuley's wonderful new novel,
a detail-rich road movie on Mars and 2026ish Earth, with lashings of
inventive but persuasive and informed genomics; a fine, kinetic account of
scientific work performed, so to speak, as an action flick:


To realise that the world is, yes, so much stranger than human imagination.
Why make things up, when all around are wonders of the world waiting to be
        There are no mysteries, Mariella thinks, only unrevealed truths. If people
will only do a little work, will subject themselves to a little discipline,
a little effort, then they too can understand, they too will be amazed not
by mystery but by truth. But they don't. Science has built a vast edifice
of thought that reaches out to the furthest ends of the Universe, all the
way back in time to the first femtosecond of the Universe's creation, all
the way forward to matter's final end in the dissolution of protons, a
hundred billion years from now. A cathedral of thought built by the
cooperation of hundreds of thousands of minds, the greatest achievement of
humanity. But most will not even acknowledge it, much less try to
understand it.
        She still remembers the casual slights and sneers of certain pompous arts
students at Cambridge. The moneyed as oblivious to their wealth as fish to
water, interested only in maintaining the status quo, with braying upper
middle class students their eager collaborators. Proud in their ignorance
of science, yet scornful of those who were not interested in the minutia[e]
of Renaissance art, opera, or the intricacies of their social seasons.
Mariella knows now that their scorn was based on fear. To them, scientists
are useful but dangerous, and so must be kept in their place, like Morlocks
in the engine-room of the world. And most people take their cue from their
leaders, believe that science is a conspiracy only the initiated few can
understand, something to be feared. It is partly the fault of mediocre
scientists, of course, who react to criticism like spoiled priests fearful
of defrocking, but it is mostly the fault of those who in their ignorance
set themselves as the legislators of science, and those, their prejudices
set in stone, who have declared themselves to be its moral superiors.

Paul McAuley, THE SECRET OF LIFE, London: Voyager/HarperCollins, 2001, pp.


Damien McBroderick

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:59:46 MDT