Science is stranger than science fiction – just ask our guest blog star Marcus Chown

Kia ora Marcus.
We are pleased to welcome science writer Marcus Chown to our blog today as part of his virtual trip around the blogosphere. He’s the star of our blog, and also the Christchurch City Libraries web site which has just published an interview with Marcus by Moata Tamaira during the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2009.

I asked  him a few questions:
Who is your favourite science writer and what is it about their writing that appeals to you?

I suppose it’s the people I read when I was a teenager, who expanded my mental horizons and blew my mind, who are my favourites. I’m giving away my age but I would say Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan. I know, that’s two! So I’ll narrow it down to Carl Sagan since Clarke was principally a science fiction writer.

I particularly liked Sagan’s The Cosmic Connection. I recall him describing being a planetary astronomer and working on the NASA Mariner flybys of Mars. When the space probe arrived at its destination, to everyone’s dismay Mars was shrouded in a planet-wide dust storm. But, gradually, as the dust settled, there were revealed volcanoes that would dwarf Everest and canyons whose minor tributaries were bigger than the Grand Canyon. Sagan had the gift of sharing with you what it was like to be at Mission Control as, one by one, the grainy, black-and-white pictures came in. He communicated the excitement of being one of the first people in history to stare at face of an alien world. It sends a tingle up my spine even thinking about it. So, I think Sagan has my vote for his genius in conveying the sheer wonder of the Universe we find ourselves in.

Actually, I interviewed Sagan once. It was one of my first journalistic jobs. I was so nervous at meeting my hero, who was staying in a palatial suite at London’s super-posh Dorchester Hotel, that, rather than asking him much about him, I told him all about me. Even now, I cringe at the thought!

I love this quote from Sagan: “To create an apple pie from scratch you must first create the Universe.” As British comedian Robin Ince has observed: “Maybe that explains why Sagan’s recipe books never sold.”

(I’ll just add in this lovely mashup song  that utilised Sagan’s ‘create an apple pie’ words)


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