Jacqueline Houtman (jjhoutman) wrote,
Jacqueline Houtman

Historical Sciency Fiction

Let me start by describing the genre, in case you missed it in my earlier posts. In sciency fiction, science (actual, accurate, non-speculative science) is integral to the plot and/or thematic content of the novel. The characters and events may be fictional, but the science is not. Sciency fiction is not science fiction.

I recently read two excellent examples of the genre that are also examples of the subgenre of historical sciency fiction (or is it sciency historical fiction?) Historical fiction and sciency fiction both require meticulous research and accuracy, something that Ellen Klages does extremely well.

The Green Glass Sea
(Viking Juvenile 2006) won the 2007 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. It tells the story of Dewey Kerrigan and Suze Gordon, two girls whose parents are scientists at Los Alamos in 1943, during the development of the atomic bomb.

Its sequel, White Sands, Red Menace (Viking Juvenile 2008), follows Dewey and Suze to Alamogordo in 1946, the early days of US military rocket research.

Suze and Dewey are both extremely bright, but each is a misfit in her own way. Suze is artsy and Dewey is sciency, but they really aren't all that different. I was especially drawn  to Dewey, who has a deep curiosity about how the world works. She's also a tinkerer. My affection for Dewey is not surprising, given the eerie similarities with Edison Thomas (of whom I am exceptionally fond). Both love collecting and repurposing junk, both invent novel alarm clocks, and they have similar ways of handling stress--Eddy recites the periodic table, Dewey recites the multiplication table. I think Dewey and Eddy would have been great friends if they had lived in the same era (and if they had actually been real people).

Aside from the science in Dewey's everyday life, the books showcase science on a much larger scale, that of atomic bombs and rockets. Dewey and Suze live in a world populated by scientists, where conversation frequently centers on "the gadget" (aka the bomb) and there's always someone to answer Dewey's questions about math or physics.

Klages does an amazing job bringing the era to life. The details she includes bring a richness to the story on both a large and small scale, from Oppenheimer to comic books to rude little ditties about Nazis.

I could go on and on, but the highest praise comes from my fiction-averse son. He can read and reread Make Magazine until the pages fall out, but he has read maybe 3 or 4 novels of his own accord (one of which was written by his mom, so that probably doesn't count.) He picked up The Green Glass Sea one day, and finished both books within five days, eschewing computer games and reading until 2AM.  The books prompted many dinner table talks about nuclear physics and nuclear politics. His only complaint is that the emotional content overrode the scientific content near the end of the second book.

So if you are making a list of examples of sciency fiction, put these books at the top of your list.

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