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The League of Imaginary Cats

A new series inspired by real science

Jennifer Rohn 1 May 2017

Not just Schrödinger's: the fiction behind the fact

But while it is very easy to criticize, it is much harder to create

I have had the pleasure of presiding over Fiction Lab, a lab lit book group run out of London's Royal Institution, for nearly a decade. (You can learn more about this group by reading what one of our regulars thinks of it.)

One of the things we've learned in dissecting science in fiction over the past few years is that, like any genre, the stories can be good, bad or ugly. But the group - known by their nickname the LabLiterati - are probably the world's experts on lab lit criticism. We know all the tricks and strategies authors use to get their science across, from the ignorant side-kick who serves as a convenient excuse to transmit complex ideas, to the unfortunate awkwardness of a severe infodump, to the sheer poetry of abstract ideas that land as lightly on the consciousness as a leaf in the breeze.

But while it is very easy to criticize, it is much harder to create. As a novelist myself, I am often cowed by the sheer ferocity of the negative reactions that some of our books (admittedly in the 'ugly' category) have elicited from otherwise serene and polite individuals.

I don't remember exactly how the idea was born, but we'd just discussed a particularly bad example of lab lit, and one of the gentlest and nicest souls of the group said, "Well, could you lot do any better?"

With this gauntlet laid down, the League of Imaginary Cats was born. A core group came together with the idea of penning an anthology of short fiction - pairing each work with a 'here's the science' bit, as is fashionable in some circles these days. The group met on a very irregular basis, with much chivvying and emailing back and forth, until the collection was finally complete.

I am delighted that this series is now kicking off with a poem from our Deputy Editor, Richard Grant. Each week or thereabouts, we'll publish another contribution from the LabLiterati.

I hope you enjoy our foray into practicing what we preach!