Vandana Singh on How Physics and Fiction Inform Each Other
In Conversation with Rob Wolf on the New Books Network
In this episode of New Books in Science Fiction, Rob Wolf talks with Vandana Singh, a physicist and writer of speculative fiction whose Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories made this year’s short list for the Philip K. Dick Award.
nostalgia for childhood, mothers yearning for children (and children yearning for mothers), loneliness, and a sense that reality is slippery—that people and inanimate objects aren’t always what they seem.
Born and raised in New Delhi, Singh’s Ph.D. is in theoretical particle physics. She now lives near Boston, and is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Earth Science at Framingham State University. Ambiguity Machines is her second short story collection.
An edited excerpt of Wolf and Singh’s conversation follows.
solve a problem or maybe even just convey lessons to students?
Vandana Singh: Definitely. It works both ways. So when I think about physics I think about nature speaking to us through the laws of nature, through the phenomena that we see. Physics is one way to listen in on the conversations that nature is having, the stories that nature is telling us, whether it is a planet telling the story or a proton or a molecule.
RW: I can imagine that your knowledge of physics might get in the way of a story because you stop yourself and say, “Gosh, I can’t put that in my story because that’s not possible.”
VS: Well, yes and no. It’s certainly true that knowledge of science puts constraints on what you can write. But it also allows you ways out of those constraints. So, for instance, I would never, ever in a million years write a story about a spaceship that, let’s say, runs out of fuel suddenly and comes to a sudden stop. Newton will tell you that cannot happen. So I would not put any egregious violations of physics in my stories. But that need not limit the imagination because I can ask myself, “What kind of universe would there be where the law of inertia doesn’t hold?”
and there is another. In part, it is because of our limitations as human beings that we only see in a certain way. Maybe there’s a theorem that someone will write in the far future that the more understanding you have, the more unknowns there are, and the more questions there are. And I think I would enjoy that universe better than one that was so simple that once you have the key, that’s it.