Inner Space & Outer Thoughts: Speculative Fiction From Caltech and JPL Authors is an anthology that features stories across science, technology, space, and beyond.
By Julia Ehlert
“The precious time between experiments, waiting for simulations to complete, or anticipating the return of a red-marked research manuscript allows a scientist’s mind to wander,” begins the introduction to Inner Space and Outer Thoughts: Speculative Fiction From Caltech and JPL Authors. “Some of our minds tend to wander into imaginary worlds of our own design.”
Those worlds, born in the minds of Caltech and JPL scientists, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and alumni, are now available for all to explore in Caltech’s first-ever anthology of speculative fiction. It was spearheaded by TechLit, Caltech’s creative writing club and published in March 2023. The idea for the project came about during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Rachael Kuintzle, a biochemistry and molecular biophysics graduate student set to receive her PhD in June. She co-founded TechLit and served as the anthology’s editor-in-chief.
“A lot of people weren’t able to spend as much time on their research—they had more time to write,” Kuintzle says. “We thought, why don’t we take advantage of this time and put out a call for submissions? We got some great pieces, and over the next year, our editors worked intensively back and forth with the authors to develop their stories.”
Notable contributors include award-winning speculative fiction authors and Caltech alumni David Brin (BS ’73), S.B. Divya (BS ’96), and Larry Niven (EX ’60). Christof Koch, former Caltech faculty member and chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science, also co-authored a story.
Brin’s contribution, “Chrysalis,” tells the unsettling tale of two biologists who discover the potential of “junk” DNA to enable tissue regeneration and human metamorphosis.
“One of the most rewarding things about the anthology was that we got to work with many people who are scientists first and writers second,” Kuintzle says. “The authors took their expertise and came up with these beautiful creative stories, sometimes grounded in their own work, sometimes grounded in an area of science that they’ve always been curious about but never got to explore professionally.”
For Kuintzle, the collaborative and community elements of the project stuck out. “When TechLit began meeting six years ago, it was just a few people getting together to write, every month. Now we’ve had several single- and dual-author novels come out of the club, and the anthology is our biggest collaborative project yet. It’s grown into a really vibrant community of writers.”
Book launch May 20
TechLit will host a book launch celebration for Inner Space and Outer Thoughts on May 20 in Beckman Auditorium, which also will be livestreamed on Caltech’s YouTube channel. It will feature story excerpt readings from Brin, Divya, Niven, and alumnus Samuel Clamons (PhD ’22). The event will also include a Q&A with several contributing authors.
Inner Space and Outer Thoughts is available for download or purchase on Amazon and can also be purchased at the Caltech Store, Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles, and other local bookstores. All royalties from book sales go directly to the TechLit club.
Read the full version at Caltech.edu
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