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Not One for the Book

May 03, 1987

Elizabeth Mehren's piece on Harvard Prof. Thomas McMahon ("Scientist, Novelist: A Tradition of One," April 15) perpetuates C. P. Snow's myth of "The Two Cultures." McMahon does disservice to novelists, scientists, the intellectual community, The Times and himself by insisting that there are no other scientist novelists: "Zero . . . name one."

Less than a week earlier The Times ran an obituary on the internationally famous chemist/novelist Primo Levi. A few weeks ago, an obituary praised aerospace researcher Tom Scortia, co-author of "Glass Inferno," the basis of the film "Towering Inferno." Does McMahon pretend to know nothing of the great novelist Vladimir Nabokov, with his multitude of technical publications on lepidoptera? Or best-seller Robert Heinlein, who helped develop the first pressure suits and space suits?

To mention just four counter-examples from greater Los Angeles alone, one of Jerry Pournelle's Ph.D.'s is in psychology, and he's worked as an aerospace engineer; this hasn't stopped him from writing successful novels, most recently "Footfall." Thomas McDonough, instructor in engineering at Caltech, besides his fine "The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence," wrote the novel "The Architects of Hyperspace." Robert Forward, senior scientist at Hughes Research Labs in Malibu, has penned wonderful novels such as "Dragon's Egg." Gregory Benford, physics professor at UC Irvine, is not only an award-winning novelist, but a book reviewer for The Times.

I'm a scientist and engineer looking forward to publishing my novel, "The Leisure of the Theory Class." McMahon should spend less time boasting and more time reading the works of his predecessors and peers, his literary and commercial superiors.

JONATHAN V. POST

Pasadena

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