Share

cover art for CultureLab: Emily H. Wilson celebrates the expansive world of science fiction

New Scientist Podcasts

CultureLab: Emily H. Wilson celebrates the expansive world of science fiction

From Dune to The Three Body Problem, is science fiction having a moment? Attention to the genre, as well as TV and films based on it, seems to have exploded in the past few years. With sci-fi often getting a bad rap, it’s time to ditch the snobbery and celebrate its complexity and diversity. And who better to do this with than New Scientist’s science fiction columnist – and our former editor – Emily H. Wilson?

Wilson is a journalist and author. In 2023 she published Inanna, the first of The Sumerians, a trilogy set in the ancient civilisation of Sumer. The books are an epic, speculative retelling of some of the oldest myths ever recorded.

In this episode, Rowan Hooper speaks to Wilson about the enduring popularity of the genre, and why you should be proud to call yourself a science fiction fan. Plus, the pair share loads of recommendations and explore sci-fi’s many different sub-genres, from climate fiction to cyberpunk.

You can learn more about Emily’s trilogy, The Sumerians, here.

To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.

Books mentioned:

- Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu

- Children of Time, Adrian Tchaikovsky

- Ancillary Justice, Anne Leckie

- Annie Bot, Sierra Greer

- Dune, Frank Herbert

- The Chrysalids, John Wyndham

- Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham

- The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin

- The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

- The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

- Neuromancer, William Gibson

- Burning Chrome, William Gibson

- Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson

- Red Moon, Kim Stanley Robinson

- 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson

- The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson

- Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

- Patternmaster, Octavia Butler

- The Broken Earth, N. K. Jemisin

- Middlemarch, George Eliot

- Impressions of Theophrastus Such, George Eliot

- Service Model, Adrian Tchaikovsky

- Autonomous, Annalee Newitz

- Excession, Iain M. Banks

- A World Out of Time, Larry Niven

- Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

- The Ballad of Halo Jones, Alan Moore and Ian Gibson

- Tank Girl, Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett

More episodes

View all episodes

  • 6. Dead Planets Society: Bringing Back Geocentrism

    23:36
    The ancient Greeks once proposed the Earth was at the centre of our solar system and everything orbited us. We like that idea. Let’s make it happen.But as Dead Planeteers Leah and Chelsea find out, if you bring back geocentrism, Earth would only be king of the universe for a very, very short time – before all hell breaks loose.It starts with enlarging the earth and potentially turning it into a black hole, we then have all the planets hurtling towards us through space, then it ends with a visit from Alpha Centauri. Helping them to work out the science (and suspend the rules of physics now and again), is asteroid researcher and planetary astronomer Andy Rivkin.Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at deadplanets@newscientist.com. It may just feature in a later episode.
  • 255. Weekly: Why some people never get covid-19; Chimps using herbal medicines; Largest ever Maxwell’s demon

    24:11
    #255Why do some people seem to be naturally immune to covid-19? We may finally have the answer and it’s to do with differences in the way immune cells function. Will the finding help us predict who’s immune and who isn’t – and more?Artificial intelligence is being used to tackle the problem of clearing mines from enormous swaths of Ukraine. Russia has scattered vast amounts of ordinance across Ukraine, tearing up agricultural land and leaving behind chemical contamination. The clean-up operation could take 700 years to complete in total. AI is helping Ukraine to work out where to start.Chimpanzees are herbal medicine enthusiasts: when sick, they seem to seek out specific plants. But how effective are the plants they’re swallowing at actually dealing with illness? Wild chimps in Uganda’s Budongo Forest are helping researchers to understand the practice.Maxwell’s demon, a thought experiment that involves a tiny imp, was once thought to disprove the second law of thermodynamics. Now researchers have built a real-life Maxwell’s demon that is not only the largest of its kind so far but could be used to discover new drugs and clean CO2 from the air.Plus: Leeches can jump and we’ve finally seen them do it; why cashew nuts could help us decarbonise shipping; and do the methane seas of Saturn's moon Titan have waves that erode their shorelines?Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Alexandra Thompson, Matthew Sparkes, Sam Wong and Alex Wilkins.To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.
  • CultureLab: The catastrophic health consequences of racism with Layal Liverpool

    38:39
    We like to think of science and medicine as unbiased, unaffected by social constructs. But we see evidence to the contrary everyday, from false yet persistent claims that black people’s bones are denser to the reality that the covid-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted people of colour. In her debut book Systemic: How Racism is Making Us Ill, science journalist Layal Liverpool explores the health consequences of racism. She showcases how fatal stereotypes can leave people of colour in need of medical care undiagnosed, untreated and unsafe. In this episode, Liverpool explains how race and racism infiltrate every aspect of health – from living in polluted areas to being dismissed by doctors in the hospital. She lays out the problematic history of medicine and health science. And she highlights the many ways people are beginning to make meaningful change. To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
  • 254. Weekly: Elephants have names for each other; conspiracies and doppelgangers with Naomi Klein; an ancient galactic weather report

    36:52
    We know elephants are smart, but it seems we’ve only scratched the surface in understanding their intelligence. It turns out African elephants seem to have unique names for each other – maybe even nicknames. If it’s true, humans would no longer be alone in this practice. A team has been analysing their rumbly greeting calls using AI. Is this a hint that we’ve been wrong about other animals, too?It’s a weather report like no other: two to three million years ago, the protective bubble called the heliosphere that surrounds the sun and the planets crashed into a galactic cloud. This left Earth exposed to the radioactive particles of interstellar space for as long as ten thousand years. And it could even have impacted evolution.Naomi Klein won the Women’s Prize for nonfiction this week for her book Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World. Rowan Hooper speaks to Naomi following the win, as the pair dig into the strange confluence of the alt-right and wellness influencers, why conspiracy theories have become so widespread and how grifters and charlatans are exploiting the uncertain times we live in.Astronauts have been sending biological samples like blood and faeces to a new space “biobank”. It’s all in an effort to better understand the impact of space travel on human health. As a bonus, read Clare’s story on the ‘vomit comet’ here.And if you’ve ever completed a game of New Super Mario Bros. – congratulations, you’re smarter than a supercomputer. A new study shows supercomputers don’t just find it hard to analyse the game, but actually impossible. But why?Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Michael Le Page, James Woodford, Clare Wilson and Matthew Sparkes.To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Listen to New Scientist CoLab here:https://open.spotify.com/episode/6IxQD6EVa0spHtgP3OYT65?si=9447e1c69eb6467chttps://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/industrial-ai-and-the-sustainability-revolution/id1732113125?i=1000657139548
  • 5. Dead Planets Society: How Many Moons Could Earth Have?

    26:46
    For the Dead Planeteers, one moon around Earth isn’t enough. They want to pack as many moons into the night sky as possible. But how many can you fit in orbit without everything becoming unstable and destructive?To answer this, Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte enlist the help of astrophysicist Sean Raymond. Sean co-authored a research paper that sparked Leah’s New Scientist article titled: Moons can have moons and they are called moonmoons.So, not only do they work out how many moons we can fit around Earth, but also how many moons those moons could have, which involves fitting them out with mini thrusters for some reason. They also address the issue of the impact these moons would have on Earth, like stronger tides and an insanely bright night sky. But they also learn about the surprising (nay shocking) potential benefits too.Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at deadplanets@newscientist.com. It may just feature in a later episode.
  • 253. Weekly: Why we should drill a massive hole in the moon; banning fossil fuel advertising; how to stop being lonely

    28:29
    #253The moon may hold the answer to a decades-long physics conundrum – all we need to do is drill several kilometres into its surface. For years, physicists have been searching for protons that fall apart or decay into other particles, but they’ve always come up empty handed. So why do they think they might find them on the moon? A new update on the state of the world’s climate has not brought cheery news. A report looking at 2023 has revealed the world is warming at a record rate – with estimates suggesting we may blow past our 1.5oC temperature goals in just five years. As the UN Secretary General calls for urgent action, we hear about calls to ban fossil fuel advertising, just as ads for smoking were banned in the past. If you ever feel lonely… you’re not alone. Social connections are hugely beneficial for our health. But many of us aren’t reaping their full therapeutic benefits, often due to our own misconceptions about social situations. But researchers are on the case, with simple tools and tricks to help us connect better to other people. David Robson shares some actionable tips, as he discusses his new book The Laws of Connection: The Scientific Secrets of Building a Strong Social Network.Five children born deaf have gained the ability to hear in both ears after receiving a new gene therapy. The groundbreaking treatment targets a gene called otoferlin, which is defective in some people with deafness – and the results are very encouraging.It’s been uncovered that as many as 1 in 6 people who come off antidepressants end up with severe withdrawal symptoms, like mood swings, anxiety and headaches. Why a better understanding of these symptoms could help people make more informed choices about their use and how to safely stop.Plus: Boeing launches its Starliner capsule to the International Space Station with two Nasa astronauts aboard; and SpaceX’s performs its fourth test launch of Starship – the largest rocket ever built.Hosts Rowan Hooper and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Alex Wilkins, Madeleine Cuff, Michael Le Page and Clare Wilson.To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Read Clare Wilson’s award-winning story about DNA testing here: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25734303-400-new-dna-tests-predict-your-disease-risk-are-we-ready-for-them/
  • CultureLab: On the hunt for alien life with Lisa Kaltenegger

    41:38
    If (or maybe when) we find alien life in the universe, will it look like us? As telescopes become bigger, our ability to peer into the cosmos is only getting better. So the question may not be “will we find something?” but rather “what exactly should we be looking for?”Lisa Kaltenegger is an astrophysicist and founding director of Cornell University's Carl Sagan Institute. She even works out of Sagan’s old office and shares the same optimism and enthusiasm he brought to the search for extraterrestrial life. Abby Beall speaks to her about her new book Alien Earths: Planet Hunting in the Cosmos, which takes readers on a cosmic adventure to faraway exoplanets with oceans of lava and multiple suns. Through the conversation Lisa explains how Earth’s geological history can help inform our search for life, while acknowledging alien life may not look the same as us. She discusses the technology that has allowed us to enter a new epoch of exploration – and what technological advancements are needed to help advance our search for alien life. And she examines the alien worlds that feature in various science fiction worlds, like those in Star Wars and Avatar, and whether they could actually exist somewhere in the universe.To read about subjects like this and much more, visit newscientist.com.
  • 252. Weekly: Google’s AI search problem; time is a quantum illusion; can we stop ageing?

    33:09
    #252It is not wise to stick cheese on your pizza with glue, even if Google tells you to do it. This is just one recommendation in a string of blunders made by Google’s new AI search engine. It uses a large language model to summarise your searches, but clearly it’s not always working as planned. Can (and will) the company fix it? No matter what language you speak, when you hear the word “bouba”, you probably imagine a round shape. And “kiki’ will likely make you think of a sharp shape. This example of sound symbolism is thought to be a precursor to human language. But it may not be unique to humans – even chickens may make this association too, hinting at a deeper evolutionary role. Some physicists have long theorised that time is just an illusion that emerges from quantum properties of the universe. And there’s even a new study that backs this idea up. If the maths is right, it could finally help us unite the worlds of big and small physics.We now know enough about the ageing process that scientists believe we can start to slow it down or even stop it altogether. Nobel Prize winning biologist Venki Ramakrishnan has written a new book, Why We Die, which explores the new science of ageing and longevity. Find out what he’s learnt and what he thinks are the most promising areas of research.The clean energy revolution relies on rare earth metals for things like batteries and solar panels. But mining for them has its own environmental drawbacks. But seaweed may be able to help us with that. It turns out some species collect the minerals we need without damaging the environment. Will seaweed mining be the next big thing?Hosts Timothy Revell and Christie Taylor discuss with guests Matthew Sparkes, Chen Ly, Karmela Padavic-Callaghan and James Dinneen.To read more about these stories, visit newscientist.com.Links: https://www.newscientist.com/science-events/consciousness/
  • 4. Dead Planets Society: Removing Mars’s Iron With a Magnet

    24:31
    When you bring a giant magnet to Mars, apocalyptic eruptions are just the beginning. In an attempt to suck out all of the iron from the red planet, Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte end up shattering it like an Easter egg.Their new cosmic plaything, a U-shaped Wile E. Coyote-esque magnet, is used in various different ways for the purposes of complete annihilation. With the help of science journalist and volcanologist Robin George Andrews, the team squeeze the core out like it’s toothpaste, turn the magnet into a projectile, bring multiple magnets to the fray to create a work of cosmic art and even hollow out the planet to fill it up with… SPIDERS!Dead Planets Society is a podcast that takes outlandish ideas about how to tinker with the cosmos – from punching a hole in a planet to unifying the asteroid belt to destroying the sun – and subjects them to the laws of physics to see how they fare.Your hosts are Leah Crane and Chelsea Whyte.If you have a cosmic object you’d like to figure out how to destroy, email the team at deadplanets@newscientist.com. It may just feature in a later episode.