The first adult novel I remember reading was David Edding’s ‘The Diamond Throne’ from his Elenium series followed closely by David Brin’s ‘Otherness’. They were as far apart as Fantasy and Science Fiction could get, but together they were my base, my home turf. My David and David. Everything I read after that was compared back to them. They could do no wrong. Imagine my delight just this last year to have met David Brin, to –squee as my twelve-year-old self would have done- at enjoying his company, hanging out, and driving him back to his hotel. That child is still inside me bouncing in glee.
I don’t doubt that my reading tastes growing up directly influenced my career choice in science. I was going to be an Egyptologist. I knew that as an outspoken third grader. Everything I did was in pursuit of that goal, including living in Cairo during my Junior year in college. Nothing was cooler than Ancient Egypt and mummies, well except doing DNA on ancient mummies and constructing royal genetic genealogies. It wasn’t possible at the time, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming. Leaving Egypt, I also left behind my dream of Egyptology and instead pushed forward at what could be. At what genetics could offer, if only it could do what I wanted it to do.
Looking back now I realize that science fiction in general pushed me to dream about what could be in science. Not was. But what could be if there was just a little more knowledge, more skills, more techniques. I am proud to say that mummy DNA testing is full in swing today, just 13 years after my stint in Egypt. The Neanderthal genome has been extrapolated, and an entire species of hominid, the Denisovans, have been described from a single finger bone and a genetic profile. It is an exciting time in archaeogenetics. It is even more exciting as I am a DNA expert in the field of forensic identification of aged skeletal remains.
But there are so many more ‘what ifs’ out there. There is so much more to be discovered. In a way, I believe that science fiction drives science as much as science drives science fiction. You have only to look at cell phones to see a Star Trek communicator or a Kindle/Nook to see a Star Trek PADD. And though female figures within the scientific community do help to drive young girls into the scientific fields with role models to look up to, I believe that female figures within science fiction also serve in that capacity. Perhaps more so, because in science fiction and fantasy for that matter you get to live out those ‘what ifs’ far sooner than we can make them happen for real, but those ‘what ifs’ drive us towards getting there that much faster. Those characters faced tough decisions, stood up for what they believed in, and showed the reader that there are many types of strength. I can still recount all the difficult choices of every female character within the Elenium. Perhaps because I saw myself in them, even a little bit.
Join us in the journey with two anthologies celebrating strong women from both female (Athena’s Daughters) and male (Apollo’s Daughters) authors. Let us inspire the next generation of female scientists who hunger for those ‘what if’ scenarios.
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A Forensic Scientist and genetics expert, EJ Lawrence has practiced her craft at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, the Smithsonian Institute, and the cutting edge of genetic diagnostics. When not doing things most of us can’t spell or pronounce, she is busy raising a brood of boys, a needy golden retriever, and thanking her lucky stars that she is married to the smoking hot author, Brian Shaw. She is also known to practice sarcasm on occasion.
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