Favorite books are old friends and contain advice for trainees

When things get rough, I turn to science fiction. These are books that I have schlepped with me since I was in college (probably before you were born, given that I am a generation older than the median age of women in the US, and accounting for censoring of the population curve based on who reads this blog).

One of my favorite authors Samuel Delany, who has written incredible stuff. It is hard core scifi, but yet deals with gender identity, societal problems around gender issues, as well as believable science, for the time at which it was written.

I was rereading one of my favorites: Empire Star, a short novel about Comet Jo who lived a simplex life on a moon in the distant future. In this book Delany gives us the idea of simplex, complex and multiplex which are levels of perception of the universe and have nothing to do with intelligence. Part way through his journey to deliver a message, the contents of which he does not know, to a place he is unsure of, Jo runs into some powerful simplex types, and decides he wants to go home to his earlier life. The dialog he has with LUMP (Linguistic Ubiquitous Multi-plex, a computer, one of the best characters in the novel) is one I have had with students, postdocs and junior faculty:

“Lump, sometimes, even if you’re simplex, you ask yourself, who am I? … But I’m still a very ordinary kid who would like to get back to a jhup field and fight off some wild kepards. That’s who I am. That’s what I know”.

“You left your home, Jo, because you weren’t happy. Remember why?”

“Sure I remember. Because I thought I was different, and then the message came along and I thought that was proof I was special… Don’t you see, Lump, if I really knew I was something special — I mean if I was sure then I wouldn’t get upset by things like the Survey Station. But most of the time I just feel lost and unhappy and ordinary”.

“You’re you, Jo. You’re you and everything that went into you…  And that’s as important as you want to make it.”


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