Lab lit: for bookworms who like the science to be plausible

By Grant Jacobs 23/02/2010

Jenniffer Rohn defines ‘lab lit’ as ’realistic mainstream fiction featuring scientists as central characters’.

Dr. Rohn is the editor of, which, along with articles and other material, hosts the Lab Lit List.

(Source: Lab Lit)
(Source: Lab Lit)

You can read about Dr. Rohn’s experiment with promoting Lab Lit in Waterstones in London. (PDF file.)

The LabLit website aims to support the portrayal and perceptions of ’real laboratory culture’, including the science, scientists and labs, in fiction, the media and across popular culture.

On the list you’ll find a wide range of books, films and TV shows, even plays. If you’re looking for new things to read, this is a good place to poke around.

If you’re thinking that the list is looking a little behind the times, enough lab lit has been published that it’s developed a backlog! They don’t just bung ’em in there, they check them out first, then create synopses. I’m told that they are aiming at an update in 2-3 weeks or thereabouts.

Being a computational biologist or a bioinformaticist, depending on how you want to split hairs, I just had to look to see what books featured someone from my field.

Jennifer Rohn tells me her second book, The Honest Look, due to be released in the middle months of this year by CSHL Press does. (Her first book is Experimental Heart.) She says some of what I’ve written on her blog reminds her of the bioinformatics scientist character in her new novel, which makes me a bit nervous. He’s apparently a renegade bioinformatician. Hmm. One part of me wants to locate a copy of her book when it comes out and check out just what she means; another part of me is nervous about what I might find…

Another book on this list featuring a bioinformatics scientist is Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark.

The Lab Lit List describes this novel as ‘lab lit lite’, i.e. ’novels in which the scientist character(s) are not wholly central’, giving as a synopsis for the novel:

In considering an experimental new cure, a bioinformaticist must choose between love and the autism that facilitates his talents.

Reading the review, this book is set in the (near-ish) future, on the cusp of developing a ’cure’ for autism.

Between the two, maybe Rohn’s character is more like me, after all?

I’d love to hear reader’s opinions on what their favourite fiction work featuring a realistic scientist is. If you have one you particularly liked, let us know in the comments below. (No registration required.)

Other book-related articles on Code for life:

Book review: Victorian Popularizers of Science

Textbook proposals

Scratching open your brain in your sleep and other stories (Best American Science Writing 2009)

Book excerpt – Losing the faces of your wife and children

150 years since the publication of On the origin of species today

Royal science

Science book suggestions for Christmas

Science communication bookshelf: suggestions, thoughts?

Explore ancient science books on-line

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