“I was fighting against myself, even then,” she says. “I’d be reading all of these papers and experiments for my thesis, and on the side I wanted to have a journal where I could just make things up, with no ties to experimental data. And where I could just make a sort of self-containing internal system that makes sense in my head.”
That system, Byrne later realized, was fiction.
Much like the narrator of her book, who leaves behind her studies in science to trace her origins from India to East Africa, Byrne turned from her pursuit of a childhood dream to become an astronaut when a new vocation called.
“I have a theory brewing in my mind,” says Meena, the narrator of Byrne’s novel, in its opening chapter, “a new field of study altogether, about how the source of a society’s energy must necessarily shape their language, art, and culture. Should I call it the sociopsychology of nature?—that then infuses its culture, even its individuals…I need to find my own.”
Byrne’s novel attempts to balance science fiction with contemporary observations about conflicts ranging from gender and race to technology and climate change. At its heart, it’s a road trip and a coming of age story, equal parts Huck Finn and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The book, released today, earned a glowing review from the LA Review of Books last week. Listen to the complete podcast here. Listen to past books podcasts on optics, health care, engineering, and architecture by visiting MITAA on Soundcloud.