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Genomics Forum · Creative Space

Ken MacLeod


2009 - 2010

‘Human Genre Project’, a web-based collection of new writing; ‘Intrusion’, a genomics-influenced science fiction novel

Ken MacLeod, Residency Review 2009 - 2010

Ken MacLeod reviews his period as Writer in Residence 2009 - 2010 

In 2009 I had a really good year as a Writer in Residence for the Genomics Forum: generous facilities, total creative freedom, friendly and helpful colleagues. Although my half-time employment has come to an end, my residency (and Pippa Goldschmidt's) hasn't, for which we're grateful. We'll continue to write and to promote and participate in events.

While working as Writer in Residence I've taken part in a number of public engagement and literary projects.

We kicked off in February 2009 with Digital Evolution, a discussion on what we could learn about evolution from computer games, simulations, and virtual worlds. Our next event was an evening of readings of short stories with a genetic or genomic theme, organised by Writers Bloc. This group has had several years of experience in putting on three or four ‘performance reading’ events a year, focusing on science fiction and fantasy leavened by dark humour. In keeping with these traditions, our event was titled 'Mutant Scum'.

We went on to organise a series of convivial discussions, the Social Sessions:

The first Session, The Laboratory of Dr Latour, explored the image of the scientist in literature and in science studies. Andrew Wilson of Writers Bloc gave dramatic readings from various works of science fiction, ranging from Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau to Paul McAuley’s The Secret of Life.

The second, Dr Jekyll’s DNA, focused on crime and genetics, with Ian Rankin and Lyn Anderson as key speakers, drawing an audience of over a hundred for a serious discussion on such issues as DNA evidence, DNA databases, and the alleged genetic predispositions to crime. An event summary (external link) is available.

Our third Base Pairs and Couplets looked at science as an inspiration for poetry, and was generously hosted by the Scottish Poetry Library. Our panel included poets Brian McCabe, Edinburgh Makar Ron Butlin, Kelley Swain (Genomics Forum visiting poet in residence, January 2010), Ryan Van Winkle, Tracey Rosenberg, and Aiko Harman. PhD student Russell Jones spoke on the science fiction poetry of Edwin Morgan.

Finally, in 2010 we ran a session, Scientists Behaving Badly?, on how science studies can enable us to understand the issues raised by ‘Climategate’, the East Anglia email hack incident, and the perhaps consequent rise of public scepticism about the reality of climate change. An event summary (external link) is available.

Human Genre Project

Inspired by a wall-chart mapping genes and their effects by chromosome, and by the Periodic Table of Science Fiction (US SF writer  Michael Swanwick’s online tour de force of 93 very short stories arranged by chemical element) I came up with the idea of The Human Genre Project,  a website on which poems and pieces of short fiction and non-fiction were arranged by chromosome. My fellow Writer in Residence, Pippa Goldschmidt, asked the distinguished poet Laura-Gray Street to let us use two of her published poems. The SF writers Adam Roberts and Ian Watson contributed short stories. Shortly after it was thus seeded and launched, the Project was featured on Cory Doctorow’s widely read site BoingBoing, and links to it multiplied across the net. The site now carries over seventy items, in a wide range of forms, styles and genres, and is still growing.

I’m currently writing a novel, and commissioning an anthology of short stories, on genomics themes.

If you're interested in opinionated and informative blogs by working scientists, there's no better place to start than ScienceBlogs. For genomics (and other biology) stuff, check out the ScienceBlogs life sciences selection of recent relevant posts. And don't overlook the humanities, medicine and politics.

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Human Genre Project

Human Genre Project

The Human Genre Project is a collection of new writing in very short forms - short stories, flash fictions, reflections, poems - inspired by genes and genomics.

The project was conceived by Ken MacLeod, Writer in Residence at the Genomics Forum, who was also the original editor of the collection. Read Ken's account of how the idea of the Human Genre Project came to mind.

Since its launch in July 2009, the collection has grown and developed and now contains over 90 contributions.

Peter Arnott, Resident Playwright is now acting editor of this collection.

New submission are always welcome.