Simon Gonzalez is a biotechnologist who has most recently designed DNA-based molecular detection devices. He received a Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology from Harvard and has coauthored several peer-reviewed articles.
In his spare time, he writes science fiction that is inspired by lab life and decades of comic book over-consumption. His first book, A Collaboration of Scientists, is available on his blog (www.thedataranch.com) and will be released on Amazon soon. Simon is currently traveling and writing across the great state of Texas and may just end up setting up shop there.
Bleak! Throughout the day it’s a dance between pipetting stuff into tubes and trying to figure out why things aren’t working as you go along. During down time, you get to design and talk about all the cool experiments you wish you could get to if today’s experiment were to work. This goes on repeatedly, for many many days, until you finally pipette correctly and — if you’re lucky — you find something exciting. Then you spend a week or so making figures to convey the data and tediously, carefully writing the accompanying text to put together a scientific manuscript. You then send the article out for peer review at a journal and it’s invariably rejected by some nonspecialist editor. But, you know, somehow this approach works. Still, I love it.
What do you find most exciting about your field of study?
When you discover something, you generate new questions and re-frame old problems. This privilege, I think, is the most exciting part of science — the unbridled speculation afforded by a new horizon.
What made you decide to write The Powers of Five? What were the origins of the story, and how did it evolve over time?
Well, I had to get rid of my car because it costs so much to park, let alone drive in NYC. Without it, I had to take two trains and a bus to work — which gave me three hours of shaky writing every. single. weekday. I also wrote some of the jokes in bars, and certainly some aspects of those environments bleed into the settings of the books. Also, I grew up reading comics like X-Men and watching science fiction movies, so I think these kinds of things have been simmering or rotting in my head for a long time now. I tend to geek out on hypotheticals — like what would happen if Einstein and Tesla played Dungeons & Dragons together.
In terms of development, The Powers of Five was vomit — it just all came out really quickly. After only a few weeks of writing, I handed the first draft to my best friend, who liked it and generously edited it (she’s a much better writer and creator than I). She definitely gave me the confidence push I needed to get the story out. That’s a commonality of art and science — the self-doubt and inward skepticism. I definitely need my friends for relief. The second book took about a month, and the third took much longer — maybe five or six, even though they’re each only about 12,000 words. As they stand, each book is fairly shallow in depth — they are designed to be easy, pulp reads. But I secretly am sitting on them wondering if I want to develop the story more deeply. It wasn’t what I set out to do… but it’s what holding back their release. I’m overthinking this. They’ll probably be out really soon. And I’ll regret it.
If you could sit down and talk to your ten-year-old self, what would you say? Is there any advice you could offer that would make his life easier or more enjoyable?
I really can’t talk to kids. It’s awful — I mean that I’m awful. But I promise to think about this question more if anyone figures out how to do this for real.
Politically and/or socially, do you feel that the United States is on the right track? If not, what issue would you fix immediately if you had the power?
As long as Congress continues to fund scientific research and science education, I am a little bit less than utterly resigned. Scientific advances directly solve economic and social problems while science education and critical thinking promote better, rational voting.
Politically, I would fix the inactions of Congress on climate change. The consequences of a warming planet are so severe and rapid that I think we’ll all be dead before we can see the really amazing things science might promise, like dramatically increased lifespan and pervert robots. But, you know, if it means your light bill goes up a dollar and fifty cents each month, nevermind, that’s way worse than extinction.
Which member of the X-Men do you most identify with?
As a child caged behind clunky glasses, I initially felt a kinship with Cyclops. But this was merely superficial, since I guess he’s the preppy pretty boy. I think I kind of “got” Beast, Wolverine, and Jubilee the most.
What’s the most memorable dream you’ve had recently?
I have this ongoing, recursive dream where a character in my dream remembers me before I can remember him. When I finally recognize his face, I realize I’m in a dream and I fly away onto a new adventure. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’ve never really asked for his name. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember him.
Who has been your biggest inspiration, creatively or otherwise?
My closest friends.
What has been the most interesting, enjoyable or enlightening aspect of traveling through Texas?
The amplified level of politeness and friendliness. It took me a few days to stop suspecting everyone was being sarcastic.
What are you working on next?
I’ve been taking little breaks from beating myself up over the ACOS series to write short stories. Though they’ve been written a few months apart, I think they could link up nicely. At least, I think that they could take place in the same universe, without a connecting narrative. At some point I might string them together into a collection. More importantly, I’ve been putting a succulent garden together and preparing to shop for a cat.