|Georgette Heyer and Oliver Sacks, Together Again for the First Time
||[Mar. 14th, 2012|08:43 am]
I read papersky's Tor.com post on How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Romance when it came out, and I went along with my life, humming and putting in the tiddly-poms as appropriate, but something kept nagging at me. It felt like a familiar experience that she was describing somehow, and yet I never did learn to love romance, so that clearly wasn't it. (I don't scorn romance. I have read a couple of Jennifer Crusies and a lovely pile of Georgette Heyers, and I was glad enough of them, and...yeah, there are probably other examples. But in general it is not the genre for me and a perfectly fine genre for other people and not a fitting subject for invoking taste hierarchies in a nasty sneering way.)
Just now it hit me.
Biology. Romance is like biology.
Well, now it makes sense.
It's the thing people try to shove you into because you're a girl! And you kick and scream and stick your elbows out and they CANNOT MAKE YOU. Nobody did this to me with romance. But oh, did they ever do it with biology. Physics, they said, would be full of boys, and I would probably be uncomfortable. (Have you met me? I said.) Better to pursue biology, which is, I pointed out, full of dead things and things that smell and also plants, which I tend to kill, and so we're back to the dead things. Physics, on the other hand, is full of things I could not possibly kill, except for that one particularly unfortunate lab partner, and why no, there is no reason he was never heard from again, why do you bring that up just now? And math. Physics is satisfyingly full of math. Oh look, they said! You have won ribbons in this science competition which happens to be full of biology because we are foolish and like that sort of thing and wrote it that way, thereby depriving you of a chance to demonstrate physics ability! Have you considered med school? Or biomed research? Due to your overwhelming girly girlitude? And also your being of a girl? And this sweetly pretty ribbon we have given your girly self for this science competition we sucked the physics out of just for spite?
Fie, I said, and also some other words that begin with f.
(Because people sometimes leap to unwarranted conclusions I will note that my parents were kicking and screaming with me NO NO YOU CANNOT MAKE HER SHE DOES NOT WANT TO SHE DOES NOT HAVE TO IT SMELLS FUNNY. They were not the people trying to get me to do biology instead, and nobody should blame them for the injustice of other people.) (The part about it smelling funny was mostly my mom, though. My dad is a chemist, and we all know how much leg they have to stand on in re: sciences that smell funny.) (I kid because I love.) (And also because chemistry smells funny.)
When I hit my mid-20s and nobody was trying to shove me anywhere, I picked up some popular-ish biology, principally starting with neuro-stuff like Oliver Sacks, and it was interesting. Quite interesting, in fact. And now I have stopped worrying and enjoy the worldbuilding in it a great deal.
So Oliver Sacks is exactly like Georgette Heyer, and that can stop bothering at the corner of my brain. So good then. It's settled.
Um. If I sit veryvery still and am veryvery quiet, perhaps nothing in my brain will jar loose a Georgette Heyer-style story with Oliver Sacks-type neuropsychological things in it. Yes? All comments to be posted in a whisper to avert this eventuality. Okay.
You can tell that the work on these two books is going well, because I am in an exceptionally silly mood, but that doesn't mean I don't mean every word of this post, approximately.
Hm. I'm not sure about chemistry, precisely, although explosions are well within the scope of the thing. And the gunnery of the time involved plenty of physics, even if arrived at empirically rather than calculated rigorously. Navigation was physics! And trigonometry.
Medicine of the time involves rather GHASTLY biology. And some really ghastly chemistry as well, although since nobody's going to come down with the pox, we can largely avoid the more frightening uses of mercury. Antimonial emetics, while chemistry-based, involve far too many of the icky aspects of biology.
I'm really not sure how the chemistry knowledge of the time would have appeared in the characters' lives. Most of their daily experiences would have fallen into either biology or physics. It's before aniline dyes and sodium bicarbonate, and even slightly before gas streetlamps (they'll come in before the end of the war, if I manage a sequel) so apart from baker's ammonia, which is the cook's province and not theirs, and saltpeter and sulfur for gunpowder, there's just not a lot of chemistry in their lives.
I have somewhere a chemistry book from about your working time period, aimed at gentlemen of leisure who might light to putter about with this fascinating subject at home (it's new and it's hot, thanks to Priestly & Lavoisier). For equipment the suggestions include wine glasses.
And it's entirely possible that a very minor character I invented does like to putter around with that, although I saw him as more of a botanist; quite possibly also his wife does. Most of what I know about them is that she 's very interested in mathematics and medicine, and he's enough of a botanist that they have a conservatory warm and humid enough to safely shelter a sloth.
Whether any of this will make it into the story, I have NO idea. I just know it's there.
What's the chemistry book called? Maybe if I'm lucky it's on Google Books or the Gutenburg Project.
I'll check and see if I can put my hands on it; a lot of the books are currently in storage.