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Reading Survey Response: Ken MacLeod

Ken MacLeod, Science Writer

Ken MacLeod

Ken MacLeod is the author of fourteen novels, from The Star Fraction (1995) to Descent (Orbit, 2014), and many articles and short stories. His novels and stories have received three BSFA awards and three Prometheus Awards, and several have been short-listed for the Clarke and Hugo Awards. In 2009 he was Writer in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum at Edinburgh University, and in 2013 and 2014 was Writer in Residence at the MA Creative Writing course at Edinburgh Napier University.

1. What are you reading at the moment? Be honest!
At the moment I'm slogging my way slowly through The Concept of Mind, by Gilbert Ryle, and Descartes' Error, by Antonio Damasio.

2. Has any book changed your life?
I'm not sure, but I think A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic got me through my Physics resit at university by helping me to understand that in mathematical formulas, what's on one side of an equals sign is just a restatement of what's on the other. I had got all the way to university without that simple point dawning on me.

3. Which science-themed books should we be reading?
Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters by Donald R. Prothero.
The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.
The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell.
Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler.

4. Why are we so fascinated by comets?
Comets visible to the naked eye or with binoculars are spectacular, unpredictable (except for Halley's Comet), transient, and rare: you'll be lucky to see a few in an average lifetime. It's no wonder people once saw them as portents, and that many people still do. But if you know something of the science about them, they're even more fascinating because they are some of the material left over from the formation of the sun and the planets. How cool is that?

See Ken speaking in Reaching out with Rosetta at the 2015 Edinburgh International Science Festival.