Kluane Lake Research Station Radio Series

Donjek, myself and Ruth Klinkhammer at KLRSI did a nine part radio series on research and science out at the Kluane Lake Research Station this Summer.  It was under the auspices of the International Polar Year and the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA).  AINA and Ruth Klinkhammer did a great job at compiling and showcasing my work at the Station and they set up a page of my radio series.  

If you’d like to listen to some of the fun that I had this summer with the gang at KLRS, stop by this website and check out the broadcasts.  


Who’d have thought they’d hire a science fiction writer to write about real science?  It taught me a lot, though.  And what I learned there will stick with me for a long time.

Positively Beaufort, the new Yukon term for “freakin’ cold”?


Herschel Island, a quiet pond, an old fishing boat, the old Canadian Signal Corps building--amazing photo by incredible photographer Hank Moorlag
Herschel Island, a quiet pond, an old fishing boat, the old Canadian Signal Corps building--amazing photo by incredible photographer Hank Moorlag

Meagan Grabowski didn’t know she was coming up with a catch phrase, but a visit to Herschel Island for a couple of weeks, and she was a one-woman neologist.  “It started at Pika Camp,” a remote camp for researchers a few kilometres away from the Kluane Lake Research Station.  “We were coming up with an Inuvialuktan to English to Yorkshire dictionary…for fun…and the Yorkshire term for ‘it’s very cold’ turned out to be ‘positively Baltic.'”  But when she was up for two weeks studying biomass on Herschel Island, and it got really, really cold, she slipped on the ‘baltic’ and said the weather was “positively Beaufort.”   Meaning, it doesn’t get colder than that….the wet wind off the Beaufort Sea…beats everything.


Meagan was up there as part of  International Polar Year, with a team of researchers, Scott Gilbert, Charlie and Alice Krebs, Don Reed, and others, all looking at Herschel Island as an ecosystem, finding out what made it tick, and how that information could be transferred, and compared, to other northern islands and our own Yukon high alpine tundra areas.  

Meagan Grabowski is daughter to well-known taxidermist Tony Grabowski and you can hear more of her adventures up on Herschel Island, as well as how any young Yukoner can spend a summer in a such a positively Beaufort place.  The last of my two radio shows this summer, coming Tuesday at 7:50am.  

We’re hoping the weather stays warm for a long time, but in case it drops to -40 this winter, feel free to put “positively Beaufort” into circulation.

Bringing Star Wars to the Research Station: Part I

Part I:  A New Thought

And now you will witness the full power of this        
         station….” General Tarkington, Star Wars: Episode   
         IV, A New Hope



Bronwyn Goodwin shows the power of the X-Wing Fighter kite at KLRS
Bronwyn Goodwin shows the power of the X-Wing Fighter kite at KLRS

As a science fiction writer embedded now as a science writer at a northern research station, I thought my job was pretty clear: bring northern science to a larger audience through whatever means were at my disposal.  Blogs, Facebook, press releases, radio series.  But then I found out that a few people there had not seen Star Wars.   Suddenly, my best, natural personality came to the fore.  I had a new mission: Bring science fiction to scientists.


While science fiction might be easily dismissed by those working in scientific fields, it is often the first place that the average person learns about scientific concepts like graviton waves, geodesic folds, Dyson spheres, and quantum mechanics.  It can also be a first introduction to Shakespeare, to history, to world cultures, and to understanding the alien—those different than us.  But it is also a huge asset when it comes to igniting the imagination about science and about the future.  In this way, fiction about science, or even science writing, aids the cause of science—by compelling the average person to both think about science now, and think about science as part of our future.

Star Wars: a New Hope was aptly named.   In 1977, it transformed the movie industry, making possible special effects that matched our imaginations.  And it also introduced science fiction to the masses of non-science fiction readers—making science fiction mainstream.  Star Wars was nominated for 10 academy awards, and won six of them, including Best Musical Score.  Of course, everyone reading this knows this.  We grew up with Star Wars.

But Bronwyn Goodwin, age 8, did not, and neither did her mother, Sian Goodwin, both raised at a Research Station.

This is hardly to their disadvantage—imagine having brilliant scientists traipsing through your living room on their way to amazing science exploits, and having your dad be the pilot that takes them up to many of the highest peaks in North America.  But they missed what turned out to be a seminal cultural event in Western Culture.  Star Wars entered into our collective psyche in the eighties and has re-emerged in many forms—whether it’s Reagan’s Star Wars defense system, or the idea of being “turned to the dark side” as a reference for negative behavior.  The characters are well known to us—Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2. 

But there was a certain glee in bringing Star Wars to two people who had never been exposed to it.  And eventually, the audience at the research station grew…

Continued in Part II….

Why You Should Subscribe to New Scientist, and why you have to put it down

phpthumbScience Fiction writers have a strange relationship to science. To write compelling science fiction, I think a writer has to do some research. Where would Crichton’s Jurassic Park have been without Chaos theory and real-life paleontologists? And you want your ideas to be ahead of the game, so get yourself some subscriptions.

I know, we are poor bastards and we can’t afford very much–certainly not expensive subscriptions.

I don’t think I could get more (Big) bang for my buck than through New Scientist. You can too.

1. It’s weekly. Meaning that when science is advancing, New Scientist doesn’t have to wait two months to come out with an issue. Discover is a monthly, and it’s a nice mag. But it can’t compete with 65-75 pages a week chock full of insightful articles.

2. It’s got short blurbs and longer indepth articles, and these can be read–some of them–online. Let me give you a sample of what’s out right now:

Why the Universe may be teeming with Aliens

Are Daughters-in-Law to blame for Menopause?

A healthy planet? Top 10 articles on the Environment in 2008

The glass universe: where astronomy meets art

Creationists Declare War on the Brain

These are the longer in-depth articles, yes, but the magazine is FULL of shorter articles. Shorter articles stimulate creativity in a way that is beneficial for a creative writer. You want a magazine that has plenty of short articles on broad topics–a whole mess of ’em.

3. It covers a lot of areas: space, environment, sex, health, physics and math, tech articles…. that’s good. Coming out once a week, it allows the magazine to be current on several areas. It allows you to cross-pollinate ideas.

4. It’s cheap. Yep, it’s from Britain, but it’s 36 bucks for 6 months or 24 issues. You can sign up online here for a subscription. Or you can browse the website first. With a subscription you get the magazine delivered to your door in uninterrupted service, and you get online access to back issues 24hrs a day. It’s cheap and it comes to you. If I had to have just one subscription to a science magazine, I would keep this one.

Writers of science fiction should certainly start with the stimulation that comes from reading science magazines–BUT, and this is where it gets interesting, I think they shouldn’t be bogged down in the details. If you are predicting the future, look how fast the present changes. I just did a radio piece talking about dark energy–which is about to be out of fashion, passé, even illusory–but in twenty years?? In fifty years?? It may be all the rage.

Science fiction writers need to be able to extrapolate from data, yes, but they also need to be able to make the Leap. Leaps are about prediction beyond what can be extrapolated. Go someplace wild with the information. Don’t be afraid to be wrong in twenty years, or in two weeks. Make it believable. But not predictable by any physics grad student. Combine fields, combine theories, and then move beyond them. Sure, it’s not real. But that’s the point of writing fiction–to be brave enough to make the leaps that science isn’t allowed to without hard fact.

If science fiction actually does lead the way in technology and science–then we’ve got to lead by going beyond what the best scientists can predict, and certainly past what the public can imagine. That’s our job–to help people imagine a believable, but still surprising and entertaining, future. That’s where your stimulated brain comes in handy……

You can start seeing that future by picking up a New Scientist issue, but you can’t create it till you’ve put the issue down.