The fields of science and science fiction writing are traditionally looked upon as a male domain, certainly in the majority of those who have achieved a certain level where their names are immediately recognisable, yet debut novelist Pippa Goldschmidt has chosen to buck the trend by not only choosing to enter one of those fields, but both of them, and doing so with an assurance her leading character would be envious of.
Unlike many male science fiction authors who immediately want to hook their readers – presumably also largely male – in the way that men so often do, by issuing a challenge, laying out questions that demand an answer, confusing the reader so as to demand they read on, Goldschmidt instead engages as a storyteller, drawing the reader in to the life of narrator Jeanette, socially awkward and lacking professional confidence, her world, her universe.
Mirroring Goldschmidt’s own background, Jeanette is an astronomer, struggling through her postdoctoral research and currently engaged in a project in the mountains of Chile where she discovers an oddity in her imaging of distant universes that she cannot account for. If accurate, the results are incompatible with current cosmological theory, yet the data persists through her attempts to determine if it is an experimental artefact or aberration and is tangentially confirmed by another group.
While Jeanette wishes to publish the data almost as a question to the scientific community, she is put in a position where others use the discovery to push their own agendas, compromising her into defending a position she did not hold in the first place. Where once her work gave her comfort, the underlying order of the universe a framework where she felt she had a place, professional rivalries and jealousies fracture that order so it mirrors her already complicated personal life, where even a simple night out for drinks with the girls reminds how easy it is to be pushed aside by supposed friends.
Previously published as a poet, Goldschimdt writes in flowing images, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes nightmarish, but always longing, and unlike the posturing of a male writer, she is unafraid to be open and vulnerable. In astronomy, the deeper into space the observer looks, the further back into time they see, and as Jeanette works with the stars she ponders her own past and the mysteries of her childhood; she’s reaching for the stars, for as distant as they are, her parents are further still. Like a fractal, the deeper she looks the more levels of confusion are revealed, and like a scientist she makes futile attempts to analyse the actions of those around her as though they were fundamentally predictable, a supposition that requires an underlying rationality on their part.
There is a background of science and research underpinned by the formality and expectation of academia, but it is not required to have an existing understanding as insight enough is given, though it is an advantage to have a love of the stars and the romance of the night. Rather, the story is understandable to anyone who has ever longed to be connected to the wider universe as a substitute for absent or lost connections in the terrestrial, the hope that unravelling answers might similarly elucidate meaning on Earth, when in fact the varieties and shapes and sharp and numbing details of loneliness are as infinite as the stars in the sky.
The Falling Sky is now available from Freight Books