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For Next Novel, Reiken to Study Climate Science in Germany

Writing, Literature & Publishing Professor Frederick Reiken recently was awarded a fellowship that will take him to Germany for nine months, and possibly to a location teeming with coral.

Starting in September 2022, Reiken will be a Writer-in-Residence at Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study in Delmenhorst, Germany, which promotes excellent science through fellowships for scientists, artists, and authors. While in Germany, Reiken will participate in the Fiction Meets Science project, in which writers work on novels that incorporate science themes. The program brings in an international community of guest scientists and scholars to work with fellows.

Writing, Literature & Publishing Professor Frederick Reiken began teaching at Emerson College in 1999.

“It’s not sci-fi. It’s literally science,” said Reiken. “My last novel featured a marine biologist as one of the protagonists. This novel I’m developing is going to feature climate change and climate justice as thematic elements.”

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At this point, it’s too early for Reiken to say much about the novel, as he’s just in the beginning stages. He did disclose that the book will feature characters who have appeared in his last two books.

“They were teenagers in my last few novels. They’re adults in this novel,” said Reiken. “I typically continue characters in my novels. They never quite go away. In my last novel, one of the characters was an important character at the end, and was a minor character in my second novel.”

Reiken said he’s really interested in looking, philosophically and scientifically, at the intersection of managing environmental conservation within the scope of larger issues related to climate change.

In the book, technology is developed in Hawaii to support coral reefs.

“There are papers written on this: Should the scientific community be investing in technology for reefs with artificial substrates when we don’t know anything about whether the elevated water temperatures will reverse?” said Reiken. “Big philosophical questions are coming into the utilitarian science questions. In developing technology to help reefs, do you to try to save them? Warn them? Look at the bigger picture? Do you try to catalog as much as you can before it goes away? Those are some of the philosophical questions that I face when I think about it.”

Reiken really wants to bring the literature of climate change and climate justice into Emerson classrooms.

“I am, hopefully, broadening my awareness of how to think and how to teach literature of climate in a fictional literary context,” said Reiken. “It’s something I’m actively working on.”

He said there is an emerging genre called “cli-fi.” He said a lot of the genre consists of dystopian doomsday scenarios, but there are other ways to include science in fiction.

However, this is not just a novel about science, it’s also about families, life, and death, said Reiken. Those are just some of the issues facing characters.

Before he began writing novels and teaching at Emerson, Reiken was a wildlife biologist, a perspective that helps inform his writing.

Reiken said there are numerous research projects being run by the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute, such as studying ice breakage in the Arctic. Access to those projects enable fellows to conduct field research. Reiken mentioned a writer who was placed on a boat in the Galapagos Islands for a field opportunity.  

“Part of the idea of this fellowship is to allow for discovery and exploration as part of the process, and to have exposure to the academics in science,” said Reiken. “And to have time to write during these opportunities for research trips.”

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