CamFest Speaker Spotlight

Dr Una McCormack

Dr Una McCormack is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling science fiction writer who has written more than twenty novels based on TV shows such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Firefly. She will be in conversation with Astronomer Royal Professor Martin Rees on 25th March from 8-9pm in From science fiction to science fact. 

Credit: David Wall via Getty Images

Credit: David Wall via Getty Images

How did you get into science fiction?
I saw Star Wars in the cinema at an impressionable age (it was 1978, and I was 6). Those beautiful images and spectacles – plus the sense of adventure and fun – captured my imagination. As I grew older and read more science fiction, I appreciated how it opened up space to explore philosophical or political ideas. That’s the kind of science fiction that I like reading and writing – though I still enjoy the spectacle of space. Who couldn’t be entranced by the images coming back from the JWST? 

Have you always been a Star Trek/Doctor Who fan and what is it about those series that appeals to you?
A fan of Doctor Who from childhood, and Star Trek from adolescence, when the films started to come out. Doctor Who appealed to my sense of playfulness – and I’ve loved watching it with my daughter. Star Trek appealed to my curiosity and my sense of hope of for the future. The best science fiction not only holds a mirror up to our world as it is, but suggests pathways to a better future.  

Who is your favourite Doctor and why?
An almost unanswerable question! From the “classic” series, I love Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy. Peter Davison because the stories felt fresh and new, and I was at exactly the right age to enjoy the ideas being explore (9 or 10). Sylvester McCoy because I loved the relationship with his companion, Ace. For the “new” series, I’d have to say Matt Smith. He physically inhabits the part so incredibly well, as if his body can’t quite contain all the energy and intelligence.  

How much do you keep up to date with scientific developments and are there particular areas of science that appeal to you?Space exploration appeals, naturally! I read very eclectically (I’ve just started Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein’s The Disordered Cosmos), although I won’t pretend to be anything other than interested and very amateur. I’ve visited CERN a couple of times, where I’ve co-organised meetings of science fiction writers and others interested in speculating optimistically about the future. The visit to the Large Hadron Collider was something of a career high!  

How much do you think literature influences science and vice versa?
Science fiction can encourage open-mindedness, curiosity, and a ‘sideways’ view on the world that questions the status quo. I see similar mindsets amongst the best scientists and engineers that I’ve worked with/taught. For me, above all, science fiction serves to remind us that the world around us doesn’t have to be the way that it is, that we can always make different choices about how we organise ourselves, use our resources, develop and deploy our technologies; at its very best, science fiction can even suggest pathways forwards.