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Reality check

Graduate student Margaret Taylor spends her days studying how this world works and weaving stories about how other worlds might work.

Margaret Taylor studies a family of transporter proteins in plants in the Ward lab. But when the Plant Biological Sciences graduate student isn’t running biochemical tests, she’s spends her time inventing facts instead of discovering them. A novelist with three books under her belt so far, Taylor’s latest release, Cannon Fodder, is online now here and here.

Q. You have just published your third novel later this month (April). What's it about?

A. It's called Cannon Fodder and it takes place in a world where people's lives have to work out the way they do in stories. The good guys always win. It's part of the world's physics. Alec Nightshade is a student member of an evil overlord organization, and he's sick and tired of heroes wandering in and murdering all his friends and family. He comes up with an elaborate way his scheme is going to be different this time. Of course the plan blows up in his face. That makes the story.

Q. Is there any thread that connects your writing and your science?

A. I don't usually write about my thesis project in particular, but I sure do write about science in general. I like writing about fantasy worlds with plenty of science in them. For example, the "elemental power" that makes everything go in Cannon Fodder is a matter-antimatter reaction. It gives off heat, which boils water, which spins a turbine. So this society has got a supply of cheap, abundant, carbon-neutral energy.

I like to speculate what would happen if a society never bothered to invent information technology. These characters use magic to communicate, so they didn't bother. You've got a sprawling, modern empire that barely has transistors. They never went through an Information Revolution like our world did in the 1980s – technology went in a different direction.

Q. How do you switch gears to write? Do you have any habits (ie writing early in the morning)?

A. Well … actually I do write early in the morning. I wake up embarrassingly early, like 5:00a.m., and I'm ready to pass out by 9 p.m. So I get into the office that's across the hall from the lab early in the morning and I sit down and write for half an hour. Then I get up and go do experiments. The writing gives me a buzz that lasts all morning.

Q. Who are some of your favorite characters from novels? Why?

A. Lee Scoresby from The Golden Compass and its sequels. I love characters who don't have any magic powers in worlds where magic is all over the place. The heroine Lyra has the gift of divination, there's dimensional-traveling angels, witches, aliens, pixies … and Lee Scoresby's just this Texan guy who wants to help Lyra. He never falters in that. Not to mention he's so badass his best friend is an armored bear.

At the end of the series, many, many people have to work together to save the day. Lee is one of them. He carries right on being the best damn side character ever.

And I know she's not from a book, but Ellen Ripley is awesome.



Taylor is also a CBS contributing writer. Check out her articles: