Along Came the Questioners

Catherine Haustein

Publisher’s note: “Grave to Cradle,” one of the stories in our anthology The Female Complaint, envisions a nightmarish near-future where everything—including science—is owned by the “Cochton” family, a nifty combination of the Koch brothers and the Walton (Walmart-owning) family. My favorite line: a resuscitated Isaac Newton tells the protagonist, “I’ve avoided women as I have avoided being shot through the knee with an arrow, but I find you affable.” Here the author, chemist Catherine Haustein, discusses how she came to write the story.

I almost don’t dare tell how I came to write “Grave to Cradle.” It started with a politician visiting my school. She came to discuss the future of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in Iowa. Being a chemistry professor, I was summoned. The politician, groomed by special interests, reached out to us with a message that sounded like this: Our corporate donors need your science to make more money. Give it to us and you will be rewarded. And so will we.

There was no wonder or curiosity, no joy, no “We the people.” The slums wouldn’t be saved; the poor wouldn’t be cured. It was science for the selfish, and it was ugly. I was ashamed of myself for being a scientist.

I was afraid to speak out, too. So I wrote a story. That’s the beauty of fiction. You can look at an issue but take the real people out and be left with just the problem.

One reason I love science and believe in science education is because I see it as a way to drive away ignorance. Before science, there was superstition. Things fell to earth or rose to the sky because they were base or heavenly. People got sick because they were evil. Women died giving birth because they were cursed for their sins. Kings ruled because they had divine right. People of different races weren’t all human. Some were animals, so slavery was okay. To question brought the wrath of God.

Along came the questioners, scientists included. They freed us from all of this. Science lived in my mind as bringing vaccines to the people, sweeping away cholera, allowing individuals to connect with their loved ones and share their hearts, no matter how much distance was between.

I love mixing science and romance as forms of discovery. Plus, there’s never enough love in the world. I decided to put Isaac Newton into “Grave to Cradle” because he was one of the first scientists to show that nature was predictable. He banished the capriciousness of the world around us with his equations. He was probably one of the most unromantic men who ever lived, afraid of women and sexuality. I wanted the story to feature a rare Myers-Briggs personality type, an INTJ female. (Sometimes I test as that type.) These characters tend to be blunt and misunderstood, misunderstood as I felt at that moment.

My life has changed a little since I wrote “Grave to Cradle.” I’ve begun teaching Short Story Writing in addition to my chemistry courses. I’ve had a novel published. I believe in the power of story to bring voice to the unheard. There are people who’d love to destroy the humanities for this very reason. Don’t let them!

Catherine Haustein is a chemist and the author of Natural Attraction (Penner, 2015), a gender-bending historical romance set in 1871. Catherine blogs about science, politics, and writing at catherinehaustein.com.