Award-winning crime writer Christopher Brookmyre explains why his latest book is dedicated to Dawkins, Randi and the debunkers of pseudo-science
Earlier this month saw the publication of my eleventh novel, Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks, a satire on the efforts of the religious lobby, the psychic charlatans and their incurably credulous dupes to wage war on science and impose their “no, we’ve no evidence, we just like the notion” philosophy upon our children’s education. The novel is dedicated to James Randi and Richard Dawkins, and never before has my choice of dedicatees occasioned so much discussion.
In certain quarters it has been interpreted as a calculated act of provocation, as though these two names were imbued with such talismanic significance that the mere invocation of them was tantamount to a blood-curdling battle cry. The dedication has also been depicted as the first declaration of intent in “a novel with an agenda”; to which I would respond that it shows how far the pendulum requires to be swung back in our society if the advocacy of rational thought is perceived as “an agenda”. And, with a certain inevitability, it has been suggested that this dedication – and indeed the entire undertaking of the novel – represents some form of opportunistic bandwagon-hopping. I think the type of person who holds this last opinion must derive comfort from the word “bandwagon”, with its connotations of something transient and superficial; so much less burdened with worrying implications than the term “groundswell”.
In keeping with a novel depicting scientific investigation into the paranormal, the truth turns out to be more straightforward and prosaic: it is a simple act of stating my thanks; of acknowledging a debt of inspiration and enlightenment to two people whose work so fired my imagination that I embarked upon this book.
The genus of the novel came three years ago when I was preparing to write a horror screenplay and found myself researching demon lore and other “unexplained” supernatural phenomena. What I discovered, admittedly with a slight degree of disappointment, was that all the phenomena I looked into were in fact adequately and irrefutably explained, but certain parties simply didn’t like those explanations and preferred to stick with their own, utterly unsubstantiated ones (see above re “no, we’ve no evidence, we just like the notion”).
I became captivated by the narrative of sceptical, rational and scientific inquiry into the supposedly paranormal, a field in which James Randi’s front-line experience and writing both excel. As an author of crime fiction, I found the detective work, revelations and stings in Randi’s exposes of Uri Geller, Peter Popoff and others as page-turningly exciting as the most finely crafted thrillers.
Suddenly divested of my inhibiting preconceptions regarding the impenetrability of science writing, I dipped my toes into Dawkins and found myself exhilarated. I am constantly bemused to see him depicted as “Darwin’s Rottweiler” and described as an aggressive polemicist; what engages me about Dawkins’ writing is its joy, passion and boyish excitement, its infectious desire to include and to illuminate. Sure, I also enjoy his waspish humour, but it is always allied to warmth and compassion, and when he deploys his weaponry, it is in defence of something he cherishes which we should all wish to protect.
Thus moved, excited and inspired, I wanted to dramatise this struggle between the open-minded inquiry of science and the infantile self-indulgence of those who believe that open-mindedness involves attributing an equivalency to solid evidence and notions that “we just like”.
The question you are most asked as an author is: “where do you get your ideas from?” Put simply, Randi and Dawkins gave me an idea for a book, and I dedicated it to them out of gratitude. If by doing so I have annoyed certain people, then that was not my intention – merely a bonus. ■