It is fair to say that if it was not for Lise Meitner there would be no Alex and Jackie Adventures, no short stories, no animations. In fact, if I had not discovered Lise Meitner, I would not be a writer. So I owe her a great deal of gratitude for that; because it is also fair to say that if Lise’s story had been better known then I would not have felt compelled to tell it. And there lies the paradox! My goal is to make Lise so famous that there is no need for my book.
But first, some background for those who are unfamiliar with Lise Meitner.
In a nutshell, Lise was an Austrian Physicist, born in Vienna in 1878. She was amongst the first women to be admitted to the University and to be awarded a PhD in Physics. From there she went to Berlin, and eventually became Head of the Physics department at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Due to her status as a Jew in Nazi Germany, Lise was forced to flee the country and moved to Sweden, where she discovered nuclear fission and sparked the race for the atomic bomb. After the war, the Nobel Foundation controversially denied her the Nobel Prize for her discovery. What the nutshell fails to tell: is of a life of remarkable determination in the face of Sexism, Anti-Semitism, War, Death, Collapse of Empire, Celebrity, Professional Jealousy and, ultimately, Betrayal.
I first read about Lise in the David Bodanis book, e=mc2. Now, I’m not a science buff by any means, but I had heard of Albert Einstein, Max Plank and Niels Bohr; so it surprised me that, given her contributions to science, I had never heard of Lise Meitner; even more so given that for a brief period in the 1940’s she was probably the most famous woman in the world.
But what shocked me – what compelled me to pick up my pen and write fission – were the reasons why she is not better known; and these had very little to do with science. There are two excellent biographies of her by Patricia Rife and Ruth Lewin Sime, which put her life in context with her scientific achievements, but there is no need to have a PhD to read fission; because in fission I chose to tell a different story: of one person’s struggle in the face of overwhelming odds, a story in the mold of epic mythology (except that it’s all true) – the story of the small and powerless standing up to evil empire. At the end of such stories – the happily ever after – the villains are vanquished and the heroism, if not always rewarded, is at least remembered and honored. What shocked me is that the world preferred to forget Lise rather than honor her. And it was a chance to redress that wrong which inspired me to write fission.
I originally wrote fission as a screenplay; and for a first effort, it garnered a certain amount of praise, and was even named a finalist at the 2008 London Independent Film Festival. But so far, it hasn’t been optioned and there is no Hollywood blockbuster is in the pipe-line. As I became involved with other projects – the Alex and Jackie stuff, for example – there was a distinct possibility that, as with Lise herself, fission may also be forgotten. To prevent that, I decided to convert the screenplay into a full blown novel. But, considering I already had a full schedule, and I didn’t know when the novel would see the light of day, I made the decision to publish fission in serial form, as novels were in the golden age of magazines. Of course, in our golden age the Internet has replaced the magazine, and so the novel is being serialized on-line, as each chapter is completed.
We published the first chapter in June and have been uploading 1-2 chapters a week since then. As we speak I have about one third of the novel on-line for people to read. When it’s done, hopefully by the end of the year or soon thereafter, we’ll go ahead and publish it the old fashioned way, but in the meantime, the chapters published to-date can be accessed, free-of-charge, through my web site.
Tom Weston’s work includes the fantasy based Alex and Jackie books, First Night and The Elf of Luxembourg. His latest project is fission, a novel based on the true life story of scientist, Lise Meitner. Prior to its scheduled publication in 2011, fission is being serialized online for Tom’s fans. To find out more about Tom and his work, or to read fission, please visit http://tom-weston.com/ or http://www.facebook.com/tom.weston.readers.