Science Fiction Series: Down & Out by Ken Wharton

These are chromatophores.

Each week, Ryan Harvey will be posting about science fiction stories and highlighting the science behind the storylines. This week’s feature is Down & Out, by Ken Wharton. 

Down & Out is a Science Fiction Story by Ken Wharton. It tells the story of a woman named Ogby doing scientific research on the ocean, competing with someone named Roov. Ogby in several ways. First, she discovers that “outside” is real. Second, she correctly determines the structure of her world (she literally turns their understanding upside down). And finally, she communicates this back to her people before she dies. Her struggle to get a message back to her team adds a lot of tension to the final scene.

Her character is very well developed, by the end of the story, we know that she would consider this knowledge well worth dying for. Even though she dies, it’s a story of her victory, not her defeat.

The science in the story is wonderful, and when you realize their world is upside down, though there have already been countless hints in that direction. This especially reveals itself in the scene where Ogby works inside the bubble tells us that she’s used to pretending the world is upside down, so when she’s confronted by the reality of it, she’s ready. The story also touches up upon chromatophores, which are a pigment in the skin of squids, cuttlefish, and Octopuses that allows them to camouflage. The skin can do this on its own. When researchers at Stanford snipped a nerve that connects the brain to the chromatophores, they were still blinking.

Ken Wharton is a writer professor of Physics at UCLA, so he absolutely has the credentials and experience needed to write a story like this. He also does research on physics and experiments on his own time. Down & Out is a great scientifically accurate story that should be read by anyone.

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