Roach (left) and Casey in the wilds of Central Park.
Two intrepid writers explain why science is so cool.
O's Editor in Chief, Susan Casey, is an admitted "ocean fanatic," a journalist whose work has taken her all over the globe, including into an enclave of great white sharks for the 2005 best-seller The Devil's Teeth. This month she comes out with The Wave, a spellbinding look into 100-foot-plus swells and the surfers and scientists who love them. Mary Roach is a kindred spirit, a writer who has gone to great extremes to report on the curious worlds of cadavers (Stiff), the paranormal (Spook), sex (Bonk), and now, outer space in the fascinating Packing for Mars. The two authors sat down to talk about their shared obsessions.
Susan Casey: Why did you want to write about space?
Mary Roach: I've always been a bit of a space geek. I wrote an article years ago about the neutral buoyancy tank, which is this biblically sized pool where they train astronauts. And it was just the coolest thing. What made you want to write about giant waves?
SC: When I was learning to surf, I got seriously injured by a four-foot wave—ruptured a kidney, got my face all scraped up—and I could not believe the power of the thing. I was like a piece of lint being flipped around. Later, when I heard stories about 100-foot waves and surfers who wanted to ride them, and ships disappearing in them, I had to find out more.
MR: I think space and the ocean are both these weird-ass places that are so incredibly unexplored.
SC: Yes! This is the natural world—let's be curious about it. It's about being aware of what you see and hear, and questioning it: "What do you mean there are 100-foot waves taking out ships?"
MR: Exactly. I never understand this attitude that science is really boring. How can anyone say that?
SC: Science is where the most extraordinary stories are.
MR: Science is you! It's your head, it's your dog, it's your iPhone—it's the world. How do you see that as boring? If it's boring, it's because you're learning it from a textbook. I feel like you have to slip it in sideways so that people don't realize they're being taught science.
SC: And being genuinely excited helps. I find the ocean so endlessly fascinating that I'm compelled to tell people about it. Like, "Hey, look over here, it's a shark the size of a cube van!"
MR: I know. You want to tell people: "Get off the Internet!"
SC: Yeah, go outside for ten minutes. From the time I was a kid, I always wanted to know what was in water. I was fixated on looking at fish or crayfish or frogs. Not that I'm not interested in earth, too, but water just seemed so mysterious. Were you the kind of kid who was always asking why?
MR: Yeah! My mom was very religious and she'd read the Bible to me: "They played the horns of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down!" And I'd be like, "Really? Seriously? Do you think maybe there was an earthquake at the same time and that's what happened? How could a trumpet...well, what kind of a trumpet? Maybe there's some infrasound? Possibly? You'd need a lot of amplification—a lot of decibels—and maybe you could take out a wall." It drove my mother crazy.
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