In the film "Sleeper," Woody Allen described scientists as "little men in tweed suits cutting up frogs on foundation grants." Conversely, AAPG member Pasquale Scaturro, in a recent EXPLORER interview, jokingly referred to them as fun-loving, rum drinking ne'er-do-wells.
Author Sarah Andrews, who, along with her work, which includes fiction books that feature geologists in starring roles, will make an appearance at the AAPG Bookstore during the Annual Convention in Calgary, falls somewhere between the two groups.
And she adds her own parameter: Scientists generally, and geologists specifically, range from the gregarious to the "leave me alone." Sort of like everyone else.
She counts herself as being in the "let's party" end of things who is "edging toward the door if thrust into a room full of linear thinkers."
She tells of a story of being at a party with several geologists and how much they drank -- and, to her, for a good reason.
"It's the only way we can stand being with that many people," she laughs.
Andrews' books feature a very inclusive view of that world of geology -- the good, the bad and the murdered -- and of a protagonist, Emily Hansen, a geologist whom the New York Times described as often finding herself in predicaments that are Kafka-esque, a thought that makes Andrews laugh.
The fictional Hansen is naive, savvy, tough, stubborn, and cynical, but it is the Kafka comment that amuses Andrews.
"They did?" she asked. "I'm sure I can't know what that meant, having never read Kafka."
One of the reasons for that, she says, is her dyslexia, a condition that puts her reading "somewhere between the fifth and eighth grade level."
"I think Kafka is a bit above that," Andrews said, "and if he's not, I'll have to grit my teeth and give him a try so I can find out what the Times thinks Em's doing."
Writer Second, Geologist First
The dyslexia, all joking aside, is always nearby.
"Geologists think spatially, and that makes it tough for many of us to read, which is a linear process," she said. "I learn best by talking to people about their work.
"I wonder how much more I could accomplish if I could speed up the world a little?"
Obviously, reading isn't the only way to learn. Andrews received a bachelor's degree in geology from Colorado College, an master's degree from Colorado State University and has worked for Amoco Production and then Angus Petroleum, both in Colorado, where she applied her knowledge of terrigenous clastic sedimentology to enhanced recovery of hydrocarbons.
She says she prefers to be called "geologist," even though, she laughs, it is a profession some people confuse with geography.
On the subject, she says she thinks it's "high time" geologists understood the junction between "what we do and public policy," but adds, "unionizing geologists is like herding cats.
"We find something valuable -- like petroleum -- and then go out and find a lot more of it to make it less valuable."
Still, it is the profession she loves and to which she most relates.
"I really don't think of myself as a writer," she said. "I no longer attend writers' conferences. They put me on edge. Don't get me wrong; writers are great folks, but while I love to wordsmith, it's not what gets me out of bed in the morning. Knitting the world back together by revealing humanity in its context to the Earth is."
Andrews says she first started writing her novels to have fun and to help "the layperson understand geologists," but she admits that one of the by-products of her work is that she has made it possible for geologists to better understand themselves.
"I've become kind of a consciousness-raiser for geologists," she quips. "Geologists have consciousness -- or most of them do."
A Human Face
Her own consciousness came from parents who expected much from their daughter.
"My mother taught English and my father taught art," she said. "I suppose they had a hard time understanding why I would forsake the liberal arts for a life in science, but I have in some measure redeemed myself by scribbling 10 novels."
Asked what they thought of the technical papers she wrote earlier in her career, she says, "They never read them. They might just as well have coded dispatches from the CIA -- and, in fact, this taught me a lot about how opaque technical jargon is to even very broadly-educated people. Perhaps part of my motivation in writing novels about geology has been to create a doorway into my world through which they could comfortably pass."
She adds that she tries to put a human face on the profession.
"Since the fifth in the series ("Bone Hunter"), I have consciously crafted them to be candy-coated polemics on what geologists do for humanity."
Andrews, who also teaches geology and professional seminars on communicating science, has a Top Ten List, if you will, a la Jeff Foxworthy, titled "You Might Be a Geologist If ..." that includes:
- You aced geometry but had trouble communicating with your other math teachers.
- Teachers accuse you of performing beneath your potential.
- You read text slowly but find map reading a snap.
- When asked to solve a problem, you spend five minutes solving it and another hour figuring out how you knew that.
- You feel that if you'd been born 150 years ago you'd have made a great Cavalry scout, because you would have liked to ride out ahead of the troops, find out what's what, go back to report same to the general, tell him he's nuts to stick around and have the good sense to leave.
The Unique Breed
The business of geologists, even in fiction, is often a Byzantine world. But it's not inexplicable.
"I base all my plots on crimes that have actually been committed -- except for the murders; I include those as a matter of form, and to help drive the story.
"The early books, ("Tensleep," 1994; "A Fall in Denver," 1995; and "Mother Nature," 1997), are based on various sorts of white collar crime, which I got my nose rubbed in," she said.
"The fourth book, 'Only Flesh and Bones,' grew out of the experience of listening to a lot of my women friends gripe that it's the husbands who get all the headaches," she added, "as in, 'Not tonight, dear I have a ...
"In this book, I gave the murder victim the last line."
It is a world, as seen through Emily Hansen, filled with mudloggers, Mormons at a paleontologist conference, earthquakes at the Olympics, FBI lovers who mysteriously disappear, drug overdoses and scientists who either jump or are pushed from office buildings.
The sense one gets from Andrews is the world of geologists is like the rest of the world, which may be the point.
"I don't differentiate between the two," she said. "It's my observation that the land affects the inhabitants and vice versa. That's what's so interesting about writing through a geologist's eyes -- I can see that totality. The interrelation between humanity and earth resources -- oil, gold, buildable land, etc. -- are an integral and irreducible part of what makes us tick, and what makes us tick, in terms of the novel, equals motivation, and motivation drives plot."
She has faced some criticism for her depiction of this gritty, petty, backbiting world in which many geologists feel uncomfortable admitting their membership.
There was a time at a conference where the spouse of an AAPG member challenged the necessity of exposing so many industry warts.
"I edit out 90 percent of the foul language, but to leave it out entirely is to lie. I draw the line at gratuitous sex, violence and language," but adds, "my editor does require a murder in every one, so there must be a corpse."
There also is geo-political consequence, international intrigue and more than a hint of libidinous impulses -- all of which raises the question: Are geologists sexy?
"Yes, extremely so," she said. "Geologists are highly sensate people who continue to learn and expand their skills, and sex benefits from such talents. Little did the reading public suspect, until they met Em (Hansen)."
Besides, she says, "I sleep with one every night."