When I started writing my novel, I knew I wanted to explore the effect of an apparent challenge to the Big Bang theory upon an individual character as well as the astronomical community as a whole. But what form could this challenge take? The theory is based on several well-established pieces of observational evidence, principally the uniform nature of the cosmic microwave background, the relative abundances of the primordial elements such as hydrogen and helium, the global evolution of galaxies, and finally the one-to-one relationship between recessional velocity of the Universe (i.e. redshift) and the distance to galaxies. I ended up choosing the last of these. In the book it is challenged when Jeanette and her colleague find an apparent physical link between galaxies at different redshifts.
Why did I decide on this particular aspect of the Big Bang? Because it was relatively straightforward to explain, and I hoped to build a visual picture in readers’ minds of these galaxies the way that Jeanette and others might see them on the computer screen, two blobs with a string of ‘something’ between them. And as Jeanette struggles with connecting and communicating with other people in her life, and has done since her difficult childhood it seemed to me to be an inevitable metaphor for her isolation. Perhaps that’s why she’s so keen to ‘see’ this connection. It may console her for the lack of connnections around her.
I’m wary of books that use science simply as metaphor for characters’ feelings, because science is more than that. It offers us a way of seeing the external physical world; it doesn’t solely exist to reflect our own desires and needs back at us. This (mis)use of science as metaphor seems to me to be fundamentally pre-Copernican.
In spite of that, I used the image of connected galaxies as a way of exploring Jeanette’s view of life. But I hope I explored it for its own sake, and showed that the connected galaxies resonate with Jeanette because of the emotions she’s invested in her understanding of the Big Bang theory. I think any metaphor needs to be earned, you can’t string together two unconnected ideas or images just for the sake of pretty words. It needs to be somehow ‘real’.