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Top Science Papers Ever

I stumbled across this webpage put together by Nature, listing the top 100 science papers of all time. There’s a great interactive tool that lets you cycle through the papers and see graphs of their citations per year.

There are tens of millions of papers on the record. Only around 15,000 papers have ever been cited more than 1,000 times.

Naively (or maybe arrogantly, given I was trained as a physicist), I expected the most cited papers to be related to physics. It’s the most fundamental of the sciences, after all. I expected the other sciences to lean on physics.

Failing that, I imagined the most cited things would be famous papers, like Einstein’s Annus Mirabilis papers in 1905 or Watson and Crick’s 1953 Nature paper on the structure of DNA.

But the most cited papers by far as either biology lab technique or physical chemistry. Which makes sense, in hindsight. That’s where the big business is. That’s what the big labs focus on.

The most cited paper in history, from 1951, is about measuring proteins, and has 305,000 citations at the time of writing.

Writers of the Future Award

I’m pleased to announce that my story “The Withering Sky” is a recipient of the Writers of the Future Award 2022. The space horror novelette will be published in the upcoming Writers of the Future Volume 39 on 16th May 2023.

Writers of the Future Vol 39

Click here to order the anthology from your preferred store.

The Writers of the Future anthologies are an excellent way to discover up-and-coming writers in science fiction and fantasy — not to blow my own trumpet (okay, maybe a little bit). The contest and associated publication have been running for decades (with 39 volumes at the time of writing). Many genre-leading writers such as Nnedi Okorafor, Patrick Rothfuss and Ken Liu got their start in these pages.

You can find all the previous anthologies here.

2022 in Books

This post is inspired by Kate McKean’s recent newsletter article, which I thought was a great way to visualise, rather than just list, books read last year.

I read 50 books in 2022, which makes me very happy. It’s been a hard year at work and in my personal life, but I’ve still found time for reading. That’s an average of almost a book a week — though I definitely squeezed a final few in there over Christmas to give a satisfying round number.


58% fiction, 42% non-fiction. I’m not surprised that sci-fi tops the list of fiction, nor by the tie between fantasy, horror and literary fiction. I haven’t done this kind of analysis on previous years, but that pretty much aligns with my gut instinct about my reading tastes. More unusually for me, thriller/crime are >0% — I’m trying to branch out a bit into what is usually a dull genre for me. My guess is that I’m drifting year-on-year from a fiction-dominated appetite to something more balanced.

A closer look at non-fiction

Looking closer at non-fiction, it’s obvious that ‘Craft/Creativity’ was a hot topic for me. These were mostly books about writing or about artists. I’ve enjoyed reading more essays and memoir this year, and my reading list for 2023 is leaning into that. Self-help reading centred around creativity, productivity and introversion/sensitivity.

Book formats

I’m shocked by how few audiobooks I listened to this year. Over the last 10 years I’ve usually had an audiobook on the go most of the time. But this year I’ve been listening to so many podcasts that I haven’t really had time for audiobooks. 24% ebooks sounds about right, though also might be a reduction from previous years. I do tend to mostly read paperbacks, so there’s no surprises here, but there are definitely more hardbacks than I anticipated (lots of these were gifts — if friends/family are reading this, yes please, more hardbacks for my birthday next year).

Minority voices

This analysis is definitely reductive. I haven’t researched people’s identities in detail. In any case, artists shouldn’t have to divulge details of their personal lives to further their careers. I’ve gone with ‘white and/or cis-gender male’ as the easiest questions to answer. A 60/40 split isn’t bad, but it’s not brilliant either. I think it’s better than previous years, but the trend will be clearer if this analysis gets repeated in future years.

Completed vs partial reads

I count books as ‘read’ on my log even if I don’t read them cover to cover. Sometimes books lose momentum or I lose interest, but I still feel that I’ve absorbed the essence of the book. As a rule of thumb, if I get more than halfway, I’ll count it. But it looks like I read 84% of books cover to cover this year. That’s 42 books completed, 8 partial reads.

For reference, here’s the list (see the Book Log for previous years):

  1. The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield
  2. Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
  3. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  4. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
  5. It Happened in ‘Loontown by Lavie Tidhar (short story)
  6. The City We Became by N. K. Jemisin
  7. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  8. The Firmament of Time by Loren Eiseley
  9. Siege & Storm by Leigh Bardugo
  10. This Is Water by David Foster Wallace
  11. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
  12. Appropriate by Paisley Rekdal
  13. Why I Write by George Orwell
  14. The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers
  15. The Fisherman by John Langan
  16. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  17. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
  18. Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber
  19. The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
  20. Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
  21. Odyssey by Jack McDevitt
  22. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
  23. Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith
  24. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken
  25. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
  26. Art Matters by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell
  27. 1Q84: Book Three by Haruki Murakami
  28. A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck
  29. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
  30. Permission to Screw Up by Kristen Hadeed 
  31. Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny
  32. Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo
  33. What It Is by Lynda Barry
  34. The Stormlight Archive: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
  35. Acceptance by Jeff VenderMeer
  36. Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg
  37. Mistborn: Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson
  38. Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
  39. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones
  40. Refuse to Be Done by Matt Bell
  41. Metazoa by Peter Godfrey-Smith
  42. Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight
  43. When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
  44. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  45. The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu
  46. Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Currey
  47. Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
  48. Ringworld by Larry Niven
  49. Cauldron by Jack McDevitt
  50. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Maya Angelou on Desert Island Disks

TL;DR: Listen to this, and if you haven’t already, read this.

Two years ago I read Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The economy of words and effortless storytelling made it an instant favourite. A book that has brewed in the back of my head since, and one I look forward to reading a second time.

Last week, while at the gym, I was browsing podcasts and found that BBC’s Desert Island Disks had reposted an old interview from their archives from 1988, featuring Maya Angelou.

I was amazed to discover that the real Angelou was totally at odds with how I had pictured her. Her memoir deals with some serious issues, from rape to the racism she endured growing up in the American south. I had pictured her as flinty-eyed and stoic and maybe — understandably — a bit joyless. It was a real treat to hear her real voice: like warm butter, full of mischief. The indestructible kind of person who laughs easily and speaks with humility.

It really hit me how little I know the writers of my favourite books, even the ones who are still alive. They might have adopted any mask for the sake of their work, and I might never know.

Side quest: In this interview Angelou also talks about her mother Vivian, who sounds like a beast of a human being. Angelou speaks about an occasion when, already a hotel owner, surgical nurse and real estate broker, her mother joined the navy:

They told me they wouldn’t let black women in their union. You know what I said? ‘You wanna bet?’ I’ll put my foot in that door up to my hip!

Apparently Angelou finally did write a biography about her mother in 2013, in the last volume of her memoirs, Me and Mom and Me. One for my reading list.

Going Part-Time

Day one of going part-time at my day job. Enormous fortune permits me to take this step, so that I can focus more on writing. I now have afternoons free to work on finishing my WIP.

The first thing I did today after finishing work was go for a walk in the park. It’s a short distance from my house, and is empty except for a few dog-walkers. I moved away from London two years ago, and back then I would have balked at the idea of having so much open space to myself. London has many beautiful parks, but in fair weather they are rammed with people.

Today it was just me, and a little Jack Russell chasing a ball in the distance.

A yet greater fortune to begin this process now, in the full swing of Autumn. My journey to walking cliché is nearing completion: snobby little artiste takes his post-lunch stroll amongst the falling leaves. I see where this is going. He pauses to adjust his beret, becomes transfixed by an interesting knot on a nearby tree. Nightfall comes and still he stares, and eventually the police escort him home. The family don’t fuss, they are used to it by now.

Also, coincidentally, my writing career becomes “official” on Halloween. Coincidence or dark portent?

Ask for playlists for your birthday

This post is about Kevin Kelly, whom I came across lately after reading somebody’s newsletter. Despite my best efforts, I can’t remember whose newsletter it was. My apologies to the ether for not giving due credit.

Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine, has curated a lot of cool odds and ends, hosted on a part of his website called The Technium. When he turned 68, he celebrated by publishing a list of 68 pieces of advice.

He then did 99 pieces of advice another year. The latest is a list of 103 pieces of advice.

Kelly talked about these lists recently, especially his latest, on the Freakonomics podcast. Something he said on the podcast leaped out at me. Paraphrasing, he sums his efforts to avoid getting stuck in a rut as:

Don’t sit in the same chair every day. Avoid getting in a rut. For my birthday, I ask my kids for playlists of what music they’ve been listening to lately.

I love this idea. What could be a better birthday gift than lists of the best music, films, books etc. that the people you love have found lately?

I’m 30 now, that age where people start to become more set in their ways. Is this the way to stay fresh?

Music playlists would be especially good for me. I listen to a lot of music, but I’m one of those people who puts on the radio or auto-compiled Spotify lists, and has no idea which artists they’re listening to.

Books are the obvious ask, but I usually ask for specific books that are on my list. That runs the risk missing out on a lot of stuff I’ve never heard of. Maybe it’d be better to ask people for books they love.

Ethan Hawke on Creativity

One of the most down-to-earth talks on finding time for creativity that I’ve ever seen. Just short of ten minutes but he covers a lot of territory, from his life in the arts to the deeper meaning of creative pursuits for society and personal growth.

Wiggling Through by Subtle Manoeuvres

Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life it not possible then one must try to wiggle through by subtle manoeuvres.

Franz Kafka, quote via Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Kafka’s words, on trying to organise his life around his writing. Kafka’s works are notoriously dark and surreal, but his letters suggest anything but an effortless creative experience. The quote paints a picture of a generally hectic and cluttered life, where the free flow of ideas is staunched.

But closely tied to it is fatigue, and lack of proper rest. The full quote goes on to explain, “The satisfaction gained by manoeuvring one’s timetable successfully cannot be compared to the permanent misery of knowing that fatigue of any kind shows itself better and more clearly in writing than anything one is really trying to say.

Judy Horacek, via BMJ

Following on from my last post, Kafka’s words go deeper into why rest is vital for creative output. Fatigue not only cuts off access to creative energy, but degrades the quality of the small amount that does get done.

But the quote offers no solution, only sober reality: the time will never come when conditions are perfect, when life resembles the stillest lake waters and the vistas of the mind are clear of mist. You have to make do with those subtle manoeuvres: rest in those brief respites between between breaking waves, and when you catch your breath, stumble through the mists, and over months and years, maybe make something new.

Creative Hiatus for Rest

Bill Hayes put out an article at LitHub in January: The Rest Principle: On the Necessity of Recovery, in Fitness and Writing. Taking a course for personal trainers while researching a book on exercise, the critical value of rest in making gains really hit him.

He talks about a gap in his writing career:

In some cases, it’s not just the writing that needs a breather but the writer, too. After completing my book The Anatomist, I wrote virtually nothing for almost three years. I hadn’t given up writing deliberately, and I cannot pinpoint a particular day when my not-writing period started, any more than one can say the moment when one is overtaken by sleep. It’s only after you wake that you realize how long you were out.

My own experience with writing is similar. Some months, I’ll write four blog posts and fragments of three short stories, and a novel chapter, in a weekend. Other times, I’ll go whole months and barely write a thing.

I spend a lot of time researching how to do less, so that I can accomplish more of what really matters to me. Lately it’s led me to Greg McKeown’s Essentialism, Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks, Tom Hodgkinson’s Being Idle, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Cal Newport’s model of Slow Productivity, and Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals. (Full credit and appreciation to Austin Kleon, Matt Bell and Ezra Klein for making me aware of these.)

But, like almost everyone, I’m terrible at putting these ideas into practice. What I really want is time to write. Not to become a successful writer (though that sounds great), but to have the time to actually do the act of writing. There’s probably nothing special in that — it’s just flow state. Everyone has something that gives them that timeless sense of being fully engrossed.

But things get in the way. I wrote and edited four short stories I the first three months of this year. But for the last two months I’ve barely touched a writing project. It’s a brittle practice, sensitive to being crowded out by other things that, at the time, seem more pressing.

The ideal would be to have a robust practice, to organise my life so that the stable equilibrium would be a day with inviolable time and energy with which to focus on my writing projects. A disturbance inevitably arises that knocks me from equilibrium, but I relax back to that stable state.

The question is how to build such a life.

That brings me, long-windedly, to rest. Hayes writes:

Don’t work through the pain; it will only hurt. Give yourself sufficient time to refresh.

I suspect a lot of the stops and starts with my writing ultimately stem from chronic burnout, a lack of patience, and not being connected enough with my body to recognise when to stop and recharge.

Our life has been hectic the last few months, to say the least. Supporting my family through some hard times, working at a tech startup (which inevitably leads to working some nights and weekends), buying a house, my partner changing jobs, and ongoing health issues, have all taken a toll.

Whenever I get a spare few hours, a lull in the storm, I dive for the keyboard. For maybe an hour, I manage to convince myself that I can write an entire novel draft in a week, before life crashes over me again. I can do it, if I just arse-to-chair and force it.

But I’m not sure who wants to read something written by a mind that’s letting off the smell of burnt toast. Sleep deprivation can produce similar symptoms to being drunk, and impair attention, arithmetic ability, episodic memory, and working memory. Long-term burnout is even more insidious, lowering your baseline cognitive performance, so that you’re not only underperforming, but your ability to think about how to fix the problem is also shot.

Having read, Hayes’ article, I’m wondering whether it’s better to make the decision to not create anything for a while. There’s advice everywhere from creators about the discipline of grinding out your work, even if you’re not in the space (see Mason Curey’s Daily Rituals for plenty of examples). It’s about forming the habit, it’s about discipline.

But what’s the advantage of discipline if you’re barely present in the moment, existing on fumes?

This isn’t an announcement of abandoning creative pursuits, but it’s important to note this counterargument on what to do when times are tough. I have a note above my monitor that says “Stop. Breathe.” Hayes is arguing for us to listen to that more often:

My rule of thumb in fitness training is two-to-one: for every two days of intense workouts, a day off. However, “in cases of sustained high-level output,” according to my manual, full recovery may take longer. This is what had happened with me creatively. I needed a really, really long rest.