Skip to content
Join fellow black alumni in Oaks Bluff for a fun-filled weekend of bonding and socializing your Northeastern classmates.
Connect
Stories

The science of fiction

Gary Goshgarian

Gary Gosh­garian, the Eng­lish pro­fessor and best­selling author of eight crit­i­cally acclaimed thrillers, did not expect to receive a life­time achieve­ment award from his alma mater, a research uni­ver­sity devoted to the tech­nical arts and applied sciences.

Yes, Gosh­garian grad­u­ated from the Worcester Poly­technic Insti­tute with a Bach­elor of Sci­ence in physics in 1964, but he then spent the better part of the next five decades writing award-​​winning novels, editing col­lege writing text­books, and teaching courses in sci­ence fic­tion, horror fic­tion, and modern best­sellers at North­eastern University.

And yet there he was in May, during his 50th col­lege reunion, receiving the Robert H. God­dard Award for Out­standing Pro­fes­sional Achieve­ment. The award, named in honor of the epony­mous father of modern rock­etry, had in the past been reserved not for Eng­lish pro­fes­sors, but for astro­nauts and engi­neers, patent-​​winners and CEOs.

Win­ning the award was a sur­prise and quite an honor,” Gosh­garian says. “I’m prob­ably the only person who has grad­u­ated from WPI and then spent his entire pro­fes­sional life teaching English.”

Though that may be true, Goshgarian’s sci­ence back­ground has played no small part in the development—and success—of his novels, the first of which was pub­lished in 1980. In addi­tion to studying physics in col­lege, he honed his sci­en­tific knowl­edge while working as a project physi­cist at the Raytheon Com­pany, where he spent the sum­mers of his sopho­more, junior, and senior years. Over the course of his 34-​​year writing career, his plots, char­ac­ters, and set­tings have been informed by his in-​​depth inter­views with sci­en­tists, biol­o­gists, and even brain sur­geons. “The expe­ri­ences I had were absolutely essen­tial for me to write the books I do,” says Gosh­garian, whose nom de plume is Gary Braver. “I wouldn’t know how to frame my ques­tions to the experts without my tech­nical background.”

The common theme of Goshgarian’s novels, “Be careful what you wish for,” is one of the chief motifs in Mary Shelley’s Franken­stein, one of his all-​​time favorite books. Pub­lished in 1818, the classic story of the eccen­tric sci­en­tist and the hideous mon­ster served as the impetus for Goshgarian’s nar­ra­tive struc­ture, which fol­lows ordi­nary pro­tag­o­nists who find them­selves in extra­or­di­nary sit­u­a­tions fueled by sci­en­tific breakthroughs.

Gosh­garian started teaching Franken­stein in 1972, when he founded the nation’s first sci­ence fic­tion course at North­eastern. “The chair of the Eng­lish depart­ment sent out an SOS to the fac­ulty, saying ‘We need some jazzy new courses to attract Eng­lish majors,’” Gosh­garian recalls. “I said, ‘How about sci­ence fiction?’”

His sug­ges­tion was approved, and it wasn’t long before some 650 stu­dents were filling Blackman Audi­to­rium to hear his lec­tures and take in the mus­ings of guests like Isaac Asimov, the pro­lific author of I, Robot. “I was young and ener­getic,” Gosh­garian says, “and I had a lot of drive to per­fect this sexy, new course.”

Believe it or not, his pas­sion for sci-​​fi writing and lit­er­a­ture started to flourish at WPI, where he wrote for the stu­dent paper, founded a humor mag­a­zine, and befriended an Eng­lish pro­fessor who later became his mentor. “I wanted to grow up to be like this guy,” Gosh­garian recalls thinking. “I thought, ‘This writing thing comes to me much easier than under-​​standing sub­atomic particles.’”

In short order, Gosh­garian “exhausted all the human­i­ties courses” at WPI and then started taking classes in Shake­speare and Vic­to­rian lit­er­a­ture at Har­vard and Clark Uni­ver­sity. In 1966, he earned his master’s in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necticut; in 1969, he was hired by North­eastern, where he later won an Excel­lence in Teaching Award; and in 1971 he earned his doc­torate in Eng­lish from the Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin.

Over the past 50 years, Gosh­garian has com­piled more than a few nuggets of wisdom for aspiring writers: One tip: “Read slowly and look at another author’s writing the way a car­penter looks at a house.” Another: “Write every day, even if it’s gib­berish. If you want to write, you have to write.”

Gosh­garian fol­lows his advice to a T, writing every day at the crack of dawn. His next book, Prim­i­tive, in which a tech-​​savvy Bostonian ditches his iPhone in favor of simple living on a remote Aegean island, will be released later this year.

– By Jason Kornwitz

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

01.04.2018
Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

11.08.2017
Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish

05.29.20
Uncategorized