by Andrea Giammanco

Tommaso encouraged me some time ago to advertise here my own blog, although it is not written in English, and so I do:

Particelle stabili cariche e massice (i.e. Heavy stable charged particles; sub-title: Quindi non era un problema di calibrazione?, i.e. Are you saying it was not a calibration issue?)

It is a sci-fi story based at CERN, which unfolds (not in that sense) between 2019 and 2022, although the narrator is writing in 2042 and assumes therefore that his contemporary readers are aware of many facts that the protagonists cannot know yet.

My goal is to figure out how to narrate a scientifically flawless story, whose characters behave in a way that insiders would find realistic, while at the same time making it entertaining also for laypeople.

I chose the blog format as this allows me to proceed by “trial and error”: each chapter I write is posted online, and the spontaneous constructive criticism that I am collecting helps me to adjust the direction as I proceed.

Unfortunately, most readers of AMVA4NewPhysics will not be able to read the story, as it is in Italian. The only exception is the “About” page, which I wrote first, when I was still entertaining the idea of writing it all in English. But I am glad that I finally opted for my native language, as it is already tough enough without having to add an additional layer of effort.

But for non-Italian readers, I thought that it may be somewhat interesting to share what I learned already during the making. The following does not contain any significant spoiler, I promise.

Target audience: I was always aware that choosing a particular potential set of readers, and consequently the level of explanation needed for the physics, and sticking to that decision consistently, was of paramount importance. But it is much easier said than done, especially for someone, like me, with no real previous experience in “outreach”!
Some cutting-edge physics is involved in the very core of the plot, so I deem important that it is explained in a non-condescending way to the non-specialist reader. But doing it properly is far from trivial. The second and third chapter, in particular, have quite some physics in them.
In retrospect, I am afraid that this comes too early in the plot and may turn the majority of readers away; maybe introducing that kind of information later or more gradually would have been more strategical; on the other hand, it came quite natural to use the trick of making the reader learn those facts at the same time as the protagonist (who is a physics student at the time narrated in those two chapters, as it is realistic to assume that he learns about all that exactly in that part of the story.)

Language and jargon: as said above, I chose to write in Italian, as it is my native language. In the process, I realized with a certain shock that my mastery of this language has degraded significantly since I left the country. Of course, my vocabulary is still way richer in Italian than in the other two languages I speak, and I can thus access more shades of meaning, therefore conveying more subtle information to the reader (e.g., in the dialogues I try to adapt the vocabulary of a character to his or her academic or social status). I try to minimize physics jargon in the text, with the exception of dialogues between scientists, which would not be realistic if not peppered by jargon and English words (even when a corresponding Italian term is available and equally short). In real life, this attitude is correlated with age, so I am trying to pay attention to that, too (an undergraduate student may still say “refuso”, but anyone else at later academic stages would definitely use “typo”.)
Similarly, as some characters (including the three key ones) belong to the fictional Palermo Institute for Advanced Studies (for reasons explained below) and are presumably native of the region, it is pretty normal that, in spite of being highly educated people who always favour the national language over the local dialect, some phrasal structures that originate in the dialect (e.g., a tendency to set the verb at the end of the sentence) are somehow incrusted in their way of speaking, and they may occasionally use some dialectal word when talking to someone else from the same region. Again, in the real world this tendency is correlated with age, so the middle-aged Professor Bestiale is the character who most often speaks that way. This speaking style is pretty easy for me to reproduce in writing, as I am myself a native of that region; however, I try to resist the temptation to abuse of that style (although that would probably make the reading funnier) as it may sound like a cheap plagiarism of the hybrid language of the popular Commissario Montalbano novels.

The past to that future: Apart from that, as a general rule, whatever happened up to 2016 in the fictional universe is the same as in the actual universe, but there are many exceptions.
For example, I did not want to mention the CMS and ATLAS experiments, as I am a member of one of the two. Therefore, this story is set in a universe that does not contain them. Having to choose what mega-experiments would then exist in this universe, I opted for the fictional L3P and EAGLE experiments, because they may have existed. That’s not very widely known in the HEP community nowadays but, at the time when proposals were presented for experiments at the LHC, one of the proposals was to keep in place the magnet and much of the infrastructure of the L3 experiment (one of the four LEP ones); this upgrade of L3 would have been called L3P. And EAGLE was a proposal whose best features were merged with the best from another proposal, named ASCOT; the result of this merger is what we call ATLAS in our universe.
Similarly, I mention in a couple of places a theory paper on the “invariant angles of Odessa-Schwammberger”, which are fictional. That’s because the CERN Director General in this story has to be fictional, and has to be a renowned scientist (as all of his predecessors have been), but to be a renowned scientist in 2022 he must have published very influential papers during a long career, and any long career must have started in our past.
Other fictional papers are cited, but the fiction is not mine: they live on their own, in some sense, in our universe!
I try to bring the main characters to life by thinking about their complete backgrounds, even when not directly relevant for the story. Sometimes, this leads me to directions that I had not directly anticipated. For example, the family name of the mentor of the narrator was decided in a last-minute whim, inspired by a profane and quite inappropriate joke that I find funny, in my childishness. But then this challenged me to try to make a consistent story that could also explain “the typo in his first name”, his subsequent changes of affiliation, and how he ended up doing particle physics, if his first publications were in a completely different field of physics.

Enough said for now. If you can read Italian, I would really appreciate if you take a look and maybe drop a comment (there, not here) about what you think.

(Hint: by clicking on a button at the bottom-right corner of the page, one can opt-in to have an automatic notification by mail whenever new posts appear.)
(Another hint: by clicking on “Menu & widgets” in the top-right corner, a little more material appears.)