You might expect science to meet fiction at the Tucson Festival of Books but it also intersects with art, architecture, politics and even national security.


Consider the minimalist cover illustration of "Ground-Water: The Art, Design and Science of a Dry River," a project steered by Ellen McMahon, Ander Monson and Beth Weinstein - an artist, a poet and an architect.

The descending line on the book's cover is a graph of the historical decline of the ground-water table beneath the Rillito in Tucson.

The book is a collection of images, poems and essays about the Rillito, the major watercourse for the rain and snow that falls on the western edge of the Rincon Mountains and the southern watershed of the Santa Catalinas.

This is not a book where artists and designers were brought in at the end to illustrate the science, said Weinstein, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. The artistic concept came first.

"We're not illustrating science. We're reflecting on it, processing and working with the scientific research."

Weinstein and her co-editors, along with the poets, artists, geologists, hydrologists and climatologists who contributed to the book, will be talking about the experience of working together and what they taught each other in the process.

For her, the Rillito is a profound example of how we compromise nature by our affection for it.

"Our insistence that we want to live closer to the river leads to problems."

"This landscape system, this seasonal channel for water has largely been reinforced so that it speeds water away, as if water were a bad thing. It doesn't allow it to percolate in. By being so efficient, we're losing out on so many of the benefits."

Docs with pens

Medical science and literature collide in the writing of Dr. John Ross, a Harvard physician and professor, who has diagnosed the ills of 12 famous writers.

In "Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: The Medical Lives of Famous Writers," Ross mines historical data and literary references to arrive at his diagnoses.

The Bard of Avon had a fixation with syphilis in his writing, according to Ross, and was probably treated for it with mercury, which led to the maladies that would take his life years later.

Orwell's cough was tuberculosis - a contagious disease that also ravaged the entire Bronte family.

Dr. Esther Sternberg, who recently joined the UA Center for Integrative Medicine as professor of medicine and research director, is interested in the convergence of science, architecture and art from a healer's point of view.

Sternberg, who says she has found relief from her arthritis by seeking out aesthetically pleasing surroundings, is author of "Healing Places: The Science of Place and Well-Being."

It explores medical research that links medical treatment outcomes to the creation of physical surroundings that reduce stress.

Animal wisdom

In "Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach us About Health and the Science of Healing," cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horwitz and science journalist Kathryn Bowers delve into the shared causes of disease in animals and humans.

Natterson-Horwitz had already learned that emotional distress could cause cardiac arrest in monkeys as well as humans. The authors searched and found many more corollaries between human and animal health.

Animals can also teach us how to prepare for terrorist attacks, says biologist Rafe Sagarin, of the UA's Institute of the Environment.

In "Learning From the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease," he suggests we might be more successful adapting our behavior rather than hardening our defenses.

More sci than fi

The hard sciences meet up with fiction in, what else, science fiction.

David Brin, winner of just about every major award in the science fiction field, has a secret weapon - he really knows what he's talking about. Brin has degrees in physics and astrophysics and a doctorate in space sciences.

His latest novel, "Existence," explores societal reaction to contact from civilizations elsewhere in the cosmos.

Brin will be joined on a panel by UA astrophysicist Chris Impey, who will be separately talking about the possibilities of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, as part of the UA's Science City.

Also joining them is planetary scientist Ed Beshore, who recently left the near-Earth-object hunters of the Catalina Sky Survey to join OSIRIS-REx, the UA-run NASA mission to an asteroid.

The panel will discuss how some sci-fi ideas inspire scientific breakthroughs and why we're not yet buzzing around on hoverboards.

If you Go

• What: Fifth annual Tucson Festival of Books.

• When: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. March 9-10.

• Where: University of Arizona campus. Attendance and parking are free.

• What: About 450 authors, book discussions, workshops and literary activities for the entire family.

• Sponsors: The UA and the Arizona Daily Star. The University of Arizona Medical Center is the presenting sponsor. Net proceeds will promote literacy in Southern Arizona through the Tucson Festival of Books Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

• Bookmark it: Go to for more information. You can sign up to follow the festival through email newsletters.

• Social media: Follow the festival on Facebook at and go to to follow on Twitter.

• Mobile: Apps are available for iPhone, Android devices and Kindle Fire.

• Plan it out: The best way to see the authors and participate in the workshops and other activities is to make a plan. Check the March 3 Star, which will feature a pull-out section that details the event and includes a map.

Next Sunday in Home + Life

A preview of the authors and presentations to be held in the Star Pavilion at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Order the books mentioned today at

Contact reporter Tom Beal at or 573-4158.