“I don’t view my books as science fiction,” explains Joram Piatigorsky, author of Regina’s Imagination Universe. “They are grounded in the world I live in; they are narratives that project my way of thinking. I lean on the past and present, with my mind on the future: what might be, what will be, and how all time and events and understandings are combined.” This fusion of genres and themes is just part of what sets Piatigorsky’s novel—the conclusion to the Jellyfish Have Eyes trilogy—preceded by Jellyfish Have Eyes (2015) and Roger’s Thought-Particles (2021)—apart. A renowned molecular biologist and eye researcher for almost 50 years, Piatigorsky sets the literary stage for integrating imagination and science through his protagonist, Regina Resin, and her daring research.
The series originally began with Ricardo Sztein, a scientist whose jellyfish research leads him to believe that the sea creatures can “see” evolution. The second book jumps four generations later and focuses on Ricardo’s great-great-grandson, Roger Resin, who longs to discover the source of imagination. Both of these men’s reputations have long been in tatters by the time readers get to Regina’s Imagination Universe. Here we meet Roger’s granddaughter, Regina, a young woman highly gifted in both science and writing. She uses her skills in fiction to explain her scientific findings as she aims to reinstate the honorable legacies of her relatives.
Merging science and art comes naturally to Piatigorsky, considering his eclectic childhood. Raised by his father, a world-famous cellist, and his mother, a member of the famous Rothschild family, Piatigorsky lived in a world brimming with art and music from an early age. His interest in science led him to study at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) before founding the Laboratory of Molecular and Developmental Biology at the National Eye Institute in 1981. While he dabbled in fiction throughout his illustrious career, it wasn’t until Piatigorsky closed his laboratory and became an NIH scientist emeritus that he devoted himself to writing full time from his longtime home in Bethesda, Maryland.
Regina’s story, while certainly revolving around the world of science—specifically her “bundle” hypothesis, in which she sets out to prove that personal observations can be separated into individual components—is one that can appeal to even the least science-minded reader. Light on technical details and heavy on philosophy, the novel examines the idea of reality and how there is no one single, overarching truth to any experience on Earth. With the author counting William Faulkner as a huge inspiration, it should come as no surprise that Piatigorsky’s prose tends to drift into an almost stream-of-consciousness style, lending a dreamlike, ethereal quality to Regina’s observations:
Suddenly, Regina felt an amalgamation of herself and Ricardo and Grandpa, yet she also felt distinct from them. How strange, she felt, to be an individual and the whole group at the same time. She remembered Ricardo’s dream as he described it in his memoir. Jellyfish “pulsed in synchrony as if linked, yet each was an individual, alone, like him...They dissolved and reformed, over and over again, dissolving and reforming, merging and separating.” Yes, she felt like a jellyfish in Ricardo’s dream. A moment later, she remembered Grandpa telling her that he believed the transfer of Thought-Particles blended minds and ideas between individuals, so everyone was also a part of everyone else. Had she joined her deceased scientific kin while she was still alive? Had she inherited their demons as well?
The idea that we are all connected—past, present, and future—exists in tandem with Piatigorsky’s firm belief that science and storytelling also go hand-in-hand. Regina’s Imagination Universe ultimately aims to “test the limits of storytelling in science,” says the author. “Although a scientist, I’ve always created stories and narratives in my mind. My combined research over the years essentially creates a coherent image, and I see the world, I believe, as much like a writer as a scientist. Where do I fit? [In] both worlds, I think.” This dual interest began early, when Piatigorsky discovered biology as a child. From that early fascination, he went on to research sea urchin egg fertilization at Woods Hole laboratories before heading to Caltech for his PhD. His research on gene expression during cellular differentiation led to his development of the concept of gene sharing and resulted in multiple research awards.
Now Piatigorsky takes that deep knowledge of the natural world and presents decidedly “non-science” questions. But there are no definite answers to be found in what Kirkus Reviews praises as “a slim but inventive science parable that challenges conventional views of reality.” Instead, readers are invited to contemplate limitless creativity and possibilities in a reality that is never absolute. And while Piatigorsky never dreamed after writing Jellyfish Have Eyes that it would result in a trilogy, he realized he wanted to end the series by offering hope for the contributions of Ricardo and Roger, as well as an opportunity for a female protagonist to voice her ideas about the value of both imagination and scientific proofs.
Could there be more to Regina’s story? Piatigorsky isn’t sure, but he doesn’t shut down the idea of another novel featuring the strong-willed scientist. Not wanting to leave “poor Regina stranded in her late twenties,” the author is toying with the idea of continuing her journey. His ideas, however, may result in a different novel altogether. For now, Piatigorsky enjoys spending time with Lona, his wife of over 50 years, as well as his two sons, Auran and Anton, their wives, and his five grandchildren. While he’s hard at work on his next book (whatever form it may take), Piatigorsky hopes that readers take away the idea that we all inhabit two universes at the same time: One that is external reality, and one that is pure internal imagination, both of which overlap to form each individual’s view of the world. “Through her writing, Regina struggles with the idea of imagination, of what’s true and what’s not true,” explains Piatigorsky. “And that’s exactly what scientific observation is all about. Science and writing have a lot more in common than most people think.”
Andrea Moran lives outside of Nashville with her husband and two kids. She’s a professional copywriter and editor who loves all things books.