The Robot Scientist’s Daughter

by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Dazzling in its descriptions of a natural world imperiled by the hidden dangers of our nuclear past, this book presents a girl in search of the secrets of survival.

…she’s a soldier, a savior, a ship to bear prisoners into space.

In The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, Jeannine Hall Gailey creates for us a world of radioactive wasps, cesium in the sunflowers, and robotic daughters. She conjures the intricate menace of the nuclear family and nuclear history, juxtaposing surreal cyborgs and mad scientists from fifties horror flicks with languid scenes of rural childhood. Mining her experience growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the writer allows the stories of the creation of the first atomic bomb, the unintended consequences of scientific discovery, and building nests for birds in the crooks of maple trees to weave together a reality at once terrifying and beautiful. The Robot Scientist’s Daughter reveals the underside of the Manhattan Project from a personal angle, and charts a woman’s—and America’s—journey towards reinvention.

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter was an Eric Hoffer Award 2016—Montaigne Medal finalist and a semifinalist in the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards in the Poetry category.

Pricing and Availability

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter (Mayapple Press, 2015) is a softcover book with a list price of $15.95; it is available from the following locations:

An eGalley version of The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is available for potential reviewers, on request.

Download the official press kit for The Robot Scientist’s Daughter (PDF format-386KB).

Praise for The Robot Scientist’s Daughter

What is her story? “In this story,” Jeannine Gailey tells us, “a girl grows up in a field of nuclear reactors.” She gives us lessons in poison. And as we watch this heroine appear from various angles, in multiple lights we realize that just like this girl who “made birds’ nests / with mud and twigs, hoping that birds would / come live in them.” Gailey makes an archetype for a contemporary American woman whom she sees as beautiful—and damaged—and proud—and unafraid. And the Scientist? He “lives alone in a house made of snow. / If he makes music, no one hears it.” America? It builds barbed wire “to keep enemies out of its dream”—but we all are surrounded by these barbed wires of a country whose “towns melt into sunsets, into dust clouds, into faces.” In subtle, playful, courageous poems, we are witnessing a brilliant performance.”

—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa

The artificial light of radiation and the light of poetic artifice; the real memory of a childhood among inventions in a nuclear hot spot and the cybernetic hyper memories of fictional antiheroes and heroines; the elements, and the elements of style; the present day, the near future, and the futures that never were– you can find them all in these pellucid and memorable poems, in which Jeannine Hall Gailey becomes a storyteller, a creator, a rebel, an educator, and a heroine of her own.”

—Stephen Burt, literary critic, Harvard professor and author of Belmont

In The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, Jeannine Hall Gailey charts the dangerous secrets in a nuclear family as well as a nuclear research facility.  Her ecofeminist approach to the making of bombs, celebrates our fragile natural world.  Full of flowers and computers, this riveting poetry captures the undeniable compromises and complexities of our times.”

—Denise Duhamel, author of Kinky

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter gives us a magnificent voice who is at turns “happy with the apple blossoms,” and yet whip-smart enough to know “the beauties of voltmeter and oscilloscope.” But underneath the beautifully measured sheen and spark of these bright stanzas, is a human who opens up thrilling new worlds by also fearlessly inhabiting poems of sorrow, survival, and identity—one whose “tongue is alive with lasers and [whose] song attracts thousands.”

—Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of Lucky Fish

Reviews and Features

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s fourth poetry collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, reanimates the haunting world of 1970s Oak Ridge Valley, Tennessee, where residents lived in the shadow of both the Smoky Mountains and a government nuclear research facility once known as ‘America’s Secret City’…the poems that make up this collection move in a controlled way between fact and fiction, autobiography and fantasy, giving readers glimpses into the secret world surrounding [Oak Ridge National Laboratory] ORNL in which Gailey grew up, at the same time as they tell the story of a fictional Robot Scientist’s Daughter who was transformed by that world into something other, something monstrous.”

—Mary McMyne in The Rumpus

Gailey uses the language of science to lend authority, but at the heart of these poems is a deep and simultaneous love of and fear for humanity, found in the bodies impacted by sickness and helplessness and the hearts trying to reconcile scientific progress with a love of the natural world it is destroying. At one point, the robot scientist’s daughter says that she is ‘fit only to spin stories.’ How lucky we are that, through these poems, Gailey does just that, giving us not only a story, but a delicate, balanced meditation on truth, family, nature, and power.”

—Donna Vorreyer at Poetry International

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter herself is a persona, part autobiography, part popular culture composite comprised of depictions of scientists, daughters, and mutants in fiction, science fiction, and comics. She appears in third person lineated and prose poems throughout the book, alongside poems with an “I” speaker, who gives her a personal voice. It makes for a fascinating and deeply frightening read, as the nuclear waste has significant effects on the environment and on the humans and animals and plants living in that environment, which, given the nature of nuclear waste, is, of course, our shared global environment as well as this local one, and for a long time.”

—Kathleen Kirk at Escape Into Life

Gailey did not grow up in a nuclear wasteland, despite the Geiger counter in the basement of her home; despite considerable poverty, Appalachian Tennessee was a place of considerable natural beauty. What she does in The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, her fourth collection of poetry, is to combine that natural beauty surrounded her childhood with the unnatural, destructive and often deadly effects of nuclear technology and research. ”

—Glynn Young at Tweetspeak

From butterflies born without eyes to the beautiful disaster that is the art of an explosion, the poet calls into question human curiosity and the vanity that sometimes comes with that, in which the scientist believes only good will result from research and experiments, despite historical evidence to the contrary. ”

—Serena M. Agusto-Cox at Savvy Verse and Wit

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