“Dennis Liu-kovitch, don't tell stories,” my mother would admonish me, with that mystifying but charming slavicisation of our Chinese surname. She would say this when she detected that I was tempted to launch into a small fib, if not an outright lie. Never the less, I grew up loving stories and their many poses: a biased account, an amusing diversion, propaganda, a memorable way to make a point. I've ended up making a living telling stories, and who doesn't like a good one? Mom, these days I'm mostly telling science stories!

Of the many influences—teachers, parents, museums, reading, family trips—on my path to becoming a professional peddler of science stories, it's a film that burns bright in my mind. It features a very unlikely hero, a dodgy plot, incredible special effects, and an audacious ensemble cast. The film is Hemo The Magnificent, by the legendary director Frank Capra. It...

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