Todd Seavey first encountered nanotechnology—engineering at the molecular level—in the science fiction novels of Neal Stephenson and Vernor Vinge. When he got an opportunity to see what real researchers in the field were doing (see "Neither Gods Nor Goo," page 18), he discovered that nanotech was "neither as dire nor as utopian as expected." Seavey, 38, is director of publications at the American Council on Science and Health, but he has held a variety of writing gigs, including a brief spell at DC Comics. "I was chastised once for using nanotech to explain how alien invaders transformed the earth," he recalls. "The editor said, 'I'm so sick of nanotech. Can't you come up with something else?'?"

Contributing Editor Cathy Young, 44, had two reasons to read Philip Pullman's acclaimed trilogy His Dark Materials, which she explores in "A Secular Fantasy" (page 36). She enjoys fantasy fiction—"I'm not a hard-core fan but definitely have an interest in the genre"—and she has been following the debate about the "new atheism," a movement that counts Pullman as a supporter. "Pullman's greatest strength is that he raises big and challenging questions," Young reports. "His greatest weakness is that he wants to provide definitive answers."

Senior Editor Kerry Howley knew she wanted to review Dana Thomas' Deluxe (page 42) when she noticed the book had been blurbed by both Fareed Zakaria, the international relations expert, and Miss J. Alexander, the flamboyant runway coach from America's Next Top Model. Howley doesn't share Thomas' worries about the increasing accessibility of fashion. "She has kind of a 'there goes the neighborhood' mentality," Howley says. "You see a lowly libertarian journalist lugging around a Prada handbag, and the brand comes to mean something other than it did when only the very rich could afford it." Howley, 26, is currently waiting for this scourge of democratization—and the price slashing that comes with it—to affect a much-desired Diane von Furstenberg sleeveless minidress.