Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Bumper book day!

Rather embarrassingly, two books I have been involved with are published today. The first is Ten Billion Tomorrows. Like many people involved with science I was (and am still to some extent) an enthusiastic reader of science fiction as a teenager. In this book I explore the relationship between science and science fiction.

It's not always what we expect. Clearly science fiction is inspired by science, the clue's in the name - but what happens the other way round? There's a tendency to think of science fiction as predicting the future, at which it is, frankly, very bad. The vast majority of 'predictions' from science fiction, even from impeccable sources like 2001 a Space Odyssey have had a terrible hit rate. Luckily, though, that's not what it's really about. Science fiction uses the threats, challenges and experiences generated by science and technology to ask 'What If?' - to see how humans react in the face of those provocations. That being the case, we don't see science fiction predicting the future, we see it inspiring individuals to become scientists and sometimes pushing them in particular directions. Not necessarily to make a science fiction concept a reality, but to make use of the vision it gives.

I didn't want the book to be just a collection of hundreds of different science fiction concepts, so I focussed on a relative few, from robots and recreated extinct life to tractor beams and artificial intelligence, and looked at the differences and similarities between the science fiction image and the reality in science and technology. I hope this will appeal to every science and science fiction fan. You can find out more (and order a copy!) from the book's web page.

Second off the blocks is Ten Physicists Who Transformed our Understanding of Reality, the brainchild of astronomer Rhodri Evans, which I co-authored. The idea was to take a list of the 'ten greatest physicists' and give a short scientific biography of each. Part of the fun was debating that list. We intentionally didn't choose our own but went for an existing one, so we could have the enjoyment of disagreeing with some aspects of it. (Come on, it puts Einstein fourth.) But whether or not it's the ideal ten (counter to our hearts, we suggest that we really should have dropped both Marie Curie and Richard Feynman), they're a fascinating bunch who have all contributed to our understanding of the world around us, with stories that could be better known.

Find out more (and buy a copy if you fancy) from the book's web page.

Finally, although out a few weeks now, I ought to get a mention in of my science quiz book, How Many Moons Does The Earth Have. It's an ideal stocking filler (at the time of writing the paperback was available at less than £5 - bargain or what?), designed for those difficult to buy for people (or, even better, for yourself). The idea is that you get to test yourself against loads of fun questions, turning the page to see the often surprising answer, and then having a page of interesting expansion on the answer, so it's far more than just a Q and A. From acid-taking-elephants to those nominal moons, there's a whole lot going on in there.

Find out more and buy a stack for easy presents (or just buy it for your own entertainment) at the book's web page.

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