01/10/2008. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Allen Lane/Penguin. 329 page indexed hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-713-99992-1).
check out website: www.penguin.com
This really is an important book if you're into Science Fiction. If you're into writing Science Fiction even more so as it is an easy reference to how far scientists are exploring what is possible, much of it originating from our genre in the first place. Not too surprising, as many generation of folk out there now have been raised in an SF orientated society. Author Michio Kaku reviews everything from force fields to space travel to ESP and how far off we're going to getting such things sorted. He also examines how difficult things like faster-than-light travel and time travel are really nearly impossible under our current knowledge of science. The same is also said for parallel universes although he does fail to explain where all the matter comes from which violates the conservation of matter. The top of the list for being totally impossible are perpetual motion machines cos you can't get something for nothing and precognition, mostly cos it ruins the concept of causality. I've always tended to view precognition as viewing the probabilities of the future myself.
It's interesting how some subjects were left out completely like cloning because we've now achieved them. From much of this book, Science Fiction clearly got there before our reality's science but has also inspired some scientists to see how much of it is really possible as well. Considering that SF writers feed off of science and sees where it can leads, this is more like a dog chasing its tail but in continually bigger circles. After reading this book, you might well see areas that could be explored in stories so will dig back into this book on a regular basis. It really is a mine of information including identifying people most involved with such work allowing for digging deeper on the subjects later.
When looking at books such as this, I tend to compare the author's knowledge of SF as well, mostly for choosing the best examples, what they've personally read or ones most familiar to make their point. With a book such as this, the reference most of the time would have to be with what we would expect humans rather than aliens to come up with, hence there's more of a connection to HG Wells' 'The Invisible Man' than 'Predator' when it comes to invisibility. Although quite why should Harry Potter's invisibility cloak come up which is a fantasy source kinda defeats the object for SF sources. Probably Kaku's most common reference is 'Star Trek' with 'Star Wars' a near second considering that it's hit on most of the subjects in this book instead of more fictional sources. Then again, how many people have read Poul Anderson's 1962 novel 'Shield' when it comes to examples of force fields?
About the only jarring thing which I hope would be remedied in a second edition is incorporating the thirteen pages of notes in the back of the book with the relevant chapters in the proper notation reference. A lot of the time I think such information should be incorporated into the main text but with reference it makes more sense to track to the bottom of the page than having to stop to check the back of the book each time you're giving an intriguing number note. A glitch but nothing serious.
Kaku's writing style is pleasant and easy to get on with and puts over explanations without messing you around with too much formula and mathematics so shouldn't upset anyone who will feel they are lacking in the science background. If anything, it's a clear demonstration that as we dabble more into the areas covered in this book that we are living in a Science Fiction coming of age era and we SF writers really do have to have a think on where this will take us.
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