01/05/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Anchor Books/Random House. 329 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US). ISBN: 978-0-307-27882-1.
check out websites: www.anchorbooks.com and www.mkaku.org
The sub-title for this book is 'A Scientific Exploration Into The Worlds Of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation And Time Travel'. So essentially, you have the gist of what this book is about before you even open the cover.
What scientist Michio Kaku actually does is evaluate some principle Science Fiction notions and how quickly they will become part of every day reality based on three levels of impossibility.
He works out from the logic that a lot of the things that we have around today like computers and cell-phones would have been thought impossible fifty years ago. Well, outside of Science Fiction and even SF didn't envisage it possible for everyone to own them. So, using SF as the standard-bearer for new ideas or at least for getting there first, Kaku evaluates how real they can be and if work is being done in these fields and just how far they've got before becoming possible.
Although I'd be considered scientifically adept, I don't think anything Kaku says here would be difficult for anyone with an interest in Science Fiction to understand or absorb. He doesn't just cover the subjects in the sub-title, but also invisibility, ESP, telekinesis, teleportation, aliens, starships, robots, perpetual motion and causality. If you haven't got a grounding in the sciences by the time you've finished this book then your knowledge should be greatly enhanced.
Oddly, when it comes to superstring theory and his own work in the epilogue, Kaku doesn't apply his own impossibility evaluations. No doubt he probably feels he's too close to the subject to be that subjective.
Something that does come from all of this is how earlier scientists were dismissive when they considered the future and that they had found all that science had to offer. I suspect if they were around today, they would certainly be re-evaluating such statements.
I often think that with books such as these that the knowledge of Science Fiction by its author shows how much they also know about the subject. An obvious conclusion here is Kaku likes 'Star Trek' but when it comes to things like wormholes, he doesn't use something like 'Stargate' as an example of the writers using what is known about science. After all, the gates themselves are used to translate anything transported into narrow beams that can fit through tiny wormholes between planets which would fit in with what he says on the subject. Probably still impossible but SF would show a 'demonstrable' example first.
Science Fiction, on the whole, tends to evaluate the effects of scientific change or new technology on society than evaluate theories. Saying that, there is still a belief that even SF is treading ground today rather than stepping on real scientists shoes by trying something new out in case it gets trampled on.
This book does indicate how much SF got there first with many concepts. Granted not all of them are possible yet but it the dreamers have also motivated other dreamers to become scientists to see if it could truly be done. Whether you're a writer or reader, 'Physics Of The Impossible' should be able to act as a clearing house as to what has been done and ponder on what can SF show as the next direction to go. Believe me, there are still lots of directions still to be explored. Whether Kaku will consider that for a future book, we'll have to wait and see. Certainly, you'll have an enlightened read here.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA