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Borderlands of Science Mass Market Paperback – Nov 1 2000


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Baen (Nov. 1 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671319531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671319533
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 10.4 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,494,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Mass Market Paperback
There are two primary audiences for this work. The first is anybody interested in understanding a wide variety of scientific topics. Though not as thorough and wide ranging as Isaac Asimov's science guides, Sheffield writes with the same clarity and and his own style of wit. Even somebody who regularly reads popular science magazines may find some new insight here.
Sheffield delves into the origins of life, subnuclear and quantum physics, possible mechanisms for space travel, physical descriptions of the solar system, superconductivity, viruses and prions, and a lot more including a whole section on "scientific heresies".
The second audience are those interested in writing science fiction, specifically the sort of hard science fiction Sheffield wrote. To suggest story ideas, Sheffield explores some of the borders of modern science where conventional theory gives way to speculation. Along the way, he points out some common traps to avoid when handling topics like near lightspeed travel and suggests specific fiction titles as examples of how a concept has been dealt with. He does not offer any advice on the literary aspects of science fiction or in marketing it. His sole interest is in helping you get your real science right and make your imaginary science plausible.
While the book doesn't have a whole lot about the thought processes of scientists, Sheffield does cover the historical and contemporary objections to some scientific theories, the prejudices that sometimes blind good scientists, and some of the amazing minds that have roamed across several disciplines.
Admirers of Sheffield's fiction will also probably like the asides about its scientific inspiration.
My only objection to the book is that I wish some sections would have had more detail.
The book includes a useful bibliography of fact and fiction titles for further research and an index.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book doesn't teach you to think like a scientst, nor how to write science fiction, but this subtitle may be the fault of the jacket writer and not the author.
This book is a readable summary of a number of areas of science: physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, etc., with an emphasis on topics most likely to concern a science fiction writer. The solar system and space flight both get long chapters to themselves, for example. Chaos theory gets a big chapter too -- bigger than it deserves probably -- but is interesting enough.
This book is a handy starting place for an sf writer, but doesn't really go into enough detail to do more than spark a story. The bibliography is therefore unfortunately thin (but at least there is one!).
I noted a significant number of small errors or conceptual problems in the areas of physics and astronomy (I'm a PhD astronomer). For instance, Sheffield repeats Clarke's erroneous point (from 2010) that if Jupiter were just "a bit bigger" it would support its own fusion reactions and be a star. Yes, if it were some 82 times bigger (more massive) according to current theory. That's nearly like saying if the earth were a bit bigger it would be like Jupiter (which is some 300 earth masses). He also notes that distant galaxies look "little different" from nearby ones, aside from brightness and redshift -- this is certainly not true for the higher redshift (say z > 2) galaxies in the Hubble Deep Field for instance, which are smaller and highly irregular indicating evolutionary effects. Sheffield is hard on the Big Bang without good justification (although I grant this could be a good area for story fodder), and gives a rather questionable amount of space to some very discredited alternatives.
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Sheffield is one of the hardest "hard SF" writers, and seems to know the material inside and out. As such, he has a great sense for how speculative your speculation can be and still carry the reader. This book is an overview of how to use science in SF, but it isn't a complete reference. It's interesting for readers who wish to be better informed, and is certainly a good starting point for writers. But most writers will need further reference if they expect to go into any detail in their stories.
If you are writing a short story where the science is just part of the background, this will do a great job helping you avoid physical impossibilities in your plot. It's also more than enough detail for most screenwriters, not that that's saying much. But even the most non-technical SF novel is going to require a lot more research.
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