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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: 17.2 x 10.6 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,666,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Kirkus Reviews

A tour through the borderlands where today's science turns into tomorrow's science fiction, from the physicist and Nebula- and Hugo Awardwinning novelist (Aftermath, 1998, etc.). Scientific facts, Sheffield contends, can generate ideas in the reader's imagination and function as a wellspring for potential writers, because ``new science and new applications mean an endless supply of new story ideas.'' And he demonstrates how much more enjoyable science fiction is when the author's facts are in order. Consequently, his primaryand potentially largeaudience is science-fiction readers and those who write, or might consider writing, SF. Out of the 14 well-organized chapters here, physics predictably looms large. One beefy chapter examines atoms and smaller entities, quantum theory, relativity, and low and high temperatures. Another scrutinizes such large phenomena as stars and black holes. On a still larger scale come galaxies, cosmology, and the ``eschaton,'' the final state of all things, and the subject of a recent Sheffield novel. Chemistry, however, places firm limits on the range of possible alien metabolisms: A helium-breathing life form, for instance, simply isn't possible. But how did life originate on the earth, and is there life on other planets? There are such possibilities, even within our own solar system. To explore fully, Sheffield points out, we need space flight, and for that we require propulsion systems, space elevators, and the like. Meanwhile, we can search for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence and develop computers, robots, nanotechnology, and artificial life forms. In recent years, chaos theorySheffield's most technical sectionhas spawned some intriguing notions. Finally, he ponders the future of war, looks at such scientific heresies as cold fusion, free energy, and telepathy, and wonders if science itself may be coming to an end (reassuringly, no). Bang on target, in terms of appeal for both constituents and beneficiaries. As Mr. Spock would say: fascinating. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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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
Borderlands of Science carries the subtitle "How to Think Like a Scientist and Write Science Fiction." This is as apt a title as I've seen in quite a while. This book contains everything the science fiction writer or reader could ever hope to want to know, including: black holes, chaos, cyborgs, cold fusion, Fullerenes, general and special relativity, quantum teleportation, superconductors, RNA and the origin of life, an exploration of the planets, ion rockets, Ram Augmented Interstellar Rockets, and wormholes, just to name a few. Sheffield warns the reader that by the time they read it, the book will be out of date, that science is changing so fast that no one can know which parts of the book will be out of date when, until it happens. For the writer, reader, or scientist who wants a comprehensive overview of science and technology as pertains to science fiction and speculative fiction writing, this book is invaluable. For curious minds who just want to know more about their universe, this book is an eye opener. An ambitious and excellently put-together tome.
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