Borderlands of Science Mass Market Paperback – Nov 1 2000
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Charles Sheffield is one of the hardest "hard SF" writers, and seems to know the material inside and out. Read morePublished on March 22 2001
God, I hate most of what passes for science fiction these days! As a fan of hard science fiction, I find most of the "stuff" published to be unscientific eyewash. Read morePublished on July 11 2000 by Randall Barnhart
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