Skip to main content

How to Clone the Perfect Blonde – Sue Nelson & Richard Hollingham ****

It’s disappointing how close this is to a great popular science book. The premise is excellent. Subtitled ‘making fantasises come true with cutting-edge science’ it takes eight ‘how to’s and builds an interesting chapter around each. The title chapter, for example, is really about what cloning is, why it’s difficult to do, what was special about Dolly the sheep, why the claims of various people to have made human clones already is unlikely and more. The other topics are:
  • how to build a domestic goddess (a humanoid robot)
  • how to avoid commuting (teleportation)
  • how to lose your love handles (dealing with fat)
  • how to turn back time (time machines)
  • how to upgrade your body (cyborgs)
  • how to remove an eyesore (black holes)
  • how to live for ever
… and each chapter has lots of good information put across in a very effective way. (The authors claim this is popular science for people who couldn’t get past chapter 2 of Brief History of Time). But, and there is a but, it’s all rather let down by the schoolboy/schoolgirl ‘humour’. This isn’t a book aimed at children, but the supposedly funny stuff grates after a while on an adult. To make matters worse, a lot of the humour would be lost on readers who haven’t a UK background (which I suspect is why the book isn’t available in the US). For instance in the cloning section, the ‘recipe’ for human cloning starts ‘One human egg (check it’s not past its sell-by date, and look for the lion mark)’. The lion mark? Even half the UK population probably can’t remember that.
It’s not that popular science can’t be entertaining – the best certainly is – but we need to acknowledge that adults can cope with more sophisticated funnies.

Paperback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Magicians - Marcus Chown *****

The title may seem an odd one for a popular science book, but it refers to what Chown describes as ‘the central magic of science: its ability to predict the existence of things previously undreamt of which, when people went out and looked for them, turned out to actually exist in the real universe’. That may be true of all branches of science, but physics – which is what the book is about – is a special case, because its theories are rooted in mathematical equations rather than words. This makes the matter completely black-and-white: if the equations predict something you had no inkling of, then either the maths is wrong, or that thing really does exist. This book describes some remarkable instances where the maths was right.

Actually, I’m not sure the title is strictly accurate. It’s true that it centres on people – both the theoreticians who came up with the predictions and the experimentalists who proved them right – but in most cases the ‘magic’ is something the human players simpl…

Infinity Plus: Quintet (SF) - Keith Brooke (Ed.) ****

When I was younger there was nothing I liked better than a good, deep, dark (frankly, often downright miserable) science fiction story, and this collection delivers excellent modern examples that would have fit easily into a thoughtful if downbeat 70s collection such as the 'New Writing in SF' or the Interzone magazine of the day (one was actually first published in Interzone, in 1987 - the rest date between 1989 and 2010).

If I'm honest, I prefer more upbeat fiction now, but that doesn't stop me appreciating the quality of these five stories, put together by the SF website and publisher Infinity Plus. I've rarely seen a better contradiction of Margaret Atwood's putdown of science fiction as being limited to 'talking squids in outer space.' What we have here is pure character-driven storytelling with not a mention of space, spaceships, ray guns or aliens. It's the inner world, not the outer trappings of sci fi tropes that interest these writers.

On…

Until the End of Time: Brian Greene ***

Things start well with this latest title from Brian Greene: after a bit of introductory woffle we get into an interesting introduction to entropy. As always with Greene's writing, this is readable, chatty and full of little side facts and stories. Unfortunately, for me, the book then suffers something of an increase in entropy itself as on the whole it then veers more into philosophy and the soft sciences than Greene's usual physics and cosmology.

So, we get chapters on consciousness, language, belief and religion, instinct and creativity, duration and impermanence, the ends of time and, most cringe-making as a title, 'the nobility of being'. Unlike the dazzling scientific presentation I expect, this mostly comes across as fairly shallow amateur philosophising.

Of course it's perfectly possible to write good science books on, say, consciousness or language - but though Greene touches on the science, there far too much that's more hand-waving. And good though he i…