I have always said that there is a real opportunity if anyone can write fiction that manages to entertain but also to educate about science at the same time. It is certainly possible, but fiercely difficult to do well. As we saw with something like Pythagoras’ Revenge, the result almost inevitably is either bad fiction with a slew of science or readable fiction where the science really doesn’t come across well. So I was excited when I saw the publicity for Colin Gillespie’s TimeOne, intriguingly subtitled ‘discover how the universe began.’
The idea of this work of fiction with a strong science content is to explore the nature of the big bang using the unusual concept of having a detective examine the ‘clues’ to see if they can work out how it all began. I’ve given it an extra bracketed star for ingenuity and effort, but I have to say that the outcome did not give me any joy.
There is plenty of reasonable science in here (along with an awful lot of philosophy and waffle), but the problem is that as a story it is nothing short of awful. There are three main characters, the employer, a mysterious woman who keeps popping into the office then flying off to mysterious destinations, the narrator, who is employed as a researcher to dig up the facts and history of the science, and an ex-cop detective who seems mostly there as a foil for the researcher. Three hours into reading all that had happened was that the employer came and went, the researcher VERY gradually dug out bits of information about relativity, quantum theory and the like, and the detective slobbed about. There was no story, no suspense, no real characters, no development, no plot.
Add to this an incredibly slow laying out of the facts, with a huge slab of philosophising and I really could not keep reading. It was extremely hard work with no real reward. I did try skipping forward to see how it would all turn out, but I couldn’t find any deviation from this formula (nor any great revelation about the big bang).
As I said at the start, I admire the intent and the work that has gone into this – I just don’t think that anyone is going to learn much science, or have any enjoyment from it as fiction.