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Vampirology - Kathryn Harkup ***

This is the second non-fiction book featuring vampires that I've read in recent days. The other, The Modern Myths by Philip Ball, didn't claim to be a science book, concentrating as it did on the nature of myth - but in Vampirology , Kathryn Harkup seeks to put vampires squarely into the remit of popular science. It's even (somewhat oddly, perhaps) published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. To an extent, what Harkup is doing here is the well-established format of a 'science of' book - the subtitle is indeed 'the science of horror's most famous fiend.' Harkup has already given us  Making the Monster   taking a similar approach to Frankenstein, which worked well. Although the natural topics of such books tend to be science fiction - and Frankenstein is arguably proto-science fiction - we've seen a number of titles successfully straying into fantasy, from the Science of Discworld books to Science of Middle Earth.   Here, we get a reasonable summary
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The Beauty of Chemistry - Philip Ball ***

To do this review fairly, I ought to point out that I'm not a great fan of books where the images dominate the text - a more visually-oriented reader may appreciate the book more than me. However, there is enough text here by Philip Ball to lift what could otherwise be little more than a coffee table book. The text I'd definitely give four stars, but in the end, the dominance of the imagery by Wenting Zhu and Yan Liang pulled it down to three stars for me, because I did still find, for example, the number of pages of pictures of bubbles or crystals (for example), started to get a bit samey. From the opener on bubbles we go on to the inevitable chapter on crystals - surely chemistry's visual superstar. I was disappointed not to see Roger Hiorn's 2008 work Seizure featured, when the artist covered a bedsit with copper sulfate crystals. I think this reflects a weakness in the visual approach, which gives us the chemical imagery in isolation from the real world - a crystal

Kings of a Dead World (SF) - Jamie Mollart ****

Jamie Mollart's Kings of a Dead World is a challenging read, but is a great demonstration of why science fiction is much more than just space operas (fun though they can be) - the genre gives a unique opportunity to explore the worlds of 'What if?' I'm not quite sure why, but dystopias - which this very dark book is with a vengeance - seem to be back in fashion. To be honest, in difficult times likes these I prefer to read enjoyable escapism, but if someone insists on publishing a dystopian novel during a pandemic, Jamie Mollart has discovered a way to make the concept fresh and interesting.  The book has three interlaced storylines. One is from before the collapse of society as we know it, pretty much around the present, which is 50 years in the past of the other two storylines. In that future world, most of the population is put to sleep for months at a time, emerging for a month of life before being put back to sleep again. We see this occurring from the viewpoint o

Make Shift (SF) - Gideon Lichfield (Ed.) ***

MIT Press has published a series of collections of science fiction short stories, each with a particular message in mind, often around the impact of new technologies on some aspect of society. So, for example, a recent addition, Entanglements , looked at the impact on relationships and families of emerging technologies. The series is known as 'Twelve Tomorrows', though in the case of Make Shift there are only 10 stories. This is a rapidly assembled collection where the focus is being post-pandemic: the idea was to be positive and show how science and technology could create a fairer, more hopeful world in the aftermath of what many stories assume will be a whole series of pandemics, starting with Covid-19. There is always a big danger with fiction-with-a-message that the earnestness of the message will get in the way of the storytelling, and that's certainly the case in a number of stories here. In general with these collections there a couple of standouts and a couple of

Science Fiction - Sherryl Vint **

Many science fiction fans enjoy also reading books about science fiction (me included), so this addition to the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series is of interest - particularly as Sherryl Vint tells us that she isn't taking the usual route of a history or describing key works, but rather focussing on what 'science fiction can do, how it has been described by a variety of constituencies in distinct ways for multiple ends.'  Vint does recognise that science fiction is many things to many people - but rather than embrace this diversity, she seems determined to force it into a particular image (that you are only likely to appreciate if you can cope with somebody using ‘imaginary’ as a noun rather than an adjective). We are told SF is about change - but I'm not convinced that's accurate. It is about storytelling (which is hardly mentioned here) that asks 'What if?' - so it's not so much about change as things being different. The obsession with change prod

Journey to the Edge of Reason - Stephen Budiansky ***

  Compared with the sciences, mathematics can seem relatively short on interesting characters. There's no doubt that the subject of Stephen Budiansky's biography - Kurt Gödel was an engaging subject, from his effective shattering of the certainties of the mathematical system to his increasing oddity in his later life, but perhaps surprisingly this claims to be the first significant biography of Gödel. Budiansky gives us plenty on the context of Gödel's work and life - and a brief exploration of Gödel's incompleteness theorems (though their nature means that it's hard to give more than a faint impression of how they do what they do). Unfortunately, though, this is not a particularly accessible biography. With many scientific/mathematical biographies, poor accessibility can be down to a lack of context, with too much focus on the detailed complexities of the science or the maths. Here, though, the issue is the reverse. There is far too much context, so much so that Gö

Bergita and Urs Ganse - Four Way Interview

Bergita and Urs Ganse are siblings and the authors of The Spacefarer’s Handbook – Science and Life Beyond Earth , a translation of their German book, published by Springer in 2017. Urs is a theoretical space physicist, with a research focus on plasma simulations and works at the University of Helsinki in Finland. He uses supercomputers to model the near-Earth plasma environment and its interactions with Earth's magnetic field. Bergita is a university professor at Saarland University in Germany, an orthopedic surgeon and a physiologist. Her research focuses on the musculoskeletal system in spaceflight. She is a co-investigator of an ISS experiment, and she teaches Space Medicine to university students. Why Space?  Urs: I guess we were exposed too much to science-fiction as children. We watched Star Trek every day, read books about space and played computer games. Somehow, spaceflight became a solid part of our normal understanding of the world. Ever since then, it has seemed kind of