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Culture, history and society

Movie physics

28 Jun 2018

Science(ish): the Peculiar Science Behind the Movies by Rick Edwards and Michael Brooks, reviewed by Kate Gardner

Time illustration

Science(ish) started life as a podcast, explaining this book’s conversational tone, sometimes stretched to the point of teasing banter between its two authors. Rick Edwards (author and TV presenter) and Michael Brooks (science writer, journalist and consultant) bring humour, enthusiasm and insight to “The Peculiar Science Behind the Movies”, taking 10 major sci-fi films as their jumping-off point. To distinguish themselves from the many other related books now available, they break each film down to three scientific questions and then answer them. For example, “Can we travel in time?”, “How do we build a time machine?” and “Could you erase yourself from history?” might sound like a flippant look at a not-very-scientific sci-fi film, but actually, Back to the Future forms the kicking-off point for explaining special relativity, general relativity, wormholes, cosmic strings and Crispin Glover’s weird slide show.

Okay, so it does get silly at times, and it does contain spoilers if you haven’t seen the films already. You will get much more from this book if you are familiar with the films covered. But it’s a decent introduction to some basic science concepts and some very complex, very current scientific questions, such as de-extinction (Jurassic Park) and human settlement on Mars (The Martian).

There isn’t space to cover issues in depth, which does lead to a few bum notes, such as the chapter on Gattaca failing to grapple at all with the moral and ethical issues surrounding genetic screening and manipulation. I also found that the plethora of illustrations, infographics, cartoons of the authors, footnotes and box-outs on related topics tend to interrupt the flow of reading. I was also annoyed that of the many scientists (past and present) referenced, the women could be counted on one hand. But overall, the authors’ forthrightness (directly calling people who dismiss evolution “idiots”) and sheer love for the films they are discussing made this a really enjoyable read.

  • 2017 Atlantic Books 272pp £12.99hb

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