Skip to main content

Antimatter – Frank Close ****

I like this little book. Regular readers of my reviews will know that ‘little’ isn’t an insult – there’s nothing worse than a bloated, over-inflated popular science book. This one delivers the goods on the subject without resorting to endless padding. The subject in question is antimatter, which Frank Close covers with just enough context – particular the US Air Force’s interest in antimatter weapons, and Dan Brown’s awful antimatter-based thriller Angels and Demons – to keep the reader interested.
It’s a bit of a Brief History of Time kind of book. Before Dr Close gets all excited and waits for the royalties to come crashing in, I don’t really mean that I expect it to have the same kind of popularity of ABHoT, but rather it has the same tendency to plunge into just a bit too much depth and not necessarily to explain the science in a way that comes across well to the uninitiated. Having said that, there is some good writing here explaining why antimatter is so important and how the Big Bang could have result in mostly matter.
Even if you know a bit about antimatter, there are some surprises. And what’s lovely is the way the book really thinks about the practicalities of antimatter. You can’t store antiatoms, for instance, because they aren’t charged, so you can’t keep them in an electromagnetic container away from matter. But you can’t have billions of positrons or antiprotons in the same place either, because they repel each other. I wasn’t clear why you can’t use an anti-plasma – I wish that had been covered.
The presentation is just a touch dry – this is very obviously a book written by an academic who is trying hard to be populist but not quite making it – which is why it only gets four stars rather than five. And I don’t think he does any favours by suggesting that many people seriously think the Tunguska fireball was antimatter. But it’s a really interesting book that stretches the brain and that is packed with glowing little antimatter nuggets.
Hardback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

The Bastard Legion (SF) - Gavin Smith *****

Science fiction has a long tradition of 'military in space' themes - and usually these books are uninspiring at best and verging on fascist at worst. From a serious SF viewpoint, it seemed that Joe Haldeman's magnificent The Forever War made the likes of Starship Troopers a mocked thing of the past, but sadly Hollywood seems to have rebooted the concept and we now see a lot of military SF on the shelves.

The bad news is that The Bastard Legion could not be classified as anything else - but the good news is that, just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverted the vampire genre, The Bastard Legion has so many twists on a straightforward 'marines in space' title that it does a brilliant job of subversion too.

The basic scenario is instantly different. Miska is heading up a mercenary legion, except they're all hardened criminals on a stolen prison ship, taking part because she has stolen the ship and fitted them all with explosive collars. Oh, and helping her train her &…

On the Moor - Richard Carter ****

There's much to enjoy in Richard Carter's pean to the frugal yet visceral delights of being one with England's Pennine moorland. If this were all there were to the book it would have made a good nature read, but Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it's inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants - I confess I was ignorant of the peregrine falcon's 200 mile per hour dive - or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS.

Carter is something of an expert on Darwin, and inevitably the great man comes into the story many times - yet his appearance never seems forced. It's hard to spend your time in a natural environment like this and not have Darwin repeatedly brought to mind.

I confess to a distinct love of these moors. Having spent my first 11 years in and around Littleborough, just the other side of Blackstone Edge from Carter's moor, the moorland…