Skip to main content

In Search of the Multiverse – John Gribbin ****

There’s an old saying along the lines of ‘there’s speculation, then there’s more speculation, and then there’s cosmology.’ When it comes down to the likes of thebig bang, while there are alternative theories, it’s arguable that there’s a lot of evidence to make it likely. But what old statesman of science writing John Gribbin does here is launch off with a swallow dive into the deep end of the cosmology speculation pool.
To be fair, this isn’t how Gribbin seems to see it. He argues that some aspects of the multiverse – the idea that there isn’t a single universe but multiple versions of it, whether in a quantum ‘many worlds’ form or through multiple bubbles of inflation happening in a wider multiverse of which our entire universe is just one bubble – are almost inevitably true. This isn’t, in fairness, a view held by all physicists, but he makes a good stab at persuading us that this is the right line to follow.
What is beyond doubt is that Gribbin tells a fascinating story and beguiles us with the many possibilities for multiverses. Sometimes he raises an idea just to dash it. He doesn’t like the ‘bouncing branes’ idea, because he wants more richness than just a single repeating collision. And he finds the idea of virtual ‘Matrix style’ universe running on a higher intelligence’s computers too unlikely. But throughout Gribbin presents us with an entertaining and mind-stretching collection of ideas.
I’m not totally comfortable with everything in the book. Gribbin is too loose with his approach to infinity, employing the concept in a way that is mathematically dubious. He is also prone to make giant leaps of logic that may have an underlying detail we don’t see – but without that detail they are baffling. So, for instance, he says when referring to the first, small examples of a quantum computer in action he says ‘This proved that quantum computing works, proved that Shor’s algorithm works, and makes it very difficult to doubt the existence of the Multiverse.’ That last part is a huge leap that really isn’t obvious to the reader.
I was also a little concerned by Gribbin’s explanation of entropy. He describes a block of ice melting and says there is then less order – which means less information and less complexity. Yet without more explanation, the ‘less information’ bit doesn’t make a lot of sense. You need a lot less information to describe a regular block of ice, which you can describe at a molecular level using some simple formulae, than you do a fluid, where you would have to describe the position and state of every single molecule. It’s not that he’s wrong, but the example is confusing.
So we could have done with a little more clarity in places -and that’s why the book gets four stars rather than five – yet this remains an engaging voyage around the manifold possibilities for the multiverse that many will enjoy.
Paperback (US edition is hardback):  
Also on Kindle:  

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 &…

The Laser Inventor - Theodore Maiman ****

While the memoirs of many scientists are probably best kept for family consumption, there are some breakthroughs where the story is sufficiently engaging that it can be fascinating to get an inside view on what really happened. Although Theodore Maiman's autobiographical book is not a slick, journalist-polished account, it is very effective at highlighting two significant narratives - how Maiman was able to construct the first ever laser, despite having far fewer resources than many of his competitors, and how 'establishment' academic physicists, particularly in the US, tried to minimise his achievement.

On the straight autobiographical side, we get some early background and discover how Maiman combined degrees in electrical engineering and physics to have an unusually strong mix of the practical and the theoretical. Rather than go into academia after his doctorate, he went into industry - which seems to have been responsible for the backlash against his invention, which we…