Skip to main content

Exploring the Universe – Brian Clegg ***

There are few subjects better suited to a picture book than the universe, and the latest title from www.popularscience.co.uk’s prolific editor proves this admirably.
When the title says ‘Exploring the Universe’ it might seem that this is a book about space travel, but Brian Clegg makes the important point that pretty well all of our exploration has been (and will continue to be into the foreseeable future) using light. The sheer scale of the universe means that nothing slower is practical – and only a vehicle that has been in use for billions of years like light will enable us to see far enough.
The pictures are great, and I was unusually comfortable with the format. All too often picture books are so big that they aren’t practical to sit and read, they are only suited to thumbing through on the proverbial coffee table. This one is big enough for the colour pictures to have impact, but compact enough to be readable.
That readability is necessary because unlike many picture books with their short, unconnected mini-articles, this book has a continual flow of text that picks up on Clegg’s experience as a popular science writer. The downside of this is that it’s not so much a dip-in book as a traditional picture book format, but I see that primarily as a good thing – the mini-article approach is much more suited to websites and apps than a good book.
This title isn’t going to tell you all you ever wanted to know about the universe, but it makes a great taster whether you are a younger reader coming to the area for the first time or an adult who wants a more pictorial overview. Compromises rarely deliver as well as they could, but this coalition between picture book and conventional non-fiction popular science title is a pleasant surprise.
Hardback:  
Review by Jo Reed
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

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…