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Science(ish) - Rick Edwards and Michael Brooks ****

Seeing the subtitle of this engaging hardback it would be easy to think 'Oh, no, not other "Science of Movie X" book - they were great initially but there have been too many since.' Somehow, though, the approach that Rick Edwards and Michael Brooks have taken transcends the original format and makes the whole thing fresh and fun again.

I think the secret to their success is that they don't try to cover all the science of a particular film, but rather that they use each of their ten subjects to explore one particular topic. It also helps that, rather than focus entirely on franchise movies we get some great one-offs, including The Martian and Ex Machina. I suspect you may find the interest level of the chapters reflects to some extent whether or not you've seen the films. So, for instance, In found 28 Days Later and Gattaca, which I haven't seen, less interesting. The only other topic that suffered a bit for me was Planet of the Apes, which I have seen but hated (even the authors say it's a terrible film, which makes you wonder why they picked it with so many others to choose from).

For the rest, though, Edwards and Brooks impressively manage to weave a whole lot of science into the topics they link to the movies. As well as the obvious subjects of The Martian and Ex MachinaJurassic Park is good on de-extincting (is that a word?) from ancient DNA. Similarly, Interstellar on black holes (even managing to get a very up-to-date chunk on gravitational waves in) and Back to the Future on time travel, for example, all balanced readability, fun and a fair amount of science. It would have been nice if each chapter had ended with some further reading suggestions, as in each case, inevitably, the topic had to be covered in quite a summary fashion. At the very least I would point readers to Destination Mars for The Martian and Build Your Own Time Machine for Back to the Future.

One of the reasons I liked the book a lot was that it turned my initial impression around. About page six I was close to giving up. This was partly because of the agonising attempt at humour in the constant backbiting 'conversation' between the authors that tops and tails each chapter (I can't say this got any better, but I got used to it). But mostly it was because of the painfully juvenile adjectives in the main text. We are told something is a ‘bum-busting 33.9 million miles away’, and something travels at a ‘pant-soiling 36,000 miles per hour’. Thankfully, this style disappears after page six, making me wonder if the whole book was like this originally and page six missed the edit. 

There were a couple of small errors - John Wheeler is credited with originating the term 'black hole' (something most of us thought until a few years ago, but it's now widely known he didn't), and the year of the first direct detection of gravitational waves is given as 2016 on one page and 2015 on another (it was 2015), but this is minor stuff. It doesn't in any way undo the fact that this is a great book which will appeal to a wide range of readers. Recommended.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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