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Understanding Physics

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I’m a big fan of all sorts of books.

I read lots of science fiction.  It’s my go-to genre when I’m bored and want to read something.  You would assume my favorite book would fall within the genre, I know I made that assumption.

Today I realized that wasn’t the case.  Understanding Physics by Isaac Asimov holds this distinction.  I read this first probably in junior high and it just blew me away.   I was always an underachiever in school.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that, while I knew I was smart, I didn’t feel like I was smart enough to understand complicated things.  This book changed all of that.

Asimov’s writing style is just fantastic when it comes to explaining topics.  In this book he does a great job of not only explaining how things work, but how we figured them out and how scientists depend on the work of their predecessors.

I would put this book somewhere between pop science books without a bit of math and a full-on textbook.  However, even though it has math in it, it is completely attainable to someone who normally only reads the pop science books.

I rarely re-read books, but I find myself reading this one every couple of years.  You will too.

Different kinds of sci-fi. Or, why Star Trek barely qualifies for the category.

Science fiction encompasses a huge range of different types of stories.  More than it probably should, really.

Hard science fiction is considered by many purists to be the only true scifi.  In this type of story, all the rules of science are followed, or extrapolated from what is already known.  Sometimes these stories will have a scientific element that doesn’t seem possible, but, in the end, real science drives the narrative.

Some try to draw a difference between scifi novels that feature “softer” sciences like the various social sciences, and the novels that focus on the one true science: physics.  Personally, I’d put both into the same “hard scifi” category, as they’re both based on known science.

Something you’ll come to realize after pondering the above is that the majority of people have never seen a real scifi movie or read a real scifi book.

Take, for example, the new Star Trek movie.  While the general public would classify it as a scifi movie, it has more in common with fantasy stories than science.  Off the top of my head about the only thing in it that is based on real science is the scenes where it goes to dead silence in space (and it isn’t even consistent in that regard).  Most of the rest of the technology is pure fantasy.  This holds true for almost every major scifi-categorized movie.  They’re really just action-fantasy movies.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think it does give the public a wrong idea of what much of science fiction is about.

One of my favorite hard scifi novels of all time, Rendevous with Rama, may become a movie.  With David Fincher and Morgan Freeman, it would have a good chance of being a credit to the book.  Unfortunately, there are rumors that this project may not happen.

For love of reading

she really did read the impossible-sounding 462 books in 2008. Those 462 books marked a personal record — she’s been keeping a formal list since 2005. Below, she explains what it’s like to be a super-speedy reader.

From the LA Times.

462 books in one year.  Pretty impressive to me.  Granted, she’s a book reviewer so she has more time to read than some of us, but that’s still over a book per day.

One of my goals for this year is to read more.  Bare minimum, I’d like to read one book per week.  Since the 1st of December I’ve read the following:

  • Consider Phelebas by Iain M. Banks
  • The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds
  • The Butlerian Jihad by Brian Herbet and Kevin J. Anderson
  • The Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
  • The Battle of Corrin by Brian Herbet and Kevin J. Anderson

I need to step up the pace a bit…