I love popular science and so it was with some excitement that I opened the new Hawking work, especially as I've enjoyed his other books so much. It's fair to say that the style is somewhat different. It has been said of his first book 'A Brief History of Time' that despite its sales popularity practically nobody ever finished reading it and this may be so, I'm not in a position to comment since if true it means that I'm practically nobody anyway.
When I was a child I used to swim in the sea. This wasn't before the water became polluted but it was before we all knew how polluted the water was so that was fine. Swimming in the sea is fun, the waves are fun, the salt is fun, there is much enjoyment to be had from simply yelling and swimming about. There is a dark side to it though; we knew it as 'the shelf'. A point existed, rather vaguely defined, where the depth would dramatically and inexorably increase, the water would become colder and the fun would stop. There lay the music of John Williams and frantic calls to the Coastguard.
Popular science is like swimming in the sea. All is jolly and fun and you don't have to tax your mind until, suddenly, you reach the shelf. This book attempts not only to reduce the shelf but even to make it go away altogether and for the most part it is successful. It is presented with lots of pictures and plenty of whitespace around the text, there are cartoons, diagrams, amusing asides and hidden in there some pretty interesting information. This is where the book works well.
Sadly the pictures are often not accompanied by helpful captions explaining what they represent; sometimes it is obvious, sometimes not. The text seems a little abbreviated in order to make room for all that whitespace and this also means that the sudden introduction of ideas is common. The first one I encountered was when the book begins to discuss imaginary dimensions with no explanation other than mentioning that they work like imaginary numbers. It is difficult for the reader to visualize the concept. To be fair the concept is impossible to visualize anyway but a slightly more circumspect introduction could have helped.
The structure of the book really helps with understanding however. The first two or three chapters deal with the basic concepts and do so for the most part with ease. After that the chapters each deal with a different subject and are not reliant on having understood the others that have gone before, this makes the book easier to read but, vitally, it becomes possible to read a chapter now and again rather than ploughing through in one go in the hope that the early information will stick in the mind long enough to understand the end of the book. It does detract from the narrative because it makes the experience of reading the book rather like reading a series of small pamphlets that just happen to be bound together but it makes the process easier and a lot more approachable.
Ultimately a book of this type succeeds or fails entirely by the quality of writing and here there is nothing to complain about, everything is very clearly written and there is never any ambiguity over meaning. The book approaches some extremely complex subjects with simple frankness and without devoting pages to unnecessary detail; obscure and technical theories at the coalface of physics are covered with gentle ease. It must be said that I found the layout rather too friendly, a slightly more conventional approach would perhaps have suited me better, but overall I found it to be a good read.
The best thing about this book is undoubtedly the currency of it. This is a very recent survey of the science of cosmology and it is a guided tour through the latest work led by a man almost uniquely qualified to point out the tourist attractions, no other book in my collection is as current, nor does any current author on my shelves carry greater distinction than Professor Hawking.
In all this is an excellent read, often imaginative and humorous, by a distinguished and authoritative originator and I feel as always when I read his books what a pleasure it is that such a man stoops to satisfy the curiosities of the layman as well as advancing the science itself.
Thanks for reading.
Ben Slythe (author: "Soldier of the Republic" series)
It is said that opinions are like ****holes, we all have one but nothing about possessing ones means you're right, not unless you can justify it. With that in mind I am reviewing a book I happen to like by an author I happen to revile, especially the misbegotten abortion he spawned. I'm not saying it's a good book, just that I like it for various reasons.
Well there it is, the book, my first ever, is largely done and I am now just waiting for the cover art to be completed. Two hundred and fifty-seven A4/Letter pages (line and a half spaced), fifty-four chapters and approximately eighty-five thousand words.
I've given details of the book itself before and I still don't want to give too much away right now but it is set nearly eight hundred years in the future, not ours, but that of an alternate history (which is why I call it an alternate future history) and humanity is once again engaged in what it does best, blowing the hell out of each other.
I've written the first draft of my [wannabe] masterpiece which is shaping up to be around sixty thousand words, one hundred and fifty A4/Letter pages (line and a half spaced that equates to around two hundred and thirty pages paperback). That's eight fairly chunky chapters including The Prologue.
In the last article I dealt with mastery of your chosen language. This article discusses the basic inspiration which we gain from a variety of sources such as events, people, books, movies, television. My own arose from book series, several well written and one not so much and from that I could imagine better and whilst I may never fulfil that dream it gave me something to aim for. The next requirement is dealt with in the following article.
Writing may not be as easy as it appears at first glance. This article, the first of three, starts the discussion of what I think are those essential skills, the first of which is a good understanding of the language in which you choose to write. It then goes on to discuss ways in which you can improve your language skills. The next requirement is dealt with in the following article.
This article briefly introduces me, my work, my background and my web site. It outlines (at time of writing) my progress towards the publishing of my first and second novels in "The Abyssal Void War" series and briefly mentions other things to be found here including reviews and opinion pieces.
A brilliantly written popular science book that explains how evolution can create the staggering variety it has, whether dinosaurs were warm or cold blooded, why cinematic monsters such as King Kong and Godzilla are laughably impossible, why the marsupials kept control of Australia, why insects are so small. Finally he explains why, despite our apparent superiority, we really don't own the world at all, that there is no such thing as a superior or dominant lifeform on the planet. He also explain why, of course, elephants do have big ears.