Saturday, 13 October 2007

Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku

Not fiction this time, but a book which seeks to explain to the non-scientist the development of current ideas in advanced physics. Tailor-made for me then, as although I subscribe to the 'New Scientist' magazine to try to keep up with developments, I have found current cosmological concepts to be more or less incomprehensible.

The author of 'Parallel Worlds' explains the revolution in thinking from Newton through Einstein to quantum physics, string theory and beyond. He explains that the existence of an infinite number of parallel, branching worlds is not a fanciful SF notion but may well be an inevitable consequence of the quantum universe. He concludes with speculation about the way in which our universe may develop in the far future, and what an advanced civilisation might be able to do to escape from its fate as the universe dies.

Michio Kaku has an accessible writing style, easy to follow, with no equations (except, of course, E=mc2) and with any necessary jargon clearly explained. There is a glossary at the end in case you forget the meaning of any of the terms he uses. Absorption is also helped by the way in which he divides each chapter into manageable chunks, each with its own sub-heading. This is not a kiddies' primer though, and concentration is required to understand the strange concepts which he describes.

What will be of particular interest to SF readers is that Kaku is clearly an SF fan himself. The book is littered with references to SF books, films and TV series, as he uses them to illustrate the concepts he describes. The Matrix films, Star Trek and Sliders are all mentioned as are many novels; for instance, a couple of pages are devoted to an analysis of Greg Bear's 'Eon'. I was surprised by some of the early SF novels he discussed which I was unaware of, for example Edwin Abbot's 1884 novel 'Flatland', concerning a race of beings who inhabit a two-dimensional world and are completely unaware of the existence of the third dimension.

So did the author succeed in his aim in making modern physics understandable? Well, I won't pretend to have completely grasped all of the weird, counter-intuitive concepts he discusses (I suspect that a doctorate in physics would be needed for that) but I do feel much more comfortable about tackling those articles on cosmology in 'New Scientist'. It is also, of course, an excellent reference work for hard SF authors looking for a scientific basis for their plots. Highly recommended.

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