Bang! The Complete History Of The Universe – Brian May, Patrick Moore & Chris Lintott

Bang! The Complete History Of The Universe – Brian May, Patrick Moore & Chris Lintott
Brian May of Queen fame was actually studying a PhD in Astrophysics before his music really took off. Queen became one of the greatest bands of all so Brian abandoned his studies to focus on the music. Fast forward to 2006 and he decides to finish the PhD he started many years ago.
In 2006 as he was getting into the swing of Astrophysics again, he released a book with sir Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott. This book essentially reviews the timeline of events from the formation of the universe to its potential end. It is rather basic in its approach and doesn’t talk of equations or any hard science. For someone who has no knowledge of this topic its a great introduction to cosmology but a little too basic for my tastes.

What If? – Randall Munroe

What If? – Randall Munroe

Man this is one hilarious book, it is a collection of answers to absurd and weird hypothetical questions he has been sent via his website for his comic strip. Having a degree in physics and previously working for NASA before leaving  to work on his XKCD comic strip full time leaves Randall in a unique position to answer these questions

There is an assortment of hilarious hypothetical questions such as

  • what would happen if the entire human population met at one place and then jumped all at the same time
  • From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hits the ground
  • Is it possible to build a jet pack using downward firing machine gun
  • If a ten metre wide drain opened at the bottom of the ocean how long would it take to drain all the oceans

There are many more hilarious questions many of which he adds his signature stick figure drawing too. He takes the time to detail his research into these questions and walks the reader through the process to find the answer.

Good for a laugh and an informative read, best of both worlds!




Bad Astronomy – Philip Plait

Bad Astronomy – Philip Plait
This was an interesting book, i actually got it because while i have quite a passion for Astronomy it gets rather repetitive during conversations having to constantly debunk silly ideas people have about Astronomy. Ideas such as is their sound in space? to the most infuriating, confusing it with the ridiculous hogwash that is Astrology.   I thought if i could find a book that answered all these i could just give them out.
Turns out (obviously) its much more fun to share knowledge and talk to people and debunk silly or misleading ideas than to simply hand over a book. Nothing to do with the fact there are people who simply just don’t like reading – a concept i just cant fathom. Interesting point i noticed was that many of the people who don’t read are also the ones who believe in Astrology
But this book does serve a purpose. It has a wonderful collection of ideas and misleading things popular culture has about science. From bad science in movies featuring explosions and sounds in space and lasers that can be seen and dodged once fired . To dispelling rumours about why the moon looks bigger on the horizon or what causes the tides.
Its a great quick reference guide to helping understand the reality behind some situations.  While anyone with a science background will already understand the reasons behind most of the issues, like why is the sky blue, Does water really spin opposite directions when draining in different hemispheres, Did the moon landings actually happen and why astrology is complete hogwash. There are a few unique surprises in there such as my favourite. The optical illusion of the moon looking bigger when its near the horizon, actually disappears and it looks normal when you bend over and view it between your legs. I so have to try this!!!
It is definitely a book for all types, a fun and yet informative read.

Seven Ancient Wonders – Matthew Reilly

Seven Ancient Wonders – Matthew Reilly
I have been a Matthew Reilly fan for awhile now and have managed to buy all his books, i just haven’t got around to reading them all. Specifically i hadn’t read the Jack West Jr series. They are action and adventure novels kinda like Indiana Jones. And until recently i haven’t been in the mood for it. I had imagined this series was similar to his scarecrow series in which it is just a collection of one off stories. But the Jack West series isn’t like that. It seems my run of picking up trilogies continues but unlike Star Wars Aftermath or Lost on Mars. This series has part two and three already released.
We find that Jack West Jr has been put in charge of a multi national task force with the aims of preventing the destruction of the planet. Lofty goals i know. The story is all based around an ancient machine used to protect the planet from a deadly solar flare. Solar flare plot is believable, there are big ones that could really mess up life on earth but ancient advanced civilizations i found a stretch. Yeah i know there is some evidence of many unknown ancient races and myths but i just find it hard to picture an even more ancient and yet advanced like western society civilization. Where is the evidence?  But anyway its a story so we can suspend realism for a moment. This ancient civilization much like our many known ancients civs were good at astronomy and knew of the impending doom and built a machine to protect Earth. In fact they used the machine in the past to protect earth and when they died off for unknown reason they left the machine for others to find
Long story short. The Egyptians knew about this, knew that the flare occurred regularly so they found the machine and built the great pyramid to use it. After the Egyptians saved the planet the broke the machine into pieces and hid it in the locations of the seven ancient wonders hence the book name.
Our story is simple jack must find the pieces and save the planet. Naturally there’s a twist who ever uses the machine will ensure his county becomes all powerful for a millennium. Which is why the Egyptians hid the pieces. So naturally there is a group of evil US forces trying to find the pieces and Jack and his team represent a coalition of small nations who don’t want the US to win.
After suspension of belief on a few plot issues namely advanced ancient civilization etc it is quite an Indiana Jones like  adventure finding the remains/locations of the ancient wonders and navigating booby traps all to save the planet quite a fun read and strangely for part one in a trilogy, wraps up plot ends quite nicely. Going to dive straight into part two to see how they continue on

The Martian – Andy Weir

The Martian – Andy Weir
All of a sudden this book started showing up all over Goodreads and many of the online bookstores i visit, i mean like over the top kinda in you face showing up. I get everyone thinks its a good read but no need to shove it down my throat. Now granted this is a book that i would of picked up and read even if i had never seen it talked about anywhere else. I mean come on a man stranded on Mars, that’s all i read and i’m like i want this book!
Now im not a person that listens or even reads reviews whether its film or book because i have very particular tastes why would some hack sitting in an office be able to tell me if its a good book or film, most critics of movies will talk about cinematography or the score, likewise for books the rave about character building but serious i don’t care about any of that for me all that matters is the story! for that reason alone i ignore all reviews and just read the blurb to find out what its about and make my decision there,
Having read this book i can now see why everyone was so hyped up about it and why i was seeing the book discussed everywhere. it is nothing short of literary gold. i cant specify what it is that gets me so excited about this book, but i found  myself constantly smiling or laughing out loud on the train when reading this, much to the amusement of people sitting near me. Some authors put their characters up on a pedestal and they do nothing wrong and speak entirely appropriate all the time. Nope not here, this character felt real because he spoke like a real person, he used humour when nervous he swore, he cracked jokes. I can probably best showcase this by highlighting a part in the book that just made me laugh. After contact with earth is established the media starts running nightly news bulletins about our lost astronaut friend – Mark. They are discussing with a psychologist what they think would be going through his mind right now trapped on Mars all alone – the book then moves to Marks POV and we see he is thinking about comic books and why Aquaman can control whales when they are mammals not fish. Where the author comes up with this stuff i have no idea.
The book isnt overly technically but it does talk alot about the machinery he uses to stay alive and it is very scientifically accurate. As such i just could not put this book down, well i kinda had to when i got off the train but as soon as i was home again i picked it up and plowed through to the end. After finishing it i just had a big smile on may face not many book can have that affect on me where you really and truly root for the character. I have read that a film adaptation is being filmed right now starting Matt Damon – cant wait for that
I will definately be looking into seeing if Andy has any other works as this is now defiantely one of my all time favourite books

The Cloud – Ray Hammond

The Cloud – Ray Hammond

Part of me keeps telling myself, to stop buying books just because of there cover. Most of the time the author doesn’t have much say in regards to the cover. So it isn’t always a true reflection of the story nor represent an image that actually takes place in the story. but it can contain powerful images that capture your imagination. I am probably fortunate that for most of the time choosing books by the cover has worked for me.

For the fact that the front cover had an image of a storm in a cars rear view mirror yet the back cover blurb talked of a storm in space, is what really peaked my interest. The book was reasonably priced so i thought why not.

The book starts much like many others in regards to a signal received from space such as contact or species. However the difference here is the signal is not decoded but yet we still reply. I took issue with this. Why/how would we respond to a message when we didn’t know what the message was about. In reality i am sure we would wait until the message was decoded before replying. A signal received from space in essence is a sign of intelligence, it show a lack of intelligence to reply without understanding the message.

The story then moves forward in time. the reason of course is the source of the signal is like 15 light years away, so it takes 15 years for our signal to get there and then 15 years for the response to come back. So just when we thought we would hear a response back the original signal switches off… This is when the cloud is detected. While not wanting to give too much away. It is interesting to note that we always seem to picture a signal from space with allot of fear. Is it just a plot device or do we truly believe that if we hear anything from another civilization that they would be aggressive and want to attack. To be honest this is highly doubtful as the length of time required for interstellar travel is enormous. Its dubious at best that someone would go through the centuries long journey just to attack. what would be the tactical point in that?

It is interesting to note that even in real life we only talk of receiving a signal and not sending. Granted we have sent one signal called the Arecibo message but that was aimed at a target more that 25000 light years away and was more a test of equipment than an actual attempt to communicate. My point is if we are only listening, who’s to say that other civilizations are only listening. If no one is talking how can we hear them.  (we can ignore the fact that all our TV transmission are being through space right now)

This story was still a great thrill ride, and has quite a heart pounding race to the last second kind of finish to it. thoroughly enjoyed it, and will keep an eye out for this authors works in the future


Space Chronicles – Facing the Ultimate Frontier

Space Chronicles – Facing the Ultimate Frontier

I have always had an interest in Astronomy and for awhile there pursued the idea of career in that field. However i choose to go down another path and have moved Astronomy into the hobby area for now. As such any time i come across a book to do with Astronomy or Astrophysics, i’ll buy it. Even though in most cases these books just rehash the same material but just cover it in different ways. This book in that regard is no different. There is no new information discussed, in fact the book itself is just an anthology of all Neil deGrasse Tyson’s previous interviews. I picked this gem up at the super secret Booktopia $1 booksale. as i was moving down the isles i saw his (the authors) name on the spine and that alone was enough for me to buy it

The book starts with the history of Astronomy and more importantly human perception of astronomy, going from the days of craziness where  religion decreed we were the center of the universe – to the modern times with a better perception of our place in the cosmos. There is quite alot of focus on the US economy as it plays a heavy role in deciding how much money NASA gets and this in turns impacts what programs are successful or not. Surprisingly there were some interesting insights into this process. 

While Neil has an impressive knowledge of astronomy, history and pop culture, he does like to use the same anecdotes and since this book is merely an anthology of previous interviews it becomes apparent as there repetition is seen more easily in this book

Perhaps the most disappointing thing with this book, is you get the feeling it is aimed at the american audience. What i mean by this is there is quite alot of discussion of NASAs budget and comparing it to other US expenditures and government activities . While of course since the US is pretty much the biggest avenue of space exploration,  i naturally keep a close eye on what its doing even though i have no interest in the politics behind it since i can have no say in that matter.

The book really hits home when even the author states that sometimes when he is at work trying to understand the intricacies of the universe he can forget ” that uncounted people walk this Earth without food or shelter, and that children are disproportionately represented among them ” quite a powerful message to end a book with. Especially after reading the sections about the US budget seeing that they spend more than 8 times the amount of money on the military than they do on education and double the amount they spend on welfare.

But when all is said and done being an anthology of previous interviews etc, doesn’t diminish this book at all. it is still a great read by a great author and leave you walking away with much food for thought