The Cosmic Dancers: Exploring The Physics Of Science Fiction by Amit Goswami with Maggie Goswami (book review).

I pulled a copy of ‘The Cosmic Dancers: Exploring The Physics Of Science Fiction’ by Amit Goswami with Maggie Goswami a couple years back and only now fitted it into my reading schedule. Considering it’s a book about physics in Science Fiction, I had to wonder what its title has to do with our genre. Who’s doing the dancing?

SF author Kate Wilhelm, in her introduction, revealed that she didn’t really understand physics but he provided information in context and in the better way, applying it in stories.

With this book, don’t expect to have a piecemeal list of science laws, what the Goswamis do is look at the SF up to 1983 and use the examples from the stories to show their validity over the range of physics so you get some insight into how it was done.

From the start, they explain that the definition of what Science Fiction actually is varies from author to author. What they focus on is the authors who account for everything in how they apply their scientific knowledge and don’t miss out details. They also take into account ‘bodges’, although not called that and now it’s called ‘fudges’, where authors use such inventive things as time travel so you still get sufficient grounding. As a bonus, you get some knowledge of a lot of SF books that you might want to explore later.

Chapter 4 opens with an examination of air pollution and global warming. If you do buy this book make this essential reading and prophesy for what we have developing today.

If you want an explanation of why Albert Einstein is god when it comes to relativity, then this is the book to read. You will see how it works for space travel. They don’t actually cover the fact that you will only be accelerating half the trip, decelerating the remainder and flying towards where your star system will be at the end of the trip. In many respects, rocket science is as easy as that. The problem comes to fuel and how to get it and even the Bussard ramjet is explored. It’s inevitable because of the time the book was written that ‘Star Trek’ gets referenced a few times.

The Goswamis briefly hit on using radiation to mutate the human genome as witnessed by examples from Science Fiction. Gene manipulation like we have developing today seems a long way off and, in the 1980s, seemed like…er…Science Fiction.

If you wanted the maths formulas to calculate the effects of planetary orbits and so forth, then this book makes for essential reading. The Goswamis pointing out the number of planets in our galaxy and the number inhabitable is also being proven more accurate today. You also get a whistle-stop tour of how our universe was created and how it might happen again.

It’s inevitable they explore quantum mechanics and much of that isn’t that far removed from today’s knowledge but with less focus on all the atomic particles. They briefly look at the novelisation of ‘Fantastic Voyage’ by Isaac Asimov and the bodge he uses to explain miniaturisation. As this book was written before Asimov wrote the sequel and sorted that out, you’ll have to check that book.

A couple truly SF tropes are explored in detailed. The first use of the ansible communication device in ‘The Dispossessed’ by Ursula LeGuin in case you’ve never read it. The other is a lengthy discussion on how telepathy works. The Goswamis make a valid point that telepathy to happen instantaneously is not electro-magnetic in nature because it is not limited by the speed of light. Granted the differences are no more than a few microseconds but does explain why scientists haven’t been able to record a signal. That should send a few of your heads out there pondering on that implication.

Finally, a look at mysticism or rather things that might be possible so you really get a rounded a lot of information.

Although 35 years old, much of this book still applies plus the fact you’ll get a lot of scientific info applied in Science Fiction books. There are only a couple things mentioned that were wrong and, if I was to do an updated version, I would have pointed out more mistakes to avoid. Nonetheless, if you need help with working out your applied science, you can get this book at a cheap price. Looking over this review before putting on-line, I’ve noticed I’ve said in a couple places there are sections which are essential reading so if you do have problems in those areas then it’s worth grabbing a copy.

GF Willmetts

May 2018

(pub: Harper & Row, 1983. 290 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: I pulled my copy for about £ 2.50 (UK). ISBN: 0-06-015083-1)

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