The Physics And Astronomy Of Science Fiction by Steven D. Bloom (book review).

August 24, 2016 | By | Reply More

The sub-title of Steven D. Bloom’s book, ‘The Physics And Astronomy Of Science Fiction’ is ‘Understanding Interstellar Travel, Teleportation, Time Travel, Alien Life And Other Genre Fixtures’. Just so you know what the 10 chapters in this book will cover. I suspect there wasn’t room on the cover to add robots, weaponry and super-humans, although they also have their own chapters. In other words, this should be a handbook for all of you who want a quick read-me guide to the basics of science if you’re writing SF or just want to be better informed.


So far, so good. Bloom’s knowledge of science is actually very good. It’s when he uses examples from Science Fiction that I find he attempts to be geeky but has some terrible choices. I mean, would you include ‘Lost In Space’ (1965-1968) or ‘Space: 1999’ (1975-1977) as examples of good science? With the former, you would still have to ponder on how many people not children in the 1960s have seen the entire show or felt an Irwin Allen show be taken seriously as SF. This doesn’t mean Bloom doesn’t describe what he means from these sources adequately, just his assumption that we would treat them seriously certainly does. It doesn’t mean some shows he cites don’t have any validity. His knowledge of our British 1963 puppet TV series ‘Space Patrol’ (called ‘Planet Patrol’ in the USA) and its use of a freeze chamber is an acknowledged form of travel is one of the first to consider and use a solution that took it beyond space fantasy. Mind you, considering the assorted rays they turn on inside the Galasphere 347, you have to wonder which is associated with making the floor down rather on the wall. ‘Fireball XL-5’s oxygen pills used so its crew doesn’t have to wear spacesuits is less plausible unless they have had other adaptations made to survive in vacuum. Then again, as a puppet show, ‘Fireball XL-5’ (1962-1963) had a tight budget that probably wouldn’t have stretched to making realistic spacesuits and even in ‘Space Patrol’, Captain Larry Dart and his crew rarely stepped into space with their helmets on, which was their only additional wear as a spacesuit.

Occasionally, there are lapses that should have been covered. With time travel, there are descriptions that match with, say, Robert Heinlein’s famous 1959 short story ‘All You Zombies’ and nary a mention. With using meteorite bombardment as a weapon, his description matches the actions of the Centauri against the Narn and yet there isn’t even a reference to ‘Babylon 5’ (1994-1998) anywhere in this book. The same with teleportation and multiple duplicates where Algis Budrys novel ‘Rogue Moon’ (1960) should have been a key example. All Bloom does is adds another Irwin Allen show, ‘Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’ (1964-1968) to the mix. Granted there are a lot of books and TV series to read and watch out there but even these would surely have come up to check out.

Occasional mistakes come in to play from time to time. The reason that the Doctor’s TARDIS for looking permanently like a police box has nothing to do with being built that way but a faulty chameleon circuit. This is compounded a little by Bloom thinking there was only one room inside the TARDIS. That information is so ingrained in the mythos that you wouldn’t make such mistakes, even if relying purely on research.

Speaking of time travel and considering this follows on from alternative universes/realities, I’m surprised that Bloom citing his examples of the original ‘Planet Of The Apes’ film series and ‘The Terminator’ series doesn’t consider that the reason neither don’t break the cause and effect or rather effect and cause from a future perspective, is that reality gets rewritten as people move from an alternative reality. It isn’t as though he doesn’t look at this subject earlier in his book.

With the look at computers, bearing in mind so many TV and film references, Bloom misses out on ‘Colossus: The Forbin Project’ (1970) for world domination. He could be perhaps forgiven on the android front forgetting ‘The Questor Tapes’ (1974) – although there is a brief but slightly wrong reference of saying there was more than one robot/android per generation made at the end of the ‘Extra-Terrestrials’ chapter – but nary a reference to Replicants from ‘Blade Runner’ (1982). Although I can understand the need to point out different examples to readers but time and again to point out inferior rather than superior choices does seem a bit odd and more like he’s relying on childhood references than an understanding of the genre as a whole. More so, that although Asimov is mentioned, the reasons for and even his Three Laws Of Robotics aren’t mentioned neither.

From the non-fiction SF books, he also draws on the same reference books that I’ve reviewed here in the past which often means that you’d probably be better off reading them for their examples.

It isn’t like there isn’t some good material in here but its often marred by giving far too many references that are invariably poor choices. The SF TV series far exceed the book references and often supposes that they were accurate. However, when you consider so many of these go back to the 1960s and science and technology has changed a lot since then. It isn’t as though modern SF series and films don’t use consistently better science than bad a lot of the time these days. The writers and directors, raised on the medium, know enough to understand credibility in getting things right than wrong.

If you understand the basics of physics and astronomy already, then you probably won’t need this book. If you rely on these than the examples, probably better. On the other hand, I have a feeling groups of you will no doubt have fun debating Bloom’s use of examples.

GF Willmetts

August 2016

(pub: McFarland. 236 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £35.50 (UK), $35.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-7053-2)

check out websites: http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/ and www.eurospanbookstore.com



Category: Books, Science

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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