Sunday 12 February 2012

Of Time, Space and Other Dimensions

Thank you to Dan Holloway for commenting on a post I made on about other dimensions. He mentioned Feynman and that got me thinking of some of the science fiction authors I read and how I hate space-opera, but love just the right level of techno-babble in books - enough to make me think but not beyond my ability to follow the physics and/or reasoning involved.

I'm thinking in particular of sf author Stephen Baxter, whose books tend to polarise me. Several of them I just cannot get into, but then I'm not a fan of alternate-history stories (which rules out steampunk and the like - sorry folks). But Flood and more particularly Ark were awesome and I can easily lie awake at night trying to puzzle through the physics of faster-than-light (FTL) travel. And yes, I probably do need to get out more.

Take Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker books in particular. Quite apart from the offbeat humour, it's the little things: The universe is infinite. The number of planets supporting life we know is finite (since we know of planets in our own solar system that don't support life). Therefore the average population of the universe must be zero (on the grounds that any finite number divided by infinity is as near to zero as makes no difference).

Moving on to Stephen Baxter's novel Space. The Fermi Paradox. Does intelligent life exist elsewhere in the universe? Or Time and the Carter Prophecy - this one isn't actually real (at least I can't find any genuine references to it online outside of this novel and the link is to an sf website where the underlying principles are debated at length). But it is nevertheless valid mathematics and attempts to prove that the earth/life as we know it will be destroyed relatively soon - relatively in terms of the life-span of humanity on the planet anyway. And now we are into doomsday prophecies and closing in on conspiracy-theories as maths and physics veer off into theology.

But I love all this stuff. I took a physics degree at university and my only regret is that I simply wasn't good enough at maths to fully understand all of it. I mean string theory? Quantum mechanics? Its all fascinating. And any author who can weave it into a story gets my money every time!

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