Beyond Star Trek, Lawrence M. Krauss

Pocket, 1997, 190 pages, C$29.50 hc, ISBN 0-465-00637-X

So you’re a hard-working physicist with a good reputation, a talent for glib talking and a certain tolerance for the worst excesses of media SF. What would be a good way to popularize your name and make some money? Write about the mistakes in Star Trek, of course! And if you’ve got the stamina for touring, you might as well come to half-forgotten cities everywhere in North America to give enormously entertaining conferences to promote your book!

Well, somebody has already done all those things. His name is Lawrence M. Krauss, and he’s (among other things) “Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics, Professor of Astronomy and Chairman of the Department of Physics at Case Western Reserve University.” He’s the author of four books so far, the best-known of them being The Physics of Star Trek.

I had the incredible luck of going to a lecture given by Krauss in February 1997 at the Museum of Civilization in Hull. (That’s at a stone throw’s away from the Canadian Parliament, for those among you with an imperfect knowledge of Ottawa-area geography.) Even though his talk was described as exposing the mistakes of Star Trek, it would be fairer to say that it was about a whole lot of different areas of physics, using Star Trek as a thinly related driving thread. Both The Physics of Star Trek and Beyond Star Trek also adopt this slant, with fairly efficient results.

(By the way; Krauss is an excellent speaker. Don’t miss his talk if ever he comes back in your area. He’s still the only speaker I’ve seen who was able to get an audible “oooh!” from a live audience by explaining results of a neutrino experiment.)

While The Physics of Star Trek dealt only with physics distantly related to Star Trek, Beyond Star Trek goes… well… beyond that. INDEPENDENCE DAY and “The X-Files” mostly get the Krauss treatment this time around.

From INDEPENDENCE DAY, Krauss explores the themes of alien visiting earth, getting there from here, exploring other worlds and escaping the death of the sun. That’s in addition of the obvious problems of massive spaceships orbiting earth, hovering over cities and crashing down to earth.

Starting from “The X-Files”, Krauss explores the scientific difficulties in ESP claims, artificial intelligence, quantum mechanics, time-travel paradoxes, relativity and empty-space energy. As he points out about ESP: Why can’t we detect “ESP radiations” when we can already “hear” stars a few million light-years away?

It sounds eclectic, and it is. Science is too vast to be constrained, and Krauss moves merrily from one area of physics to another. In 190 short pages, we get an interesting look at physics today, all in an accessible, frequently funny style. Beyond being simply a book for trekkies, Beyond Star Trek (and its companion volume) is also a good introduction to hard science to audiences already sensitized by media SF.

Beyond Star Trek is a bit thin to warrant being bought in hardcover, or even at full paperback price. But for an introduction (or a refresher) on the amazing current world of physics, a good amount of rational thinking and some provocative philosophy of science, you could do far worse than at least take a look at this book. It’s needless to say that it’s immeasurably better than an umpteenth X-Files inspired “I was abducted by bug-eyed monsters!” hypocritical “non-fiction” trash. And it’s a blast for nit-pickers everywhere.

(It would be fun to have a book plonking down every scientific error in every SF film ever shot. But then we’d need Gharlane of Eddore as a contributor, and very probably a CD-ROM to distribute the reams of material we’d find… Hey, now that’s an idea!)

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