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Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Popular ScienceNew

By: Charles L Adler (Author)

378 pages, 23 b/w illustrations, 9 tables

Princeton University Press

Hardback | Sep 2016 | #207512 | ISBN-13: 9780691147154
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.95 $25/€24 approx

About this book

From teleportation and space elevators to alien contact and interstellar travel, science fiction and fantasy writers have come up with some brilliant and innovative ideas. Yet how plausible are these ideas – for instance, could Mr. Weasley's flying car in Harry Potter really exist? Which concepts might actually happen – and which ones wouldn't work at all? Wizards, Aliens, and Starships delves into the most extraordinary details in science fiction and fantasy – such as time warps, shape changing, rocket launches, and illumination by floating candle – and shows readers the physics and math behind the phenomena.

With simple mathematical models, and in most cases using no more than high school algebra, Charles Adler ranges across a plethora of remarkable imaginings, from the works of Ursula K. Le Guin to Star Trek and Avatar, to explore what might become reality. Adler explains why fantasy in the Harry Potter and Dresden Files novels cannot adhere strictly to scientific laws, and when magic might make scientific sense in the muggle world. He examines space travel and wonders why it isn't cheaper and more common today.

Adler also discusses exoplanets and how the search for alien life has shifted from radio communications to space-based telescopes. He concludes by investigating the future survival of humanity and other intelligent races. Throughout, he cites an abundance of science fiction and fantasy authors, and includes concise descriptions of stories as well as a glossary of science terms. Wizards, Aliens, and Starships will speak to anyone wanting to know about the correct – and incorrect – science of science fiction and fantasy.

"Whether as a text for a course or as a vehicle for self-study, this book makes for interesting, educational and thought-provoking reading."
– Mark Hunacek, MAA Reviews

"Adler does a grand job of showing just how powerful even basic maths and physics can be. If you're a budding back-of-the-envelope boffin not afraid of a bit of algebra, you'll love this book."
– Robert Matthews, BBC Focus Magazine

"I can't work out whether I love or hate this book. I love it because its analysis of the physics behind numerous accounts of magic and space exploration in fantasy and science fiction writing is fascinating. I hate it because it reveals why I will never be able to realise my dream of saying 'Beam me up, Scotty' before being teleported; or so Charles Adler has convinced me [...] The physics is well explained and Adler offers entertaining examples."
– Noel-Ann Bradshaw, Times Higher Education

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships is a great book by itself or as a starting point for exploring the physics of space exploration as well as the classics in science fiction."
– Robert Schaefer, New York Journal of Books

"For those who want to learn the hard facts about the realities of space travel or the chances for alien life, and as an engaging supplemental text for physics and astronomy courses, Wizards, Aliens, and Starships would be an admirable choice."
– Sidney Perkowitz, Scientists' Bookshelf

"[A] rewarding and thought-provoking read."
– Paul Sutherland, BBC Sky at Night

"[T]his book offers a lot, not only to SF authors but to any of you who want to see the real science in operation because this supplies most of the answers you need. Make sure your copy gets a serious read and well-thumbed."
– G.F. Willmetts, SFCrowsnest

"This book will speak to anyone wanting to know about the correct – and incorrect – science of science fiction and fantasy."
Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin

"[T]his is an interesting, well-written book, and Adler has put a lot of work into it. It should be invaluable for anyone wanting to write really accurate science fiction."
Popular Science

"There is much [...] in this book to interest readers interested in astronomy and astronautics and I think it will be likely to appeal to physics students."
– John Harney, Magonia

"Charles L. Adler, professor in the physics department at St. Mary's College in Maryland, is one of us – he's a lifelong fan of SF, and he knows what he's talking about. And Wizards, Aliens, and Starships is a great book for Analog readers, as well as anyone who wants to write hard SF. I mean, it's got honest-to-goodness equations – and the book is dedicated to Poul Anderson [...] Wizards, Aliens, and Starships is a love letter to science fiction."
– Don Sakers, Analog Science Fiction and Fact

"Hugely entertaining and scientifically sound."
– Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams

"What a fun book!"
– Keith Cooper, Astronomy Now

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships manages to thread the needles of both scientific literacy and accuracy when it comes to the properties he's exploring. Whether it's conservation of mass in shapeshifting, lighting candles at Hogwarts, or building a planet, Adler keeps the science accessible and the fanboys and girls happy."
– Glenn Dallas, San Francisco Book Review

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships [is] a book that combines my love for science and my love for science fiction [...] I did quite like this book and would recommend it for any academic library that collects popular science or science fiction. Large public libraries would also find this book to be useful as would many high school libraries. It would also make a great gift to any young person (or not so young!) who loves science fiction and has a bit of scientific background."
– John Dupuis, Confessions of a Science Librarian

"[T]his is a towering achievement [...] [I]t is certainly one of the coolest textbooks one will find anywhere [...] Any fan of science fiction or fantasy who wants to understand what is real and what is imaginary will almost certainly enjoy this book, and can look forward to learning what may be possible, both in great fiction and in the real universe."
– Jonathan T. Malay, Quest

"This is a good, interesting, well-written, and often humorous work. Adler obviously loves all types of science fiction – books, short stories, films, TV – and enjoys thinking through their scientific aspects [...] Overall, the book provides a thorough treatment of science fiction and an introduction to much of physics and astronomy."
Choice

"[T]his is an exciting book [...] I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is interested in understanding the relationship between physics and science fiction. Instructors of introductory physics courses, especially, will find it a valuable supplement to dry physics textbooks, and its use may even boost students' evaluations of the course. I will certainly use it in my classes."
– Costas Efthimiou, Physics World

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction is a fascinating book. As I started to read it, what immediately caught my attention was the passion and excitement that author Charles Adler instills in the text. I couldn't put it down."
– Edward Belbruno, Physics Today

"One pleasure to be had from the book is learning how to work out why some fantastic idea is ridiculous (but another one just might succeed) from a couple of physical principles and a few lines of algebra. Another pleasure is being infected by Adler's enthusiasm for epic science fiction."
– Peter Macgregor, Mathematical Gazette

"To only call Wizards, Aliens, and Starships engaging would be a real understatement – it is a delightful, funny, and immensely interesting romp through science and fiction. From candlepower to teleportation, all the way to the fate of the cosmos in the span of a googol years, this is a cornucopia of teachable material. It is also a reminder of the simple thrill of applying science to the world around us, real or imagined. A new classic."
– Caleb Scharf, author of Gravity's Engines and The Copernicus Complex

"This terrific book analyzes the romantic ideas of science fiction using the hard-nosed reality of the laws of physics. It will interest all readers, from Star Trek enthusiasts to astrophysicists."
– Paul Nahin, author of The Logician and the Engineer

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships rigorously applies the principles of physics to concepts, plot devices, and other features of science fiction and fantasy books, films, and television series. Readers who follow Adler's carefully developed analyses will learn a great deal about familiar science fiction tropes, physics, and how scientists think about the world. An exceptional book."
– A. Bowdoin Van Riper, author of Science in Popular Culture


Contents

1 PLAYING THE GAME 1
1.1 The Purpose of the Book 1
1.2 The Assumptions I Make 3
1.3 Organization 4
1.4 The Mathematics and Physics You Need 5
1.5 Energy and Power 6

I POTTER PHYSICS 11
2 HARRY POTTER AND THE GREAT CONSERVATION LAWS 13
2.1 The Taxonomy of Fantasy 13
2.2 Transfiguration and the Conservation of Mass 14
2.3 Disapparition and the Conservation of Momentum 16
2.4 Reparo and the Second Law of Thermodynamics 21

3 WHY HOGWARTS IS SO DARK 27
3.1 Magic versus Technology 27
3.2 Illumination 28

4 FANTASTIC BEASTS AND HOW TO DISPROVE THEM 38
4.1 Hic sunt Dracones 38
4.2 How to Build a Giant 39
4.3 Kleiber's Law, Part 1: Mermaids 45
4.4 Kleiber's Law, Part 2: Owls, Dragons, Hippogriffs, and Other Flying Beasts 49

II SPACE TRAVEL 57
5 WHY COMPUTERS GET BETTER AND CARS CAN'T (MUCH) 59
5.1 The Future of Transportation 59
5.2 The Reality of Space Travel 61
5.3 The Energetics of Computation 63
5.4 The Energetics of the Regular and the Flying Car 64
5.5 Suborbital Flights 68

6 VACATIONS IN SPACE 71
6.1 The Future in Science Fiction: Cheap, Easy Space Travel? 71
6.2 Orbital Mechanics 74
6.3 Halfway to Anywhere: The Energetics of Spaceflight 74
6.4 Financing Space Travel 82

7 SPACE COLONIES 86
7.1 Habitats in Space 86
7.2 O'Neill Colonies 87
7.3 Matters of Gravity 89
7.4 Artificial "Gravity" on a Space Station 93
7.5 The Lagrange Points 103
7.6 Off-Earth Ecology and Energy Issues 106
7.7 The Sticker Price 112

8 THE SPACE ELEVATOR 115
8.1 Ascending into Orbit 115
8.2 The Physics of Geosynchronous Orbits 116
8.3 What Is a Space Elevator, and Why WouldWeWant One? 118
8.4 Why Buildings Stand Up--or Fall Down 119
8.5 Stresses and Strains: Carbon Nanotubes 122
8.6 Energy, "Climbers," Lasers, and Propulsion 123
8.7 How Likely Is It? 125
8.8 The Unapproximated Elevator 127

9 MANNED INTERPLANETARY TRAVEL 130
9.1 It's Not an Ocean Voyage or a Plane Ride 130
9.2 Kepler's Three Laws 131
9.3 The Hohmann Transfer Orbit 134
9.4 Delta v and All That 136
9.5 Getting Back 137
9.6 Gravitational Slingshots and Chaotic Orbits 138
9.7 Costs 142

10 ADVANCED PROPULSION SYSTEMS 145
10.1 Getting There Quickly 145
10.2 Why Chemical Propulsion Won'tWork 146
10.3 The Most Famous Formula in Physics 147
10.4 Advanced Propulsion Ideas 148
10.5 Old "Bang-Bang": The Orion Drive 153
10.6 Prospects for Interplanetary Travel 155

11 SPECULATIVE PROPULSION SYSTEMS 157
11.1 More Speculative Propulsion Systems 157
11.2 Mass Ratios for Matter-Antimatter Propulsion Systems 168
11.3 Radiation Problems 173

12 INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL AND RELATIVITY 176
12.1 Time Enough for Anything 176
12.2 Was Einstein Right? 178
12.3 Some Subtleties 182
12.4 Constant Acceleration in Relativity 184

13 FASTER-THAN-LIGHT TRAVEL AND TIME TRAVEL 188
13.1 The Realistic Answer 188
13.2 The Unrealistic Answer 188
13.3 Why FTL Means Time Travel 190
13.4 The General Theory 193
13.5 Gravitational Time Dilation and Black Holes 195
13.6 Wormholes and Exotic Matter 198
13.7 The Grandfather Paradox and Other Oddities 205

III WORLDS AND ALIENS 215
14 DESIGNING A HABITABLE PLANET 217
14.1 Adler's Mantra 218
14.2 Type of Star 221
14.3 Planetary Distance from Its Star 226
14.4 The Greenhouse Effect 229
14.5 Orbital Eccentricity 232
14.6 Planetary Size and Atmospheric Retention 233
14.7 The Anna Karenina Principle and Habitable Planets 237
14.8 Imponderables 239

15 THE SCIENTIFIC SEARCH FOR SPOCK 242
15.1 Exoplanets and Exoplants 242
15.2 Doppler Technique 246
15.3 Transits and the Kepler Mission 249
15.4 The Spectral Signatures of Life 250
15.5 Alien Photosynthesis 251

16 THE MATHEMATICS OF TALKING WITH ALIENS 255
16.1 Three Views of Alien Intelligences 255
16.2 Motivation for Alien Contact 259
16.3 Drake-Equation Models and the Mathematics of Alien Contact 267

IV YEAR GOOGOL 273
17 THE SHORT-TERM SURVIVAL OF HUMANITY 275
17.1 This Is the Way the WorldWill End 275
17.2 The Short-Term: Man-Made Catastrophes 275

18 WORLD-BUILDING 292
18.1 Terraforming 292
18.2 Characteristics of Mars 294
18.3 Temperature and the Martian Atmosphere 295
18.4 Atmospheric Oxygen 299
18.5 Economics 301

19 DYSON SPHERES AND RINGWORLDS 303
19.1 Dyson's Sphere 303
19.2 The Dyson Net 305
19.3 Niven's Ringworld 311
19.4 The Ringworld, GPS, and Ehrenfest's Paradox 318
19.5 The Ringworld Is Unstable! 320
19.6 Getting There from Here--and Do We Need To? 324

20 ADVANCED CIVILIZATIONS AND THE KARDASHEV SCALE 326
20.1 The Kardashev Scale 326
20.2 Our Type 0.7 Civilization 327
20.3 Type I Civilizations 329
20.4 Moving Upward 331
20.5 Type II Civilizations 332
20.6 Type III Civilizations 334

21 A GOOGOL YEARS 336
21.1 The Future of the Future 336
21.2 The "Short Term": Up to 500 Million Years or so 336
21.3 The "Medium Term": Up to about 1013 Years 338
21.4 The "Long Term": Up to a Googol Years 341
21.5 Black Hole-Powered Civilizations 344
21.6 Protons Decay--or Do They? 346
21.7 A Googol Years--All the Black Holes Evaporate 346
21.8 Our Last Bow 349

Acknowledgments 351
Appendix: Newton's Three Laws of Motion 353
Bibliography 359
Index 371


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Biography

Charles L. Adler is professor of physics at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

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