Space travel. Time travel. Travels in other dimensions. Microwaves. Whatever smacks of the future is the product of science—but imagined by science fiction first.
Science journalist Clegg’s (Final Frontier: The Pioneering Science and Technology of Exploring the Universe, 2014, etc.) book begins a little inauspiciously, inasmuch as he allows that while everyone else in the world was paying attention to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he was glued to the TV watching the premiere of Doctor Who. Trained in physics but steeped in sci-fi, the author takes readers on an amiable stroll into worlds that once seemed improbable, reminding them that science fiction, by definition, has to have some grounding in reality and “requires at least a hat tip toward what is physically possible.” What is possible shifts and moves in time, of course. Early on, Clegg quotes a complaint lodged by Jules Verne against the young upstart H.G. Wells, grumbling that while his space travelers get to the moon by cannonball, Wells “goes to Mars in an airship, which he constructs of a metal which does not obey the law of gravitation.” Clegg sometimes stretches to allow cool stuff into his narrative. One doubts that Roger Bacon really imagined that a wall of talking brass could be constructed around England, but yet we have home burglar alarms; chalk it up to science fiction’s “leaps of faith,” which permitted such things as time travel well before Einstein had figured out the math. Still, Clegg reminds us, check your watch: “Leave the ship flying for a good length of time,” he warns would-be rocketeers, “and a big time differential with the Earth will build up.” He adds, elsewhere, that if the details aren’t exactly right in the imaginative literature, never fear: “Science fiction may have got the exact means…wrong, but the general concept is all too possible.”
Satisfying soul food for your inner geek: an enjoyable tour of science fact and fiction by a writer who obviously revels in both.