Like their first two collaborations, the Hawkings’ third and final George book offers a hybrid mixture of made-up adventures in space/time interleaved with miniessays on, as one character unoriginally puts it, “life, the Universe, and everything.”
Most of the action centers on Switzerland’s Large Hadron Collider, where the Order of Science to Benefit Humanity has gathered. The anti-environmentalist group Theory of Everything Resists Addition of Gravity (aka TOERAG, a tortured joke that American readers will miss) have planted a “quantum mechanical bomb” there, with a trigger that, quantum-theory style, remains indeterminate until it’s observed. Meanwhile, though conveniently provided with a defusing code, young George and Annie have been imprisoned in an Inverse Schrödinger Trap (with a cat, of course) that will assume a random and therefore almost certainly deadly location somewhere in the universe should they try to leave. The story is interspersed with suitably seriocomic illustrations and pauses every few pages for digestible disquisitions (some by prominent scientists other than Hawking) on the Big Bang, wormholes, Feynman diagrams, major components of the LHC and other topics in Newtonian, quantum and theoretical physics. It is less a single plot than a weakly connected chain of incidents, fetching up where it should in the end.
Labored and wrapped in a thin film of artificial drama as it is, this set of mind-expanding if scattershot exposures to some of science’s biggest theories and ideas will once again find a large audience thanks more to its celebrity co-author than its content. (Science fiction/informational hybrid. 10-12)