This is my third contribution to the Hot Science series from Icon Books, after Destination Mars and Cosmic Impact. The publishers decided on the book’s title (and even advertised it online) before I was assigned to the project, which was a new experience for me. And it was more than a little daunting that the title contains “biology” – a subject I know next to nothing about. When I took the book on, I planned to focus mainly on the “astro” part – my comfort zone – but in writing it I got more enthusiastic about the biology side, which ended up filling a fair chunk of the book after all.
Astrobiology: The Search for Life Elsewhere in the Universe is available from all the usual places – for example Amazon.com or Amazon UK – both as a paperback and an ebook. Here is the back-cover blurb:
Extraterrestrial life is a common theme in science fiction, but is it a serious prospect in the real world? Astrobiology is the emerging field of science that seeks to answer this question.
The possibility of life elsewhere in the cosmos is one of the most profound subjects that human beings can ponder. Astrophysicist Andrew May gives an expert overview of our current state of knowledge, looking at how life started on Earth, the tell-tale ‘signatures’ it produces, and how such signatures might be detected elsewhere in the Solar System or on the many exoplanets now being discovered by the Kepler and TESS missions.
Along the way the book addresses key questions such as the riddle of Fermi’s paradox (‘Where is everybody?’) and the crucial role of DNA and water – they’re essential to ‘life as we know it’, but is the same true of alien life? And the really big question: when we eventually find extraterrestrials, will they be friendly or hostile?
This is another book, like The Science behind Jules Verne’s Moon Novels last year, that I wrote purely because I wanted to. There are plenty of books and websites on the subject of “Buddhism and Science”, but they say so many different things that I just ended up confused. When I finally succeeded in disentangling it to my own satisfaction, I decided to write it down before I forgot – and hopefully other readers will find the result useful too.
The book is available as a paperback from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and all the other Amazons around the world, and in due course there’ll be a Kindle edition too. Here is the back-cover blurb:
Is Buddhism Scientific? It sounds like an archetypal “question to which the answer is no”. Buddhism is a spiritual tradition aimed at improving the human condition, while science seeks to analyse and explain the physical world. How can the two have anything in common? A number of claims have been made – that Buddhism anticipates quantum theory, for example – that just don’t stand up to close scrutiny. Yet there are striking parallels between the way science and Buddhism approach their very different subject matter – and in that sense, Buddhism really could be called “scientific”. This book takes a careful look at both sides of the argument.
My next book, due to be published in September, is on the subject of Astrobiology. It’s my third contribution to the Hot Science series from Icon Books, after Destination Mars (July 2017) and Cosmic Impact (Feb 2019).
For most of my previous books, while I’ve been writing them I’ve done a blog post showing some of the research material I’ve been using. I forgot to do that for this one, so I’ll do it now the book is on its way to the printers.
Actually only 8 of the 9 books pictured above actually qualify as “research”. The one in the middle of the top row – Life on Other Worlds by Sir Harold Spencer Jones – is something I only acquired a couple of days ago –for 50 pence from a flea market. It was originally written in 1940, which must make it one of the earliest books ever written on the subject. My copy is a second edition from 1952 – but that’s still prehistory as far as astrobiology is concerned.
Interestingly, most of the books pictured are ones that I’ve reviewed. The four books on the bottom row, and the one at the right-hand end of the top row, are review copies that Fortean Times sent me. My favourite of them, and the most unusual, is The Great Silence – which I also reviewed on Brian Clegg’s Popular Science blog. The two books with “Aliens” in the title are remaindered copies I got from The Works – and found interesting enough to review on Brian’s site. So the only thing I actually bought as research for my own book is What Does a Martian Look Like? – a rather scruffy copy I found on eBay.
Out now – my third contribution to Springer’s “Science and Fiction” series, after Pseudoscience and Science Fiction (2017) and Rockets and Ray Guns (2018). Those two were based around pet subjects of mine – the two-way interaction between SF and pseudoscience in the first case, and genuine Cold War science in the second. In contrast, this new book came out of a suggestion by the series editor, who drew my attention to a large number of spoofs – often vey funny – produced by professional scientists and presented in the form of serious academic papers.
These papers tend to fall into two categories – spoofs written purely for entertainment, such as April Fool jokes, and hoaxes designed to make a serious point – of which Alan Sokal’s nonsensical paper on quantum gravity, which was accepted by the editors of a professional journal simply because it pandered to their preconceptions, is the best-known example. I’ve combined these with more familiar examples of science-fictional “fake physics”, particularly when perpetrated by writers who were also professional scientists – such as Isaac Asimov, whose “Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline” (1948) bridges both genres: t’s a spoof science paper as well as an SF story.
The result is Fake Physics: Spoofs, Hoaxes and Fictitious Science – on sale now from all the usual places, including Amazon.com and Amazon UK. Here are some words from the back cover:
People are used to seeing “fake physics” in science fiction – concepts like faster-than-light travel, antigravity and time travel to name a few. The fiction label ought to be a giveaway, but some SF writers – especially those with a background in professional science – are so adept at “technobabble” that it can be difficult to work out what is fake and what is real. The boundaries between fact and fiction can also be blurred by physicists themselves … examples range from hoaxes aimed at exposing poor editorial standards in academic publications, through “thought experiments” that sound like the plot of a sci-fi movie to April Fools’ jokes. This entertaining book is a joyous romp exploring the whole spectrum of fake physics – from science to fiction and back again.
As you can see from the above picture, the current issue of the BBC’s Sky at Night magazine includes a review of my book Cosmic Impact. It’s a really nice review, too, by Katrin Raynor-Evans – who says, among other positive things: “The text is superb … It is informative and clear, and May manages to encapsulate everything you need to know about the potential risk to our planet and species.” She gives it four stars out of five.
Cosmic Impact also gets four stars from Brian Clegg, at his Popular Science book review site. Again the review has lots of positive comments, including the following:
This short book is ideal to get a good overview of the subject without having to delve into too much technical detail – and May makes it approachable by giving the subject context from the many science fiction and popular culture scenarios … where something hits the Earth from outer space.
Finally, although I haven’t seen it myself, I’m told I got a very brief but favourable mention in New Scientist, in the issue dated 2 February 2019. It’s in the “Don’t Miss” column, under the subheading “Read”. After recommending the Penguin Book of Outer Space Exploration to “armchair adventurers” they go on to say:
But if hiding under the sofa is more your style, try Cosmic Impact: Understanding the Threat to Earth from Asteroids and Comets by Andrew May.
If you want to do just that, you can find it in any good bookstore or via the following Amazon links:
Following in the footsteps of Destination Mars, my second contribution to the Hot Science series has just been published by Icon Books. It’s called Cosmic Impact: Understanding the Threat to Earth from Asteroids and Comets, and here is what the publishers say about it:
As end-of-the-world scenarios go, an apocalyptic collision with an asteroid or comet is the new kid on the block, gaining respectability only in the last decade of the 20th century with the realisation that the dinosaurs had been wiped out by just such an impact.
Now the science community is making up for lost time, with worldwide efforts to track the thousands of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects, and plans for high-tech hardware that could deflect an incoming object from a collision course – a procedure depicted, with little regard for scientific accuracy, in several Hollywood movies.
Astrophysicist and science writer Andrew May disentangles fact from fiction in this fast-moving and entertaining account, covering the nature and history of comets and asteroids, the reason why some orbits are more hazardous than others, the devastating local and global effects that an impact event would produce, and – more optimistically – the way future space missions could avert a catastrophe.
Cosmic Impact is available either as a paperback or an ebook from all the usual places. If you’re an Amazon customer, here are some quick links for you:
As I’ve done in the past, I thought I’d share a photograph of some of the books I’ve been using as “research material” – one of the most enjoyable things about writing for this series! Unlike the previous two books, the unifying theme of this one has more to do with style than subject-matter, so it may not be obvious from the photo. So you’ll have to wait until Springer formally announce the new book – hopefully some time in the first half of next year.
My second contribution to Springer’s Science and Fiction series is out now – Rockets and Ray Guns: The Sci-Fi Science of the Cold War. It’s in a similar style to Pseudoscience and Science Fiction, and even includes some pseudoscience of its own (e.g. UFOs, ESP and mind control) as well as the more obvious topics such as nuclear weapons, guided missiles and space warfare.
The Cold War saw scientists in East and West racing to create amazing new technologies, the like of which the world had never seen. Yet not everyone was taken by surprise. From super-powerful atomic weapons to rockets and space travel, readers of science fiction had seen it all before.
Sometimes reality lived up to the SF vision, at other times it didn’t. The hydrogen bomb was as terrifyingly destructive as anything in fiction, while real-world lasers didn’t come close to the promise of the classic SF ray gun. Nevertheless, when the scientific Cold War culminated in the Strategic Defence Initiative of the 1980s, it was so science-fictional in its aspirations that the media dubbed it “Star Wars”.
This entertaining account, offering a plethora of little known facts and insights from previously classified military projects, shows how the real-world science of the Cold War followed in the footsteps of SF – and how the two together changed our perception of both science and scientists, and paved the way to the world we live in today.
The book has already received a couple of nice reviews:
By Tom Reale (“a work that will delight science, history, and SF buffs alike”) on the AIPT website
By Brian Clegg (“a solid contribution to the history of science fiction and its relation to the real world”) on his Popular Science blog
Needless to say, Rockets and Ray Guns is available from all good booksellers, including Amazon.com and Amazon UK.
These days I always seem to be working on a lot of things at once, so “next book” has multiple meanings. There’s the next one to be published, which I finished writing several months ago and is now making its way through the publisher’s production process. There’s the one I’ve been asked to write and given a title for, but I’ve barely started to think about it yet. And then there’s the one I’m actually writing at the moment. That’s the one I’m talking about here. There’s a clue to its subject matter in the research material pictured above!
When I wrote The Telescopic Tourist’s Guide to the Moon last year, I wanted to refer, amongst other things, to descriptions of real lunar features in works of science fiction. Surprisingly, I found that many of the most famous Moon stories don’t actually refer to specific locations. Even more surprisingly, one of the few novels that does contain realistic descriptions of lunar geography is one of the earliest – Jules Verne’s Around the Moon, dating from 1870.
The surprise comes because Around the Moon – and its predecessor, From the Earth to the Moon (1865) – are probably best known for the completely unrealistic mode of travel, i.e. by means of a projectile launched from a giant cannon. But when I reread the novels, I was struck by just how scientifically knowledgeable they were – by the standards of their time, at any rate. As well as the physical descriptions of the Moon, Verne gets other subtleties right, too – such as the way things move once they get outside the Earth’s atmosphere (something Hollywood barely understands to this day).
So I thought I’d write another little book describing all the science Verne got right – and of course the science he got wrong, too. Here’s the blurb:
The idea of using a large gun to send humans into space is as impossible today as it was a century and a half ago, when Jules Verne wrote From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon. Yet he went to great lengths to persuade readers it wasn’t impossible – not through arm-waving and made-up technobabble, but using real physics and astronomy. No one had done anything like that in fiction before – and even today it’s unusual to see so much “real science” discussed in a work of science fiction. But just how much did Verne get right, and what did he get wrong? This book takes a closer look at the science content of his two great Moon novels – from Newton’s laws of motion and the conservation of energy to CO2 scrubbing, retro-rockets and the lifeless grey landscape of the Moon.
The Science behind Jules Verne’s Moon Novels is available as a paperback or Kindle ebook from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and all other Amazon sites.