Tag Archives: H G Wells

The Story of Physics

‘There are even university level equations’ said the Resident IT Consultant. I’m ashamed to say that I wouldn’t recognise one of those if it came up and bit me, so will take his word for this. It could also be an indication he was moderately impressed by The Story of Physics, written by Anne Rooney.

As I was saying only yesterday, we have been living in the land of physics this last week. It’s exams time, and all that. (Not suggesting this book would stretch quite that far, but…) Anyway, TSoP is full of all those terms I was so unfamiliar with only a short time ago.

Like mechanics, which is not necessarily something that happens to your car. It even becomes maths at times. Thermodynamics. Relativity. All excellent stuff. And for the innocent bystander, this book can take them a lot closer to the real deal. According to Anne TSoP is primarily meant for adults, ‘for filling in those embarrassing gaps in knowledge and stumbling across fascinating nuggets.’ Fun reading, in other words. But she reckons teenagers will like the book, and that it can fill gaps left by GCSEs and even A-levels.

So, what I should really do, is keep it somewhere close, so that every now and then I can reach out and read a suitably sized chunk, slowly learning all sorts of things. Because while reading it all in one go like a novel is possible, it’s not to be recommended if you actually want to take facts in.

It started with the old Greeks. Maybe even earlier. I’m always amazed by what they knew so long ago. In fact, mechanics is what keeps buildings from falling to pieces. The stones keep each other in place. (So not mortar, then?)

TSoP has lots of pictures and interesting bits about all these learned men and women. There was the woman who gambled, using maths to help her win, and using her wins to fund her science. Sad stuff like being frozen to death by a Swedish Queen, or having French revolutionaries chop off your head. Marrying some cleverclogs, who can’t even go on honeymoon without doing science.

So many discoveries took a lot of hard work. Some came about by accident when they weren’t even looking.

The thing is, I recognise many of these people. So I must have come across them before. Then there are all those who have given their names to things we all know about; like Hertz and Ohm. A tremendous number of Nobel prize winners. And 4xGreat Uncle Faraday. (Not mine, I hasten to add.) He is all electric.

I’m doing my best to believe that Eddington was not actually David Tennant, but it’s hard. There is a picture of yesterday’s birthday child, Stephen Hawking, floating in zero gravity. I had no idea the atom bomb was first thought up by H G Wells in a novel. And did you know Terry Pratchett didn’t make up those elephants on top of the turtle?

You know how you often feel that if only someone would write a book that explains a certain something intelligently and concisely, then you’d buy it? Well, this is it, if your certain something happens to be physics. I will definitely try to become more knowledgeable with its help, although it would have been easier twenty years ago when my grey cells were more agile.

Who’d have thought I could become all enthusiastic about a book on physics?

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Julie Bertagna, flying pigs and the future

The Midland Hotel

There is a first time for everything. I have never been womanhandled by an author before. And anyone half my size is ill advised to try it. But Julie Bertagna had a brave go on Saturday morning, and I slunk back to my favourite seat at the back. Seems I’m too much of a distraction at the front (naturally), which is why I like it at the back, and I had only been obeying orders to come nearer the front. Truly. Will never do so ever again.

Afterwards Julie said she realised I would write something like this. Too late! ; ) She blamed it on me being like family (i.e. an embarrassment). I was even warned about taking pictures…

The Midland Hotel

Julie had left the perpetual rain cloud hovering over Glasgow for sunny Manchester to give a talk on Friday evening to a large group of teachers, while missing the joys of accidentally bumping into Professor Brian Cox. (Sean Connery was quite enough for you, Julie!)

On Saturday morning the bookwitch crawled out of bed early, for eleven o’clock at the Midland Hotel. Very nice venue. I could tell that Julie’s teenage girl fans were impressed with their surroundings. Nice room, and tea and juice and biscuits. Unlike me they had dressed up a bit, too.

Julie based her talk on the Exodus trilogy, and started by going through science fiction in the olden days, from Frankenstein’s monster via H G Wells to 1984 and The Matrix. In Exodus it’s the Earth itself which is the monster of the story, when water levels rise, forcing a change in how people live. A few years ago when many places, including Glasgow, flooded, Julie found sales of her book rocketing, proving that people do want to read about dying worlds.

In her youth Julie expected the future to be robots, holidaying on the moon and other magic. Predictions usually go wrong. We do have magic these days, but not in a form you could have imagined. It’s our iPods and text messages and similar. Like my camera, when I can operate it and am allowed to…

She likes David Tennant best of the Doctors, talked about flying cows and other creatures in hurricane Katrina, the Large Hadron Collider, and how our Universe probably is like just one bubble in a bath full of bubbles. And Lord Byron was a male Lady Gaga.

Manchester Literature Festival 2011

Julie took the opportunity to help Manchester Literature Festival launch a short story competition for teenagers, featuring Manchester in the future. She came up with so many ideas, that even I could half see myself entering, were it not for those extra few years that would disqualify me. The girls in the room had lots of great plot ideas, that they were willing to share. We were reminded that Mary Shelley was a teenager when she came up with her science fiction, so there is every likelihood of this competition going well.

Julie Bertagna at the Manchester Literature Festival

They also had an unusually good selection of questions. One good way of starting a story is to write something that you then ditch, in favour of jumping straight to what matters. Julie might write a fourth book in the trilogy, but only if ideas that keep her awake at night pop up. She also likes endings that ‘infuriate you.’ I think that might mean endings that don’t spell out every little detail, leaving something to the imagination.

Poster for the Manchester Children's Books Festival

This was an especially good event. We all want Julie to come back soon; Manchester Literature Festival, Manchester Children’s Book Festival, the girls, and even me. (I’ll be the one at the back.)

(And you know why there are more pictures of posters and hotel interiors than of the star performer, don’t you? Good thing Photowitch was unavailable.)