Tag Archives: Lucy Hawking

George and the Ship of Time

The sixth and last book about George, and I’d been on tenterhooks ever since Lucy Hawking had him jump aboard a spacecraft heading into outer space at the end of the fifth book. It’s a good cliffhanger, but I was sure George would soon be back on Earth again, among his friends.

I was right. Sort of.

George and Boltzmann, the robot, return to Earth after first having failed to turn the ship around. But it’s not exactly the place they left; it’s hot, dusty and deserted. But Boltzmann assures him they are ‘in Foxbridge’ where George lives. Lived.

Lucy Hawking, George and the Ship of Time

After a slow start, where I kept expecting things to become clear and a bit more normal, this story turns into a fully fledged time travel dystopia. Where the earlier books have featured criticism of aspects of modern life and the way science and the environment are ignored by the government, this is much more serious.

The duo do meet up with humans, and other creatures, odd robots, but they live in the future. George is seen as strange, if not downright dangerous. They’re in Eden, which is paradise. In a way, at least.

There is much that is dysfunctional in this place, ruled over by a tangerine coloured man by the name of Trellis Dump. The second Trellis Dump. I’ll leave you to interpret that as you see fit.

The reader keeps thinking that this can’t really have happened. If this is the future, then George’s family and friends must be dead. But if this Dump era can be reversed, then the people alive now would cease to exist. It’s quite a conundrum, and I won’t tell you how it ends.

I would like to think that those who read this book will have, or adopt, sensible opinions regarding war and destructive weapons, and climate change, and possibly even oddly coloured politicians.

The really shocking aspect about all this is how long the war lasted.

(As always, illustrated by Garry Parsons, and at the back of the book there are scientific papers aimed at its young audience. But I missed one by Stephen, as he used to sign off.)

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Black holes and other fun

The image of Stephen Hawking, who died yesterday, that generally comes to [my] mind when I think of him, is the happy one of him floating weightlessly inside one of those planes where you can simulate being in space. It tells you that this was a man who was up for fun, and not someone always weighted down by his reputation in science or the fact that he’s very famous, or even as ‘someone in a wheelchair.’

In other words, Stephen was a role model to lots of people, in many different ways.

If you only encountered him as the ‘Stephen’ who writes about science in his daughter Lucy Hawking’s books about George, you’d probably think he sounded like an OK guy. Not old, not filled with his own importance. And if you’re ten, which you could well be as a reader of the George books, that might be the only thing you know about him.

But he did get to grow fairly old. All right, 76 isn’t that old, but to outlive a life expectancy of a couple of years by another fifty is pretty good going. And I admired his public – and political – stance on what the government is doing to the NHS. It needs people of some importance to speak out, because the rest of us don’t seem to count. And as a user of the NHS, Stephen had more of a track record than many of us.

It’s also heartening to know that a man considered to be so brilliant now, was seen as more average or mediocre when he was young. That, if anything, is a sign that you can pull yourself together, and that you can turn into someone who inspired many young scientists, my own little one included. Nine years ago in Edinburgh Lucy Hawking shared an early opinion (school report, maybe?) on her father, just after he had received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. ‘This boy will never amount to anything.’

He showed them.

I have no idea how close to the truth the Eddie Redmayne film The Theory of Everything came, but in it you will see some of that playfulness. On Wednesday’s Today programme John Humphrys seemed taken aback at the idea that Stephen Hawking might have danced in his wheelchair.

I don’t see why not. Just because you can’t walk doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Or not want to dance.

Lucy Hawking, 'with' Stephen Hawking

(I borrowed the above photo from Lucy. It’s such a great illustration of how she travelled the world on her father’s behalf, even if he turned into a hologram on occasion.)

George and the Blue Moon

Travelling to Mars has become quite a thing now, what with ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’ people just about signing up for the first trip to our neighbouring planet. So not surprising that Lucy and Stephen Hawking’s George and Annie also get ready to go.

Lucy & Stephen Hawking, George and the Blue Moon

Except, it might have been described as a summer training camp for future trips to Mars, but in the end it seems that plans for the children who take part aren’t quite as they expected. But there would be no mystery and little excitement if we had no strange goings-on at space camp. And you can always have room for more bad guys, whether old enemies or new ones.

So while George and Annie make plans for the summer holidays, Annie’s dad is given the sack, and his computer Cosmos is facing tablet-status. What could be worse?

As usual in these books, Stephen and his colleagues from all over the world chip in with short ‘talks’ on their special subjects, and for the reader who can understand it all, lots of new worlds will be opening up to them. It is really tremendously educational and entertaining all at once.

The two children and their peers learn a lot about becoming astronauts and working together, making split-second decisions, and how to build stuff, and so on. And I know no other authors who could describe from personal experience, the feeling of zero-gravity in a ‘normal’ plane. If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

This is fiction, so maybe George, Annie and their new friends are slightly more capable or clever than children that age (11-12?) would be, but how inspiring they are! And maybe future trips to Mars isn’t all that’s going to happen. Cosmos’s portal is still going strong and you can always teleport, can’t you?

I’d been under the impression that this fifth book was going to be the last, but the ending was such that I had to contact Lucy immediately to ask if there is more.

There is more.

Phew.

The Party

This is not as much fun as the title might suggest.

Lucy Hawking has long had a deep interest in autism, and knows much more about it than I do. She has written a short film script, which has been recorded for the Guardian’s new virtual reality site. It shows what the world – or at least a birthday party – looks like to someone on the autistic spectrum.

Technology is hard, and I don’t know enough about it. If you bought Saturday’s Guardian you’d have found a mention of this new VR site, and if you were very lucky you’d have received a free pair of spectacles with the paper, to use when viewing the video. I imagine it’s similar to the kind of 3D glasses you have for 3D cinema.

No glasses for us, but I registered online to be sent a pair. I gather you could also buy some. The information is (hopefully) to be found here. And there’s apps and stuff. I always get worried when people mention apps…

You can watch the film online – albeit not on Safari – and I did. But I imagine I didn’t get the full experience without the glasses. (It reminded me quite a lot of parties I go to, and I think we can safely say I’m not always the biggest fan of such ‘happy’ gatherings.)

I’m grateful Lucy has gone to the trouble of working out a way to show the neurotypical world what it [can] be like. As with most things, I am sure we experience them differently.

Halving your equations

It was really very interesting. I may not know too much about maths and physics, but that doesn’t mean an event where people who do know about these things and talk about them, can’t be fascinating.

Christophe Galfard and Ulf Danielsson spoke to Karin Bojs about the universe, last thing on Thursday at the book fair. Christophe is famous for having done his PhD with Stephen Hawking, but they were at pains to point out that Ulf had studied with David Gross of Nobel fame, and he is now Professor at the University of Uppsala. Words like theoretical physics and string theory always have entertainment value.

Christophe Galfard, Ulf Danielsson and Karin Bojs

Apparently it was ‘quite easy’ to become a disciple of Stephen Hawking. You just turn up as sober as possible, the day after the May Ball in Cambridge, and you talk to the people there and decide who you like best. It was hard work once he got in, though, but also good because in such illustrious company you get to meet the greatest names in the business. You have to ‘think the unthinkable’ to get ahead.

Karin made Christophe explain the rather famous E = mc2, which seemed to surprise him, and this led to the wisdom of avoiding equations when you write for us normal people, as you halve the number of readers for each equation used. (That strikes me as an equation on its own.)

Ulf also worked hard, and he once carried Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair. It was heavy. During his time working for his PhD he also became a father, while Christophe said he didn’t, or at least not that he knows of. A bit risqué, perhaps.

David Gross insisted Ulf had to learn how to keep his papers in order, and Christophe remembered the time Stephen’s computer voice broke as he was about to talk to his peers, and first year Christophe had to do the talking in his place.

Christophe Galfard

The first book for Christophe was George’s Secret Key to the Universe, which he wrote with Stephen and Lucy Hawking. He said the name helps sales. It’s a story everyone can understand. He is interested in what we don’t know, but also what we don’t know we don’t know. Christophe no longer works with research, but writes full time. He explained why we can’t fly, as well as why we don’t sink through the chairs we sit on. Something to do with quantum physics. And there’s some string theory at the end of his new book, The Universe in Your Hand.

As a professor Ulf has other work to do, but gets his writing in at night on the principle that a little will eventually become a book. He used words like dark matter, dark energy and a Star Wars-y title (Mörkret vid tidens ände), but also has thoughts on geography. His new book, Vårt klot så ömkligt litet, is about Earth and how we are no different from stone age people. And he’s flying back to Uppsala.

The bad news from Christophe is that the Sun will die. And if only the dinosaurs had had a university, they might have learned about theoretical physics and done something about becoming extinct. Not sure if this had any bearing on his trilogy on climate for children. He feels it’s important.

As I said, this was really very interesting.

Afterwards I hung around at the signing, just so I could walk up to Christophe and say hello and tell him we’d met before, and that I wasn’t buying his book. And ‘does he really speak Swedish?’ A little, it seems. Who’d have thought?

Scared off

In my past I have surprised people by not being scared of the head teacher; either my own, or Offspring’s. I have been surprised at the people who were. They were the ‘cool’ ones, and I was never cool. But how could you be scared of the head teacher? (By which I mean, scared because they are the head. If someone is really scary as a person, then that is different.)

I suppose it’s what you are used to. As a teacher’s child, I grew up with creatures such as head teachers.

Just like Lucy Hawking grew up surrounded by scientists. I recently read this very enlightening article in Vogue India, about what it’s like to be the daughter of Stephen Hawking. (I’d say that sometimes it might be nice for her to be asked about herself, and not just because of whose child she happens to be.)

One discovery Lucy made was this;  ‘I didn’t reject science because I was scared of it, because I felt nervous or afraid. I simply wanted to do something different with my life. And with what I now recognise as the lack of a wider perspective that a Cambridge and Oxford education gave me, I didn’t think other people strayed away from science for anything other than personal preference either.’

That’s what I imagined too; that you move towards something that you want, more than away from something you aren’t ‘supposed’ to be doing, like science if you are a girl. She describes how girls tell her they don’t ask questions in science lessons, in case they ‘get it wrong.’ (I was only ever nervous of talking in class in general, because I didn’t want to be noticed.)

And it wasn’t until Lucy’s article that I realised that the recent cases I’ve come across on sexual harassment at university level, where an older academic male has got involved with a female student, was anything other than poor judgement in picking a sexual partner. I hadn’t stopped to think that they might do this because deep down they don’t feel that a female student belongs in the science department.

So it’s very good indeed that Lucy talks about science, and that she writes fiction for children, about science, where the budding scientist is a clever and sassy girl. We need more of this kind of thing. I still despair that the sexes will ever be equal in science, but it’s worth a try.

(When I was 14, my then chemistry teacher was the kind of teacher who shared openly with the class who had done best. I was a little surprised to find I was one of the two – along with another girl – but I was far more surprised to discover how furious the boys were. Not because it wasn’t them as individuals, but because all the males had lost out to girls, in a science subject. I was also surprised that they had the nerve to say so out loud. Whereas the teacher simply suggested they might want to work a bit harder in that case. Whether he had an agenda, or was just tactless in letting results be public, I have no idea.)

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!