Tag Archives: Stephen Hawking

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.

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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.)

George and the Unbreakable Code

Civilisation as we know it does not necessarily take much to break down. Give people what they ‘want,’ like unlimited cash or free plane tickets, and all hell could break lose. Lucy Hawking is playing around with how the world works in her and dad Stephen’s fourth George book, George and the Unbreakable Code. And it is surprising how scary that is.

So is finding old allies having a ‘funny turn’ and ending up so unreliable that you need to use all your skills on solving problems without them. George and his best friend Annie’s relationship with super computer Cosmos suffers rather. What’s got into Cosmos?

And what about the robot who arrives on Annie’s doorstep looking just like her dad? Friend or foe? That’s apart from this ebot dad-look-alike behaving in embarrassing ways, like parents do.

Lucy and Stephen Hawking, George and the Unbreakable Code

With the world gone mad, and seemingly Cosmos as well, what do you need? Well, parents to depend on, maybe. But Annie’s dad Eric is needed elsewhere in this crisis, which leaves George’s family, and their self-sufficient life style. And the woman from Bletchley Park.

Needless to say, this book is as exciting as the other three, and you can’t wait to see how George and Annie will save the world. There is no question as to whether they will. We know our cool heroes, and Cosmos or no Cosmos, they have the brains and the courage.

This story touches on disability and on understanding how society works, as well as what is most important in life. As always there are essays written by Lucy’s friends in the academic world, including one by her father. They are roughly on my level, so should suit young readers well. And there are the usual ‘pretty pictures’ from space. (Me, I want to be like Annie in her spacesuit. Cool.)

Science fiction as it should be.

Bookwitch bites #104

Waterstones Children's Book Prize Winner Annabel Pitcher

When Jimmy Savile trumps US murderers, you know it’s a strange world. Very pleased for Annabel Pitcher who has gone and won something yet again. Her Ketchup Clouds won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize this week. ‘Unsettling’ story is how the press release described it. Then I read in the paper that Annabel had had a narrow escape, by abandoning plans to have her heroine write letters to Mr Savile. Death row prisoner is nowhere as awful.

El Mundo es Nuestro is about another world. Daughter and I went to see this Spanish film at Cornerhouse on Monday night, enjoying both it and the Q&A with the actors and the director and the producer that followed. The world the film is about is the [imagined] financial crisis in Spain (this was in 2009), and it is very funny. It’s been ignored by Spanish television, presumably because you don’t talk about stuff like this.

Alfonso Sánchez

The actors were relieved to find the Manchester audience laughed at the same things as they did. In fact, they have a facebook page where they were quite interested to see what the ‘English journalist’ thought of the film. (That’s me, btw…) What I think I’m trying to say here, is that we are more alike than we think. And it’s good to have learned languages, especially when visiting actors do their Q&A in Spanish. (Not to mention the DVD the week before that came sans subtitles. But ‘anyone’ can watch Spanish OAPs learn about sex…)

I did a book review over on CultureWitch yesterday. It felt more appropriate doing it there since it was the 1986 autobiography of Roger Whittaker, So far, so good, and it was Roger’s 77th birthday yesterday. I reflected on how much easier buying books from across the other side of the world is today, than back when I needed to find it (a local bookshop said they would, but failed).

On discovering Mr Decorator working down the road from Bookwitch Towers, I summoned him to come and relieve me of more books. The poor man staggered out of the house with another three bags of reading material. Not only am I trying to keep track of his children’s ages, but I’m targetting their cousins, too. Baad witch.

Lucy Hawking and Helen Giles

After a pretty lengthy delay* since she conducted her interview with Lucy Hawking, Daughter has now published their January chat. The additional wonderful news is that Lucy and her Dad are writing another two books about George. That’s the thing about trilogies. Some are longer than others.

And now Daughter’s off to chase more scientists in Edinburgh. The Science Festival begins today.

*Random House needed time to formalise all the Georgian plans before they were released.

Bookwitch bites #88

As I was hinting in yesterday’s review, authors really can’t make their minds up, can they? Eva Ibbotson has very sweet, vegetarian abominable snowmen. Derek Landy’s version are the worst possible. They tried to… (oops, spoiler)

Never mind.

And then there is that J K Rowling who has a new book out that dares not to be about wizards. I like that. It’s not even about vampires. And I gather the only dystopia is our own. As it already is, and all that. I’m supposed to be getting a copy. Hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll let you know. Do you reckon after Harry and Barry, the next hero will be called, erm, Larry?

I could kill that Ian Rankin for spreading rumours J K was writing a crime novel. He should stick to balls in BSL.

Although, sticking to things aren’t always for the best. Stephen and Lucy Hawking have new covers for the George trilogy, and for such a stick-in-the-mud, I do like the new covers better than the old ones.
Lucy and Stephen Hawking, George trilogy
Aren’t they cool? Surely any child would want to read these? I would almost want to be a child again. Almost.

Whenever I receive information as a member of the Jacqueline Wilson fan club (yes, really) I do feel quite young. The message from Dame JW herself in celebration of the newly re-designed website makes me want to worship at her knee.

And there is Emerald Star still to enjoy. It was published this week, but whereas super fan Daughter has read it, I had to stand in queue and will get to it shortly. Time she grew up and let me be the child. After all, I am the shortest.

George and the Big Bang

I thought I was behind with my reading (I was, actually), when I realised I was almost perfect in my timing. I was, too.

Lucy and Stephen Hawking’s trilogy about George came to an end last year, and not a moment too soon, as Daughter said, seeing as the Large Hadron Collider and the discovery of the Higgs Boson happened shortly afterwards. 4th July, to be precise. And the world didn’t explode, which will be a bit of a spoiler in George and the Big Bang.

My impeccable timing has to do with the paperback editions of all three books being published tomorrow. So go out and get them, if you haven’t already. You are living history at the moment (strictly speaking, I suppose we always are, but…) and it’s good to read something light and fun on the subject of this Boson.

I’m not claiming I actually understood everything in those excellent essays on Physics and Maths that are dotted around this book for young readers. I wonder if it might be that the younger you are, the easier they are to understand. Children come with fewer blocking mechanisms, whereas I have worked up some intolerance of complicated thoughts about string theories and wormholes. All very interesting, but somewhat incomprehensible.

The story, on the other hand, is easy to grasp and great fun. The baddie, Reeper, pops up again. He is supposedly reformed. But is he? Someone is being bad. Could it be someone else, or both, or just Reeper?

And what have pigs and cats and hamsters got to do with the LHC? The computer Cosmos has been misbehaving a little. George is shocked to find that Annie’s dad might be in trouble, and why has Annie seemingly got herself a new best friend?

Let’s just say that George finds more use for his spacesuit, and that understanding about Schrödinger’s cat is not a bad thing. (I am almost there.)

Like the previous two books, this one has several sections of colour photographs of space. They are absolutely fascinating, and what makes them better than most is that they are not pictures we see every day. Between these photos, the drawn diagrams of ‘stuff’ and the essays written by Stephen Hawking and some of his fellow Physicists, as well as other encyclopaedic information, this is the perfect book for budding scientists, and even for those who ‘just want to know.’

I will need to read about the Big Bang a few more times, but am hopeful I will eventually get – some of – it.

Below is one of Garry Parsons’ fabulous illustrations for the book.

George and the Big Bang, illustration by Garry Parsons

(It is virtually impossible to find images which don’t somehow turn into something from a certain television show…)