Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Review of Death from the Skies

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. I particularly like stories where the science is as correct as possible. Don’t get me wrong, Star Wars was fun but it’s hardly scientifically plausible. The best you could call it would be science fantasy. My favorite science fiction author is Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke’s stories are rooted in hard science. In his stories you understood the rules. He didn’t defy the laws of physics to tell his story. He worked with them. Rather than being a limitation his strict philosophy made the stories easier to understand and added much more depth than if he had just invented magical ideas like warp drive or light sabers to tell his story. I’ve heard some friends criticize Clarke saying that the science got in the way of the story. I couldn’t disagree more strongly. In Clarke’s stories the story was just a way to express his love of science. With Clarke the science was the ultimate goal.
I’ve just finished reading another book that reminded me a lot of Clarke because of the strict adherence to real science. Death from the Skies by Phil Plait Ph.D is not even disguised as a fiction book. Phil is a real astronomer and the proprietor of one of my favorite blogs, badastronomy. The book is a real science book. Phil goes chapter by chapter to describe the myriad of ways that the universe is out to destroy us and he does not miss a single detail.
The thing that made me think of Clarke as I read it was the interesting vehicle he used to introduce each new concept. At the beginning of each chapter Phil adds a three or four page fictional story of the world as we know it coming to an end. Each story is different from the next and unrelated to the previous. In one life on Earth is destroyed by a solar flare. In another it’s aliens. In another it’s a gamma-ray burster. It was really a fun way to grab your interest and keep you reading through the rest of the details.
Phil is a great writer. His funny personality and childlike love of astronomy comes across on every page. Nowhere does the book become tedious.
In spite of the doom and gloom title this is a very upbeat and positive book. Yes all of the dangerous events described in the book are theoretically possible, however most are extremely improbably. And the most probable scenarios may even be preventable and he goes into great detail how we could do it. You won't finish this book and be afraid to go outside. On the contrary, I felt even more of a desire to go outside, stare at the stars and ponder the possibilities.
I really enjoyed this book. If you’re considering picking up a science fiction book please consider Death from the Skies. No question the science will be better and you’ll be educated and entertained as well.

Please also check of Phil's blog.


  1. As Christopher Eccleston's Dr. Who would proclaim, "FANtastic!" I will add that one to my Shelfari!

  2. That sounds like a terrific book! Good review.