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Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction

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Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

From teleportation and space elevators to alien contact and interstellar travel, science fiction and fantasy writers have come up with some brilliant and innovative ideas. Yet how plausible are these ideas--for instance, could Mr. Weasleys flying car in the Harry Potter books really exist? Which concepts might actually happen, and which ones wouldnt work at all? Wizards, Aliens, and Starships delves into the most extraordinary details in science fiction and fantasy--such as time warps, shape changing, rocket launches, and illumination by floating candle--and shows readers the physics and math behind the phenomena.

With simple mathematical models, and in most cases using no more than high school algebra, Charles Adler ranges across a plethora of remarkable imaginings, from the works of Ursula K. Le Guin to Star Trek and Avatar, to explore what might become reality. Adler explains why fantasy in the Harry Potter and Dresden Files novels cannot adhere strictly to scientific laws, and when magic might make scientific sense in the muggle world. He examines space travel and wonders why it isnt cheaper and more common today. Adler also discusses exoplanets and how the search for alien life has shifted from radio communications to space-based telescopes. He concludes by investigating the future survival of humanity and other intelligent races. Throughout, he cites an abundance of science fiction and fantasy authors, and includes concise descriptions of stories as well as an appendix on Newton's laws of motion.

Wizards, Aliens, and Starships will speak to anyone wanting to know about the correct--and incorrect--science of science fiction and fantasy.

Synopsis:

"To only call Wizards, Aliens, and Starships engaging would be a real understatement--it is a delightful, funny, and immensely interesting romp through science and fiction. From candlepower to teleportation, all the way to the fate of the cosmos in the span of a googol years, this is a cornucopia of teachable material. It is also a reminder of the simple thrill of applying science to the world around us, real or imagined. A new classic."--Caleb Scharf, author of Gravity's Engines and The Copernicus Complex

"This terrific book analyzes the romantic ideas of science fiction using the hard-nosed reality of the laws of physics. It will interest all readers, from Star Trek enthusiasts to astrophysicists."--Paul Nahin, author of The Logician and the Engineer

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships rigorously applies the principles of physics to concepts, plot devices, and other features of science fiction and fantasy books, films, and television series. Readers who follow Adler's carefully developed analyses will learn a great deal about familiar science fiction tropes, physics, and how scientists think about the world. An exceptional book."--A. Bowdoin Van Riper, author of Science in Popular Culture

About the Author

Charles L. Adler is professor of physics at St. Marys College of Maryland.

Table of Contents

1 PLAYING THE GAME 1

1.1 The Purpose of the Book 1

1.2 The Assumptions I Make 3

1.3 Organization 4

1.4 The Mathematics and Physics You Need 5

1.5 Energy and Power 6

I POTTER PHYSICS 11

2 HARRY POTTER AND THE GREAT CONSERVATION LAWS 13

2.1 The Taxonomy of Fantasy 13

2.2 Transfiguration and the Conservation of Mass 14

2.3 Disapparition and the Conservation of Momentum 16

2.4 Reparo and the Second Law of Thermodynamics 21

3 WHY HOGWARTS IS SO DARK 27

3.1 Magic versus Technology 27

3.2 Illumination 28

4 FANTASTIC BEASTS AND HOW TO DISPROVE THEM 38

4.1 Hic sunt Dracones 38

4.2 How to Build a Giant 39

4.3 Kleiber's Law, Part 1: Mermaids 45

4.4 Kleiber's Law, Part 2: Owls, Dragons, Hippogriffs, and Other Flying Beasts 49

II SPACE TRAVEL 57

5 WHY COMPUTERS GET BETTER AND CARS CAN'T (MUCH) 59

5.1 The Future of Transportation 59

5.2 The Reality of Space Travel 61

5.3 The Energetics of Computation 63

5.4 The Energetics of the Regular and the Flying Car 64

5.5 Suborbital Flights 68

6 VACATIONS IN SPACE 71

6.1 The Future in Science Fiction: Cheap, Easy Space Travel? 71

6.2 Orbital Mechanics 74

6.3 Halfway to Anywhere: The Energetics of Spaceflight 74

6.4 Financing Space Travel 82

7 SPACE COLONIES 86

7.1 Habitats in Space 86

7.2 O'Neill Colonies 87

7.3 Matters of Gravity 89

7.4 Artificial "Gravity" on a Space Station 93

7.5 The Lagrange Points 103

7.6 Off-Earth Ecology and Energy Issues 106

7.7 The Sticker Price 112

8 THE SPACE ELEVATOR 115

8.1 Ascending into Orbit 115

8.2 The Physics of Geosynchronous Orbits 116

8.3 What Is a Space Elevator, and Why WouldWeWant One? 118

8.4 Why Buildings Stand Up--or Fall Down 119

8.5 Stresses and Strains: Carbon Nanotubes 122

8.6 Energy, "Climbers," Lasers, and Propulsion 123

8.7 How Likely Is It? 125

8.8 The Unapproximated Elevator 127

9 MANNED INTERPLANETARY TRAVEL 130

9.1 It's Not an Ocean Voyage or a Plane Ride 130

9.2 Kepler's Three Laws 131

9.3 The Hohmann Transfer Orbit 134

9.4 Delta v and All That 136

9.5 Getting Back 137

9.6 Gravitational Slingshots and Chaotic Orbits 138

9.7 Costs 142

10 ADVANCED PROPULSION SYSTEMS 145

10.1 Getting There Quickly 145

10.2 Why Chemical Propulsion Won'tWork 146

10.3 The Most Famous Formula in Physics 147

10.4 Advanced Propulsion Ideas 148

10.5 Old "Bang-Bang": The Orion Drive 153

10.6 Prospects for Interplanetary Travel 155

11 SPECULATIVE PROPULSION SYSTEMS 157

11.1 More Speculative Propulsion Systems 157

11.2 Mass Ratios for Matter-Antimatter Propulsion Systems 168

11.3 Radiation Problems 173

12 INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL AND RELATIVITY 176

12.1 Time Enough for Anything 176

12.2 Was Einstein Right? 178

12.3 Some Subtleties 182

12.4 Constant Acceleration in Relativity 184

13 FASTER-THAN-LIGHT TRAVEL AND TIME TRAVEL 188

13.1 The Realistic Answer 188

13.2 The Unrealistic Answer 188

13.3 Why FTL Means Time Travel 190

13.4 The General Theory 193

13.5 Gravitational Time Dilation and Black Holes 195

13.6 Wormholes and Exotic Matter 198

13.7 The Grandfather Paradox and Other Oddities 205

III WORLDS AND ALIENS 215

14 DESIGNING A HABITABLE PLANET 217

14.1 Adler's Mantra 218

14.2 Type of Star 221

14.3 Planetary Distance from Its Star 226

14.4 The Greenhouse Effect 229

14.5 Orbital Eccentricity 232

14.6 Planetary Size and Atmospheric Retention 233

14.7 The Anna Karenina Principle and Habitable Planets 237

14.8 Imponderables 239

15 THE SCIENTIFIC SEARCH FOR SPOCK 242

15.1 Exoplanets and Exoplants 242

15.2 Doppler Technique 246

15.3 Transits and the Kepler Mission 249

15.4 The Spectral Signatures of Life 250

15.5 Alien Photosynthesis 251

16 THE MATHEMATICS OF TALKING WITH ALIENS 255

16.1 Three Views of Alien Intelligences 255

16.2 Motivation for Alien Contact 259

16.3 Drake-Equation Models and the Mathematics of Alien Contact 267

IV YEAR GOOGOL 273

17 THE SHORT-TERM SURVIVAL OF HUMANITY 275

17.1 This Is the Way the WorldWill End 275

17.2 The Short-Term: Man-Made Catastrophes 275

18 WORLD-BUILDING 292

18.1 Terraforming 292

18.2 Characteristics of Mars 294

18.3 Temperature and the Martian Atmosphere 295

18.4 Atmospheric Oxygen 299

18.5 Economics 301

19 DYSON SPHERES AND RINGWORLDS 303

19.1 Dyson's Sphere 303

19.2 The Dyson Net 305

19.3 Niven's Ringworld 311

19.4 The Ringworld, GPS, and Ehrenfest's Paradox 318

19.5 The Ringworld Is Unstable! 320

19.6 Getting There from Here--and Do We Need To? 324

20 ADVANCED CIVILIZATIONS AND THE KARDASHEV SCALE 326

20.1 The Kardashev Scale 326

20.2 Our Type 0.7 Civilization 327

20.3 Type I Civilizations 329

20.4 Moving Upward 331

20.5 Type II Civilizations 332

20.6 Type III Civilizations 334

21 A GOOGOL YEARS 336

21.1 The Future of the Future 336

21.2 The "Short Term": Up to 500 Million Years or so 336

21.3 The "Medium Term": Up to about 1013 Years 338

21.4 The "Long Term": Up to a Googol Years 341

21.5 Black Hole-Powered Civilizations 344

21.6 Protons Decay--or Do They? 346

21.7 A Googol Years--All the Black Holes Evaporate 346

21.8 Our Last Bow 349

Acknowledgments 351

Appendix: Newton's Three Laws of Motion 353

Bibliography 359

Index 371

Product Details

ISBN:
9780691147154
Author:
Adler, Charles
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Author:
Adler, Charles L.
Subject:
Physics
Subject:
Physics-General
Subject:
Popular science
Subject:
Mathematics
Subject:
Comparative Literature
Publication Date:
20140231
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Language:
English
Illustrations:
23 line illus. 9 tables.
Pages:
392
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Related Subjects

Humanities » Literary Criticism » General
Reference » Science Reference » General
Science and Mathematics » Mathematics » General
Science and Mathematics » Physics » General
Young Adult » General

Wizards, Aliens, and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$21.00 In Stock
Product details 392 pages Princeton University Press - English 9780691147154 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , "To only call Wizards, Aliens, and Starships engaging would be a real understatement--it is a delightful, funny, and immensely interesting romp through science and fiction. From candlepower to teleportation, all the way to the fate of the cosmos in the span of a googol years, this is a cornucopia of teachable material. It is also a reminder of the simple thrill of applying science to the world around us, real or imagined. A new classic."--Caleb Scharf, author of Gravity's Engines and The Copernicus Complex

"This terrific book analyzes the romantic ideas of science fiction using the hard-nosed reality of the laws of physics. It will interest all readers, from Star Trek enthusiasts to astrophysicists."--Paul Nahin, author of The Logician and the Engineer

"Wizards, Aliens, and Starships rigorously applies the principles of physics to concepts, plot devices, and other features of science fiction and fantasy books, films, and television series. Readers who follow Adler's carefully developed analyses will learn a great deal about familiar science fiction tropes, physics, and how scientists think about the world. An exceptional book."--A. Bowdoin Van Riper, author of Science in Popular Culture

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