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Publisher's Summary

Science fiction allows us to go places we can only dream of seeing - other worlds, distant stars, entirely different galaxies. While not every story is concerned with the hard science behind space travel and other futuristic ventures, fiction can give us amazing insight into what we could be capable of and what we dream of doing. 

In the 10 lectures of The Science of Sci-Fi: From Warp Speed to Interstellar Travel, Professor Erin Macdonald interweaves real science and the achievements of the imagination to reveal the truth that underlies our favorite stories and sheds light on what the future may hold. From faster-than-light travel to journeys through time itself, science fiction makes humanity seem limitless. So, what scientific boundaries are we pushing against as we seek to fly among the stars? 

Beginning with an overview of the physics of time and space as we know them, Professor Macdonald shows how stories extrapolate current knowledge to create visions of the future and how likely - or unlikely - these fictional journeys could be. What would happen if a spaceship flew into a wormhole, as it does in the film Galaxy Quest? Or, if you prefer video games, what would happen if you fired a rocket launcher on the Moon like the soldiers of Mass Effect? Could we ever break the bounds of light speed as they do in Star Wars and move across the universe without spending decades trying to make it to a distant exoplanet? Is the transporter technology of Star Trek really possible? 

As you look closely at artificial gravity, inertial dampeners, tachyons, red matter, time dilation, and other sci-fi mainstays through the theories of some of science’s greatest thinkers, you will find that your favorite science fiction stories become even more astonishing.

©2019 Audible Originals, LLC (P)2019 Audible Originals, LLC.

Our favorite moments from The Science of Sci-Fi

Lecture 1, Chapter 2 Gravity and Space-time
  • Lecture 1, Chapter 2 Gravity and Space-time
Weaving science and science fiction together
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Lecture 4, Chapter 5 Artificial Gravity
  • Lecture 4, Chapter 5 Artificial Gravity
Experimenting on the effects of weightlessness on human bodies
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Lecture 10, Chapter 11 Science Fiction and the Frontiers of Science
  • Lecture 10, Chapter 11 Science Fiction and the Frontiers of Science
Working towards warping space-time
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  • Lecture 1, Chapter 2 Gravity and Space-time
  • Weaving science and science fiction together
  • Lecture 4, Chapter 5 Artificial Gravity
  • Experimenting on the effects of weightlessness on human bodies
  • Lecture 10, Chapter 11 Science Fiction and the Frontiers of Science
  • Working towards warping space-time

About the Professor

Dr. Erin Macdonald is an astrophysicist, science fiction consultant, aerospace engineer, and host of the online series, Dr. Erin Explains the Universe. Her specialty is in general relativity, having previously worked in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration searching for gravitational waves. She has since found her home in science fiction, consulting with writers, teaching STEM through popular culture, and fulfilling her life goal of becoming a warp drive expert.

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What listeners say about The Science of Sci-Fi

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

surfing the surface

Erin Macdonald may be a brilliant physicist, and sci-fi fan, but I found this "series of lectures" to be extremely superficial. That may because I've already read/listened to/watched most of Brian Greene's work, which goes much deeper into the science that Erin barely covers. In addition, she gives multiple example of sci-fi, but she never really goes into detail (oh, and it would help if her references to Battlestar Galactica made it clearer that she is referencing the reboot, not the original).
If you are expecting these lectures to actually TALK about specific shows and how they used science or if you have more than a passing familiarity with theories behind science in science fiction, I cannot recommend it.

69 people found this helpful

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Selling Sci-Fi

This is more for the casual reader who has doubts about the value of science fiction. For longtime fans, this will feel like an extended dust jacket description of the genre.

44 people found this helpful

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Typical Audible Original

If you're a hardcore sci-fi fan, give this one a pass, it's just a bare bones basic primer for people who have only watched Star Wars or Star Trek movies.

39 people found this helpful

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Time, space, physics, and sci-fi

This is an entertaining, informative set of ten lectures on the physics used, whether accurately or creatively, in science fiction. Erin Macdonald is a physicist--and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable science fiction fan. She wants the interested fans to be familiar with the science behind their favorite movies, games, and books, but for the purpose of greater enjoyment and more fun, not for the purpose of telling us, "But that can't work and you shouldn't be enjoying it."

She starts off with an introduction to the science of space, time, and space-time, including the history of how we arrived at our current understanding. We also get an overview of some really cool ideas, like string theory, that aren't as prominent as they were just a few years ago, not because they've been proven wrong, but because, on the contrary, no one has come up with any effective ideas on how to test these theories. If you can't come up with a way to test a hypothesis on whether it's true or false, it might be a cool idea, but it's not science. At least not yet.

In subsequent lectures, she talks about how science fiction uses science to create stories and to make the stories work. Hyperspace, subspace, wormholes, and various ways of generating artificial gravity all get their turns in these lectures. Macdonald relates them directly to popular science fiction franchises, including Star Trek, Mass Effect, Galaxy Quest, and Star Wars. Ursula Le Guin's Ansible, the instantaneous communication device originally developed for her Hainish cycle and then spread to other sf by other writers, gets its share of attention.

The Star Trek transporter stands out as something that really can't work, but which she particularly loves because they quietly acknowledge that: a "Heisenberg compensater" is necessary to make it work properly and safely. I.e., the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which states that you can't know both the location and the velocity of any give particle at the same time, means the transporter, which needs to track many, many particles exactly, in both location and velocity, at the same time, means we'll never have a transporter, but we really, really need it to make this tv show work... (Really. It's only on screen that you need this. Plus, it makes for really pretty special effects, a bonus. In print, it's much easier to work around the time needed to get to and from the surface of a planet, whether by landing your ship, or using shuttles.)

As I said at the beginning, it's interesting and a lot of fun, and Erin Macdonald gives really good lecture. Enjoy!

I bought this audiobook.

24 people found this helpful

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Annoying music overpowered the narrator

I couldn't even make it through 2 minutes of this title. The annoying electronic music overpowered the narrator and gave me a headache.

21 people found this helpful

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Poorly written. Scattered and incongruent.

Sounds like another Millennial that didn't bother paying attention in their English class. Basically just a retelling of wikipedia articles concerning physics.

17 people found this helpful

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Fun, accessible, knowledgeable and entertaining

Great way to understand what is really possible in sci-fi and why. Always great to have the author also be the narrator as you can hear her passion for the subject in her voice.

14 people found this helpful

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Interesting Facts

This had some really interesting facts and as someone who doesn't read much Science Fiction it was quite fascinating to hear how plausible it all is

13 people found this helpful

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Captivating and Informative

I loved every single freaking second of this from beginning to end. The universe is vast and wild and endlessly interesting place and that's one of the reasons I love science fiction. I love any piece of media that explores topics like these. MacDonald paints a grand, complex picture of both the world we live in and worlds and futures we could hypothetically and/or potentially live in in an accessible manner. The way she breaks down concepts and theories and illustrates them with examples from sci-fi and colourful analogies of her own guarantee that I'm going to be re-listening to this ever other week. I learned more about physics in the first lecture than I did in all of high school. MacDonald has a YouTube channel and a podcast too and I'll definitely be checking those out. This was such an incredible listen.

13 people found this helpful

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interesting

This is an Audible freebie. The subject matter is the role of science in the development of science fiction. The author does a nice job with her subject matter.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Christopher Lanham
  • 10-04-21

Deeply patronising and scared of science.

I can't work out who the target audience for this book is. it can't go five minutes without apologizing for hurting your brainy brain by making it thinky think.
Is it for children? It reads like a science teacher that thinks they're keeping everyone from eating worms and sticking crayons up their nose.
Actually it's exactly like the sort of documentaries you get on discovery. It's terrified that you will change that channel and keeps promising you that there will be some bright and colourful adverts along in a minute so don't switch back over to love island just yet. I bet it's written in comic sans...

Might get better later on I don't know I couldn't take more than half an hour. Everytime it threatens to get interesting the author makes some banter remark about how they won't go in to all the boring science. It's supposed to be a science book isn't it? That's what I'm here for. Granted I don't want someone reading out long equations to me as something's don't translate so well to the audiobook format but give me something. I've got science blue balls... and I didn't know that was a thing.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Andre the giant
  • 05-24-20

interesting sci fi themed sciences

Science made interesting for people of a science fiction fan inclination.I liked it, and still like to listen to it every now and again, hoping to increase my very basic science understanding.The narrator/author sounds passionate about her subject , which is obviously good and she does have a good engaging style and tone. This is a cool listen with some cool science fiction references which do bring alive a lot of the actual science explained and detailed in each of this books chapters.Tries hard to give at least some of the science fiction ideas explored some chance to be a reality.
Interesting enjoyable listen, which I enjoy in its bite size chaptes and revisit often.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • mcsmall
  • 11-24-21

Interesting popular science

Interesting and laced with some humour but a bit spoiled by a very fast narration

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer. Mr Howitt
  • 10-26-21

Interesting

The narration was very good by Erin MacDonald as she a Sci-fi buff and a Physics as well, the lecture where entertaining.

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  • H. Harland
  • 09-13-21

Well read, fun and interesting

I’d like to give the performance more than 5 stars because it was particularly well read by comparison to some other audiobooks. Enjoyed this book so much I’ll probably listen to it again.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Phillip Berry
  • 08-17-21

Simply Brilliant

I wish Erin had been my science teacher at school.
Her explanation of physics and use of science fiction is exactly how I think and Erin makes science not only accessible, but fun.

Erin should be an example to all science teachers out there of how to engage your students.