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The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence M. Krauss

The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence M. Krauss

Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence M. Krauss

Because I have watched a good deal of conversations and discussions with Krauss on the Intertubes, I knew beforehand that he wasn’t so much interested in talking about the physics of Star Trek but in Star Trek as a, well, vehicle to get some physics across to mainstream audiences. (Whereby, yes, nerds or geeks do indeed count as mainstream nowadays :-)). And, quite naturally, Lawrence M. Krauss isn’t too far away from being a nerd or geek himself, like practically every famous Internet-savvy scientist I’ve ever heard of. (Physicists know their Star Trek, biologists their Cthulhu myths, astronomers their Dr. Who.) But still, I found his digressions into general physics at times overlong—I’ve read Atom and quite a lot of books on physics, and much of this was simply too familiar.

However, it was entertaining, and often funny. But the real fun starts if you are actually able to recall the teeming multitudes of episodes from Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and, of course, the movies, all of which he quotes from enthusiastically and to great effect. It’s amazing, actually, how often the Star Trek people got their physics right, or at least stayed within the realm of the improbable without crossing over into the outright impossible. With the transporter system as the one major exception, though; and it is especially entertaining to follow Krauss when he scrupulously dissects all the various possibilities how the transporter might be made to work if it had to obey the laws of physics. The Star Trek people, mind, know that very well; as Krauss relates, when the franchise’s “chief engineer” Michael Okuda was asked in an interview how the transporter’s “Heisenberg compensators” work, he merely replied, “Very well, thank you!”

There’s one major blunder in this book, it should be added, and that isn’t Krauss’s but—of all people—Steven Weinberg’s! Luckily, it’s got nothing to do with physics (and I’m not completely serious here either, of course). When asked by Krauss for (physics) bloopers from the Star Trek franchise, Weinberg replied that the main mistake made on Star Trek “is to split an infinitive every damn time: To boldly go.” With which Weinberg is, of course, in utter disagreement with everybody from the Chicago Manual of Style to the Oxford English Dictionary. Seemingly marooned in English Grammar II: The Wrath of Strunk & White, there might be hope for Weinberg in English Grammar III: The Search for Geoffrey Pullum ;-)

Krauss, Lawrence M. The Physics of Star Trek. London: Flamingo, 1997.
This review was originally published at LibraryThing.

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