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The Science of Sci-Fi: From Warp Speed to Interstellar Travel

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Science fiction allows listeners to go places they 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 listeners an amazing insight into what people could be capable of and what people dream of doing. In the 10 lectures Science fiction allows listeners to go places they 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 listeners an amazing insight into what people could be capable of and what people 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 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 people pushing against while seeking to fly among the stars? Listening Length: 3 hours and 59 minutes


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Science fiction allows listeners to go places they 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 listeners an amazing insight into what people could be capable of and what people dream of doing. In the 10 lectures Science fiction allows listeners to go places they 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 listeners an amazing insight into what people could be capable of and what people 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 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 people pushing against while seeking to fly among the stars? Listening Length: 3 hours and 59 minutes

30 review for The Science of Sci-Fi: From Warp Speed to Interstellar Travel

  1. 5 out of 5

    seak

    I have to admit, I've always been a little curious as to what sci-fi gets right. This was a lot of fun to listen to and confirm some suspicions while learning some brand new things. Like the fact that the universe is always expanding and accelerating and how long it would take, at a certain acceleration to reach lightspeed. Thus ... is the universe expanding at faster than light speed (FTL) at this point? The didn't address this specific point, but I'm still curious. And that's what I really enjoy I have to admit, I've always been a little curious as to what sci-fi gets right. This was a lot of fun to listen to and confirm some suspicions while learning some brand new things. Like the fact that the universe is always expanding and accelerating and how long it would take, at a certain acceleration to reach lightspeed. Thus ... is the universe expanding at faster than light speed (FTL) at this point? The didn't address this specific point, but I'm still curious. And that's what I really enjoyed about this, I'm still curious. It was probably good that I just listened to The Order of Time too. She mentions quite a few science fiction books, but mostly focuses on television and movies, especially Star Trek (not a whole lot of science in Star Wars, though she does address it in the FTL section). I was impressed she referenced one of my all-time favorite shows, Community, for it's multiverse episode (which is seriously the best, please watch it). Interestingly enough, she (and others) have actually tried to calculate what warp speed would look like and it seems to be possible, just the energy required would require pretty much all of it. Definitely highly recommended. 4 out of 5 Stars

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    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 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    At times, beyond my level of understanding, but the narrator is so enthusiastic, not to mention a fellow Sci-fi geek, that I felt like I'd met a new friend. Loved all the references to my favorite shows. More than once I though, "oh, so THAT is what an inertial dampener is!" My new, favorite science term: "Spaghetttified" No joke, haha! 3.75 stars

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeanny

    Audible version. The narrator was lovely & knowledgeable. Don’t let the science intimidate you, the concepts discussed aren’t foreign nor is every minutia on the topic reviewed. She explains just enough for you to appreciate how the real life science was applied into the sci-fi invention or used as a basis for an amazing concept in a sci-fi series/game/movie etc. She explains the science well but I did need a quick refresher (using google) on some of the science discussed. Overall it made for a h Audible version. The narrator was lovely & knowledgeable. Don’t let the science intimidate you, the concepts discussed aren’t foreign nor is every minutia on the topic reviewed. She explains just enough for you to appreciate how the real life science was applied into the sci-fi invention or used as a basis for an amazing concept in a sci-fi series/game/movie etc. She explains the science well but I did need a quick refresher (using google) on some of the science discussed. Overall it made for a highly enjoyable book & I would recommend it. 5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  5. 5 out of 5

    G33z3r

    Not a lot of meat on the bone, at least for most SF fans who take at least some interest in science. Most of the Sci-Fi the author discusses are movies, TV & video games, though a couple of references are dropped to written works of Heinlein (time travel), Campbell (hyperdrive), James SA Corey (artificial gravity), and Le Guin (the ansible). Not a lot of meat on the bone, at least for most SF fans who take at least some interest in science. Most of the Sci-Fi the author discusses are movies, TV & video games, though a couple of references are dropped to written works of Heinlein (time travel), Campbell (hyperdrive), James SA Corey (artificial gravity), and Le Guin (the ansible).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Cori

    Warp speed!! Okay, admittedly, there were times I hit the "go-back-go-back" button because I had to listen to the concept a couple times to get it. But come on, man. It's physics and quantum theory and a whole lot of multiple syllable words I usually mentally faint like a goat over when I hear. But it was so much FUN! I might listen to this again in the future because a) I won't remember a lot of this for very long and b) I imagine I would catch even more through round two. The author breaks down Warp speed!! Okay, admittedly, there were times I hit the "go-back-go-back" button because I had to listen to the concept a couple times to get it. But come on, man. It's physics and quantum theory and a whole lot of multiple syllable words I usually mentally faint like a goat over when I hear. But it was so much FUN! I might listen to this again in the future because a) I won't remember a lot of this for very long and b) I imagine I would catch even more through round two. The author breaks down the real science, the theoretical science, and the downright that's-not-science by looking at science fiction universes. She is a sci-fi nerd, which is awesome! My concern was that she would ruthlessly critique all my favorite stories. But she loves them as much as anyone and actually pointed out many things that could potentially be reality...maybe. A great listen for authors trying to grasp world-building for sci-fi realms as well. I'd rate this a PG.

  7. 4 out of 5

    James

    Great overview of the physics at play in lots of modern sci fi, mostly movies and TV. My only complaint is around the speaker’s overuse of the the rhetorical construct where he or she says something is, well, something. I don’t know what it’s called but it is, well, annoying.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Wyatt

    This book is great for any fan of science or science fiction and you’re really going to love it if you like both! The author has incredible enthusiasm when discussing the various scientific concepts and because of that there is never a boring or dull moment during each lecture. Most of the scientific material I already knew but having it annexed to events that occur in my favorite science fiction series and films was awesome! It makes science fun and interesting like it should be and everything This book is great for any fan of science or science fiction and you’re really going to love it if you like both! The author has incredible enthusiasm when discussing the various scientific concepts and because of that there is never a boring or dull moment during each lecture. Most of the scientific material I already knew but having it annexed to events that occur in my favorite science fiction series and films was awesome! It makes science fun and interesting like it should be and everything is explained very simplistically and clearly so anyone at any level can understand. Some fun facts I learned: Mimas is a moon that orbits Saturn and looks exactly like the Death Star from Star Wars! Kepler-16b is a planet that orbits a binary star much like Tatooine from Star Wars! Carl Sagan’s Planetary Society created the Lightsail which uses solar energy to sail across space much like a sail boat. This idea was created from an episode of Star Trek. Check out the book to learn a lot more!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    The science is technical, like Newton's law of motion, gravity, wormholes, black holes, and Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Then the author points out what was right or wrong in movies/TV series. For example in "The Martian", a wind storm on Mars with its fine dust particles and only a third of Earth's gravity could not have caused the damage as seen in the movie. Obviously, it was needed for the suspense in the movie, but it's interesting to know when the science is or is not accurate. The science is technical, like Newton's law of motion, gravity, wormholes, black holes, and Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Then the author points out what was right or wrong in movies/TV series. For example in "The Martian", a wind storm on Mars with its fine dust particles and only a third of Earth's gravity could not have caused the damage as seen in the movie. Obviously, it was needed for the suspense in the movie, but it's interesting to know when the science is or is not accurate. The book could have used more sci-fi references.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Interesting and informative, great examples that make it easy to follow

  11. 4 out of 5

    Terrill

    This was an audio only book because it is basically a collection of lectures given by the author. She takes specific examples from popular Sci-Fi and explains in layman's terms how they could possibly work in the physical world. Good stuff.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I have gotten to hear Dr. Erin speak at Starbase Indy the last two years. I enjoyed her lectures and decided to spend an Audible credit and check out her Great Courses contribution. Since I have heard her in person I had heard a few pieces of these lectures, but the lectures were laid out in a logical fashion. I enjoyed her giving me a crash course in physics, not all of which I knew (I never took physics in high school or college), and then we began to play with science and fiction. Her enthusi I have gotten to hear Dr. Erin speak at Starbase Indy the last two years. I enjoyed her lectures and decided to spend an Audible credit and check out her Great Courses contribution. Since I have heard her in person I had heard a few pieces of these lectures, but the lectures were laid out in a logical fashion. I enjoyed her giving me a crash course in physics, not all of which I knew (I never took physics in high school or college), and then we began to play with science and fiction. Her enthusiasm for both science and sci fi was evident from start to finish. Recommended to any fan of science fiction who wants to review their real science, and think about the space between what is possible now and what we hope is possible in the future (or wish was possible but know it can't happen with our current understanding of the universe.)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alan Teder

    Reasonably User Friendly Explanations of Out of This World Concepts Review of the Audible Original audiobook (November 2019) [Rounded Down from 3.5] I enjoyed this 4 hour series of ten lectures which briefly explained concepts such as Einstein's Theory of Relativity through to the impossibility of Star Trek's transporter technology due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I did find my mind wandering at times, probably due to the lack of visuals although Erin Macdonald is very personable and ta Reasonably User Friendly Explanations of Out of This World Concepts Review of the Audible Original audiobook (November 2019) [Rounded Down from 3.5] I enjoyed this 4 hour series of ten lectures which briefly explained concepts such as Einstein's Theory of Relativity through to the impossibility of Star Trek's transporter technology due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I did find my mind wandering at times, probably due to the lack of visuals although Erin Macdonald is very personable and takes pains to explain complex issues as simply and clearly as possible. I think her video series Dr. Erin Explains the Universe may be easier to follow since it has visual aids. The lectures in The Science of Sci-Fi were as follows: 1. Gravity and Space Time 2. Along Comes Einstein 3. Black Holes and the Speed of Light 4. Artificial Gravity 5. Deep Space Exploration 6. Wormholes, Jump Drives and Hyperspace 7. Warp Drives (Warp Bubbles) and Faster than Light Communication 8. Time Travel 9. Multiverse Theory 10. Science Fiction and the Frontiers of Science The Science of Sci-Fi was originally released November 19, 2019. It was also one of the free Audible Originals for Audible members in March 2020. It is available to everyone for a standard price. Trivia and Link You can read further about Erin Macdonald's lectures and activities at her homepage https://www.erinpmacdonald.com/ and watch her related videos on YouTube here.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ray Campbell

    This is an Audible Original series compiled as an audio-book which was wonderful. Erin Macdonald is an astrophysicist who consults on sci-fi films and shows. In this program she explains many very real, current concepts in physics. She then goes on to give dozens of examples of where science fiction films, TV show and books get thing right, comically wrong and creative as they try to maintain interal consistency and explain phenomena which go beyond our current science. The program starts with so This is an Audible Original series compiled as an audio-book which was wonderful. Erin Macdonald is an astrophysicist who consults on sci-fi films and shows. In this program she explains many very real, current concepts in physics. She then goes on to give dozens of examples of where science fiction films, TV show and books get thing right, comically wrong and creative as they try to maintain interal consistency and explain phenomena which go beyond our current science. The program starts with some hard physics which, while her explanations are solid, are still hard physics lessons. However, things start to move pretty quickly in chapter 2 and so forth as MacDonald explains the real issues with exploring Mars, gravity in space and time. There are lots of funny examples from everything from i Robot to Futurama with generous helpings of Star Wars, Star Trek and other popular shows. In the end, I feel as though I've learned something while enjoying and recalling much of the sci fi I love. Well worth checking out, though I believe you'll have to listen rather than hold a book for this one.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    This is an entertaining and very educational lecture series. The lecturer does a marvelous job of tying the principles of physics to popular science fiction, deftly using the latter to elucidate the former. In presentation, she comes across as the kind of professor you’d want as a thesis or dissertation advisor, or even as your Physics 101 prof. She’s knowledgeable, articulate, passionate, and deeply nerdy. Strongly recommended for those with an interest in the science of science fiction.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Zoltán

    A neat collection of chapters going over the scientific part of sci-fi and looking at how it should be done properly. Includes introduction to a good portion of sci-fi oriented science. Things I liked: - Positive attitude. Not bashing bad sci-fi but promoting good ones. - Actual scientific crash course before talking about any subject. - Example of real, futuristic/exotic scientific ideas and theories. Things I didn't like: N/A

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Enjoyable listen comparing real science to science fiction. In general (though not entirely) this is space-themed, so there are a lot of sci-fi topics that it doesn't cover. However, for a 4-hour Great Courses lecture series, it still managed to fit in a lot of topics.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Barb

    Honestly, I'm pretty sure I didn't get 90 percent of what all was said. Never was a science fan!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I loved the attempt to tie popular sci fi books and movies to teaching actual scientific principles. It was a little more technical than I personally found helpful, but a good effort.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    That was fun! I'll have to listen to this one again.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Babur

    This is some seriously good (and nerdy) stuff

  22. 4 out of 5

    Scott Kinkade

    Pretty good. Depended too much of what happens in movies instead of explaining the possibility of futuristic technology or what it would take to make the technology possible.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    A fun, if sometimes clunky lecture series trying to tie major scientific concepts to popular science fiction films and video games. This series of 10 lectures mostly works in giving a broad overview of hard science as it appears in science fiction (warp drive, wormholes, time travel, etc) but occasionally tries too hard to be "relevant" and some of the pop-culture references or jokey comedy falls flat. Still entertaining and a good basic intro to some very technical concepts.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gard

    Highly entertaining look at the science (or lack thereof) in science fiction.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Stellar! Macdonald makes advanced science concepts understandable and discusses them as used in Scifi entertainment (movies, comics, tv, video games, all of it). This is really good. Glad I listened. It's an April 2020 freebie from Audible. Definitely get it if you haven't yet.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rafael

    If you are sci fi fan and geek and also interested in real science then grab this book, lots of references and recommendations that are not only great but spark the scientists with in you!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Terra

    Super fun and very entertaining especially for science fiction fans!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bella Baghdasaryan

    A great geekish read (listen:)). Loved that it has so many great examples from my favorite movies and shows. Explanations were sometimes quite complicated (for such a physics genius as I'm), so had to listen to some parts for couple of times. Additional credit for this piece being done by women

  29. 5 out of 5

    Trina Dubya

    I'm familiar with some of the physics concepts already, having taken some basic astronomy classes, but seeing how those ideas tie in with the science fiction concepts I've read about and seen was fun and very interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Very interesting listen from The Great Courses. Dr. Macdonald is a joy to listen to as it's clear that she's not just an astrophysicist, but a real lover of geeky sci-fi culture. Her ability to point to science fiction, science fact, and the sometimes minimal line between them is fantastic.

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