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The Science of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials    by Mary Gribbin & John Gribbin order for
Science of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials
by Mary Gribbin
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In Philip Pullman's Introduction to The Science of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, he admits that 'Science was one of those things ... that I was fascinated by at home and turned off by at school', calling himself a science fan rather than a scientist. In this book, award-winning science writers Mary and John Gribbin relate Pullman's popular trilogy to a variety of scientific topics.

Each chapter opens with a quote, such as 'She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And all that's best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes'. The Gribbins explain atoms as 'tiny particles that move around all the time, bouncing off one another and sometimes sticking together to make molecules.' Have you ever considered how a rainbow is made? Learn here that it's patterned out of light that gets bent and spread out by raindrops acting like tiny prisms. Or that the Sun seen in daytime has a composition '109 times bigger across than the Earth is'.

I was intrigued by the concept of Solar Wind - unseen yet detectable by spacecraft - and by the fact that the aurora was first witnessed in the 18th century, and identified in the 19th century as electrons by Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland. The subconscious mind is also addressed, with comparisons of psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and the origin of the phrase Freudian slip. Other wonders of science covered include weather forecasting, applications of quantum physics, magnetism, and entanglement.

This is a fascinating, reader-friendly book, written for the layperson (like me) who does not have a mind oriented to science-speak. It will draw in the reading audience of Pullman's magical trilogy, and may also spur new readers to try His Dark Materials. I recommend the book as an excellent source for SF readers, science students of all ages, teachers, librarians, and discussion groups.

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