FictionFan Awards 2013 – Science/Nature/Environment

Please rise…


…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2013 in the Science/Nature/Environment Category.

If you’ve been around the last couple of weeks, you might want to skip this bit and go straight to the awards. But for the benefit of new readers, a quick reminder of the rules…



All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2012 and October 2013 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.



There will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories

History/Biography/Politics – click to see awards

Literary/Contemporary Fiction – click to see awards




Book of the Year 2013


For the winners!

I guarantee to read the authors’ next book even if I have to buy it myself!

For the runners-up!





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So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in



Wow! What a great year in this category! Each of the books below could easily have won, and my choice in the end is based purely on the one that added most to my limited knowledge of science while entertaining me thoroughly. But I’ll be keeping an eagle eye out for all of these authors, who have brought me so much pleasure over the year…



Dreams of Other Worlds by Chris Impey and Holly Henry


dreams of other worldsDescribing the search for the conditions for life on planets within our solar system and beyond, this hugely enjoyable book takes us through eleven space missions over the last 40 years or so, then looks towards the future. From planetary missions like Rover and Voyager to observational missions such as Hubble and WMAP, the authors give us an insight into how the gathering of information from these missions has been used to confirm or alter current scientific theories. The authors also show the impact of these missions on popular culture – and vice versa. For those with a geeky soul – but scientific knowledge is not needed to appreciate this inspiring and well written book.

The gravity of Wild 2 is so weak you would literally be as light as a feather. A small push and you could escape your world and sail into deep space. And think of the glittering minerals – a hoard magnificent enough to power all the dreams ever dreamed.’

Click to see the full review

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Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding by George Monbiot


feralGeorge Monbiot fired my imagination and enthusiasm with his ambitious proposal to turn parts of our countryside over to true wilderness and reintroduce some of the top predators we have hunted locally to extinction. At last it seems that some of our most prominent environmentalists are combining common-sense and optimism to come up with ideas that could radically alter how we see conservation, making it a positive thing. As he says

‘Environmentalism in the twentieth century foresaw a silent spring, in which the further degradation of the biosphere seemed inevitable. Rewilding offers the hope of a raucous summer, in which, in some parts of the world at least, destructive processes are thrown into reverse.’

Click to see the full review

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The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein: Writings on Art, Science, and Peace edited by Walt Martin and Magda Ott


the cosmic view of albert einsteinThe thoughts of one of the world’s greatest scientists, but not specifically on science. This book combines some of Einstein’s writings on pacifism, religion and the social responsibility of scientists with the most stunning pictures of the universe he did so much to explain. In this book we see Einstein’s spiritual and intellectual self, as important to him as the scientific. The illustrations are lavish and superb, and the book is beautifully produced, with carefully selected fonts and gorgeous quality paper.  One to be enjoyed as much for its physical beauty as its content, there is rightly no Kindle version available. A joy to possess.

“Whatever there is of God and goodness in the universe, it must work itself out and express itself through us. We cannot stand aside and let God do it.”

Click to see the full review

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The Kingdom of Rarities by Eric Dinerstein


Kingdom of RaritiesThis book took me on a joyous jaunt round the world in the company of some amazing creatures and a guide whose enthusiasm and love for his work shines through every word. A storyteller of extraordinary skill, Dinerstein could make the smallest, greyest rodent fascinating if he chose. But since he has a world full of rare species to tell us about, instead we are treated to tales of the golden-fronted bowerbird, the scarlet minivet, the red panda, the jaguar, Mrs Gould’s sunbird…

There is a serious purpose to this book: to look at why rare species are rare and to determine what intervention is required to conserve them and their habitats. But it’s all done with a sense of optimism that left me enthused and heartened to know that the future of the world’s rarities is in the best of hands.

Mrs Gould's Sunbird
Mrs Gould’s Sunbird

Click to see the full review

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Gravity's Engines


Gravity’s Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes by Caleb Scharf


‘What I’d like you to take away from Gravity’s Engines is both a sense of the cosmic grandeur we have discovered and a feel for the great scope and ingenuity of human ideas at play.’

Black holes – the most mysterious and perhaps the most terrifying objects in the universe. Scharf takes us on a journey through space and time from the earliest observable point to explain the impact that black holes have on the formation of galaxies, stars and perhaps even of life on earth itself. Along the way he tells us the history of science that has brought us to our current understanding of the cosmos. There is a good deal of science in this book, but on the whole Scharf manages to simplify it to a level where it’s accessible to the layman by clever use of analogy – I’ve never come closer to getting my head round relativity. His boundless enthusiasm for his subject makes this an exhilarating journey and a truly inspiring read.

Click to see the full review

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Next week: Best Crime/Thriller Award

53 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2013 – Science/Nature/Environment

  1. FictionFan – Oh, I really like this category. I think that the more people read, talk about and understand our world and our planet’s pace in the cosmos, if I can put it that way, the better off we are as a species. I have the utmost respect for authors who talk about science in ways that ‘the rest of us’ can understand and use.


    • There are more and more really good books – readable, that is – coming out in these categories, these days. A huge change from the dry, incomprehensible and dismal science and nature books of my youth…


  2. The professor likes Mrs Gould’s Sunbird. You know, I think predators are coming back where the professor lives anyway? I’ve heard coyotes and seen mountain lions! Goodness.

    Black holes are awesomely neatio. Nothing boggles the professor’s mind more! Definitely worth the award.


  3. Of all the changes in writing in my (long!) life as a reader, the production of good, accessible science writing for the non-expert is the most significant. I wish more of this kind of book had been available when I was young – who knows, if someone had been able to explain what science and maths were for, I might have studied them with more enthusiasm. All of these are on my TBR list, except the Monbiot which I read and enjoyed, and which sent me back to reread “The Silent Spring”. Now there’s a book I would like to read a FF review of…….


    • Couldn’t agree more! I was thinking as I did this that this category wouldn’t even have existed for me ten – even five maybe – years ago. And yet now almost every science/nature book I’m reading is worthy of an award. In fact the factual books I’ve read this year have been far better overall than the fiction – I may have to change my name at some point.

      I’ve never read ‘The Silent Spring’ – hmm! Intriguing. I may add it to the TBR…


          • You are quite right, it is still only partially read – I enjoyed it but got seduced by other raries and it is still waiting patiently.

            (I’m feeling now like someone who hasn’t handed her homework in)


            • Quite right! 100 lines please by morning…

              ‘I must stop starting new books before I’ve finished finishing old ones.’

              And as a maths teacher used to say to me – if they’re not handed in first thing I’ll double them! (We got up to a million before he finally accepted it was never going to happen…)


      • “The Silent Spring” was THE seminal ecology book for my generation, and the first that was really accessible to the lay-person. It held up remarkably well to rereading, though it was slightly discouraging to see how little has changed.


        • Can’t comment properly till I read it, obviously, but I always get the impression from references to it that it takes a really depressing, almost apocalyptic, view? I feel from recent books that there’s more hope for the environment now than for a while – and that Britain is lagging seriously behind other countries. Of course, none of what Monbiot was talking about in this one addresses the global warming threat, though…


          • Yes, it was apocalyptic, but that was because she was trying to raise an issue that wasn’t being considered or discussed. The basic premise was that, unless quick action to stop destroying the earth was taken, we would shortly hit an irreversible tipping point – I doubt if she would write the same book now. Our generation gap is showing again – by the time you were sitting up and taking notice, at least the cranks were talking about the environment, in my youth, nothing.


            • Oh yes, I didn’t mean that as critically as it might have come out. Every reference to it has shown how influential it was on the current crop of environmentalists – the progress that has been made since then isn’t much, but as you say, at least it’s moved more into the mainstream of awareness now. I really think you’ll enjoy The Kingdom of Rarities book – another one that tells about the bad things but also shows a lot of the positive stuff that’s happening. And well written…


      • Ginge McBus? If you don’t stop taking his name in vain I’ll TELL him what you’re doing – hope everybody’s health insurance is up-to-date.


  4. What a great category, and one that my family loves (erm, but I sometimes neglect…). Just the other night I watched a lecture on TV about the science behind Dr. Who. OK, some feel a little disparaging about popular science, but this was certainly not dumbing down, as they talked about some very advanced concepts (including spaghettification) My husband, who is a physicist and not easy to impress, said it was very advanced stuff but presented in a wonderfully fun and accessible form.


    • Possibly my favourite category this year – which is unusual. One of the books, Dreams of Other Worlds, specifically makes the connection between science and sci-fi, particularly the various Star Trek series, showing not only how science affects culture but also how sometimes sci-fi influences scientists. To be honest, it was my love for Star Trek that interested me in learning a bit more about the whole universe/big bang/black hole stuff in the first place…

      (I so hope your husband never gets to see my description of spaghettification – I don’t think it would stand up to scientific scrutiny! 😉 )


      • I have been dropping lots of hints about wanting the book, ‘Dreams of other Worlds’ so hopefully I will find it in my stocking on Christmas morning.


        • I hope you do – a really enjoyable one! I haven’t started writing notes to Santa yet this year, but I think there might be more factual on my wishlist this year than usual after so many interesting ones this year…


  5. You, my dear, are a Renaissance woman. 😀 And you just reminded me that I hadn’t found the Cosmic views of Einstein at a bookstore, so I’m going to have to order it. And maybe a black hole or two…


  6. I like reading about various creatures, so the Kingdom of Rarities would be my cup of tea. Right now I`m reading Evolution`s Rainbow. It`s about different animals“ ways of reproducing and it`s really astounding!


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