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…

THE CRITERIA

 

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.

THE CATEGORIES

 

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

Science/Nature/Environment

Crime/Thriller

…and…

Book of the Year 2013

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

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

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

 

Me!

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

SCIENCE/NATURE/ENVIRONMENT

 

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…

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

 

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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FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2013

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

The Cosmic View of Albert Einstein: Writings on Art, Science, and Peace

Edited by Walt Martin and Magda Ott

 

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

A joy to possess…

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”

the cosmic view of albert einsteinThis is a beautifully produced little book in which the editors have collected some of Einstein’s thoughts and writings on a diverse range of subjects and put them together with some wonderfully awe-inspiring pictures of the Universe he did so much to explain. But fear not, fellow scientific innocents – there is barely a mention of relativity and nary a formula in sight. Instead, this book introduces us to his convictions and beliefs – about pacifism, the social responsibility of scientists and his desire to see the replacement of the nation state with an overarching world government.

“Technology has also shortened distances and created new and extraordinarily effective means of destruction which, in the hands of nations claiming unrestricted freedom of action, become threats to the security and very survival of mankind. This situation requires a single judicial and executive power for the entire planet, and the creation of such a central authority is desperately opposed by national traditions.”

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But most of all the book concentrates on his spiritual views or, as he calls it, his ‘cosmic religion’. The tendency of atheists to quote Einstein’s discoveries as proof that there is no god angered him in his lifetime; and his writings, as given in this book, show that while he didn’t believe in conventional religion – a ‘personal’ God – he was a deeply spiritual man who felt that the harmony and perfection of the universe argued just as much against atheism.

“My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the slight details we are able to perceive of the knowable world with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.”

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The writings the editors have chosen show him as a man who gave the subject of religion and religiosity much thought, and his expressed opinions, while they may not please either the very religious or the extreme atheist, are reasoned and coherent. The given extracts suggest that he believed in a Creator, but one who does not then involve himself in the individual affairs of man – does not punish or reward. As a consequence, man is responsible for his own morality; and that belief feeds into all his other views – of the responsibility of scientists to ensure that their actions do no harm, of the evils of war, of his hatred of militarism.

“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.”

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My cynical nature couldn’t prevent me wondering how carefully the extracts had been selected to support the emphasis the editors clearly wished to place on the two main subjects; that science and religion should be able to co-exist – are in fact co-dependant; and that all nations should give up their atomic weapons. There is an afterward revealingly written by two former co-presidents of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Ron McCoy and Gunnar Westberg. However I have no reason to think that Einstein’s views have been misrepresented and there is a bibliography should any reader wish to look further.

“The unleashed power of the atom bomb has changed everything except our modes of thinking…the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind.”

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But while the written content is interesting, (if occasionally a little repetitive), the illustrations are both lavish and superb. Nearly every second page has a glorious colour picture of some aspect of the universe, with a little explanatory note, and there are many double page spreads too. My photos do it no justice. The book is beautifully made, with carefully selected typefaces on gorgeous quality paper. I have no choice – I have to use the dreaded words ‘Perfect Christmas Gift’. A joy to possess.

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