Marcus Chown is the 'Cosmology Consultant' (whatever that is) for the New Scientist, and The Never-Ending Days of Being Dead is booked as 'Dispatches from the Front Line of Science". It contains a number of loosely aligned essays on a wide variety of topics of cutting edge/fashionable/speculative (delete as inclined) science, mainly around cosmology and large/general scale concepts; i.e. very little in terms of application, or even applicability.
The contents, at least for me, fell into three distinct categories.
On the one hand there is, for want of a better term, 'classic advanced science' like General and Specific Relativity, parts of Quantum Theory and similar things. These are well written, informative (if a tad too dumbed down from my point of knowledge), and frequently entertaining. A good read.
On the other side we get 'out there', speculative/extrapolatory science; ie the kind of stuff the free newspapers love, and make colourful and incorrect graphics from. Chown frequently get gets stuck on some mavericks, frequently form outside the academic community, which he really buys into, and into which he reads more than they are worth IMHO. There is, frequently, a good reason why some people stand outside the established science streams, and it’s not always because they’re the only ones who see things the way they really are, and everybody else is simply conspiring against them… These parts are frequently entertaining and stimulating, although some come with a salt content that borders on the unhealthy, and one would wish he could have spread his sources a bit farther than his current favourites. Overall this provides an ok exposition of some unconventional and sometimes controversial and contradictionary takes on open questions. So far so within the scope of the title, but -
The third category, mainly in the latter part of the book, consists of out and out bad space opera. For example – in a few billion years, humans will have spread across the entire universe, and will have reversed the effect of the dark energy to make the universe contract again. They will then shift galaxies to make said contraction asymmetrical, to release 'unlimited energy for unlimited calculations', move their consciousness into sub-atomic particles, and become immortal due to time dilation, which will happen slower than the asymmetrical energy increase, of course. And then – then the we speculate about their motivations and on why they will re-surrect all humans who have ever lived (from the light particles that have touched them) for the endless final days of the universe…
How do I put this? I've read enough grotty space opera to spot one when it kicks me in the shins. The first two categories of writing are good and quite ok, but this definitely spoiled the book for me. Recommendation? Don't - there must be better science books out there, that don't substitute the writer's failed fiction career for science writing.
There will apparently be a follow-up book. Watch myself fall over myself in an attempt to get my hands on it… ;-)
Title: The Never-Ending Days of Being Dead
Subtitle: Dispatches from the Front Line of Science
Author: Marcus Chown
Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net
Publisher: faber and faber
Publication Date: 2007
Review Date: 090428