Thursday, December 3, 2009

Greatly Belated Book Review: The Science of The X-Men

When my mother showed me this book after coming back from the library, I thought to myself, "Hark! A book, which I might review!"

That was the most positive part of the reading experience.

The Science of The X-Men (The Official Guide to The Scientific Reality of The Mutant World!) is a terrible, terrible book.

It starts out promisingly enough, with claims by the authors of connections with people with huge comic collections, Dark Horse, and Robert Silverberg, but it goes downhill at a steady, easily measurable pace. As far as I know and am concerned, this is all true enough... but quality doesn't show.

For starters, there are audacious and bizarre claims. The book talks about the events of the comic books as though they are real. This is a workable way to write it, but they didn't do it well enough.

The "science" of the book is frequently absurd. They fall back on the ancient notion common among "science fiction writers" of the old days, that things from places we haven't been are necessarily incomprehensible. While in old quasi-SF, this tended to be bull along the lines of "different elements from different planets/galaxies/parts of the universe," modern writers don't fall back on this in serious science fiction. Yet this book claims that any mysterious energies that don't obey the laws of physics as we know them must in fact simply come from another, "non-Einsteinian" dimension. If you don't know why this is absurd, I'm afraid that your science education is beyond my meager abilities to repair.

Even worse, while some principles discussed (especially with relation to biology and evolution) have some degree of insight, the understanding that the writers seem to actually possess of some of these subjects seems laughable at best and fatally flawed at worst. While the discussion of Nightcrawler's momentum is an interesting tackling of the subject of teleporting around on the surface of a planet, other parts make me shake my head in ridicule or seethe with anger. Also, while they discuss Occam's razor, they tend to come up with radically complex explanations for relatively simple phenomena.

These might be somewhat acceptable, were it not for the fact that the editors clearly cared less and less as the book progressed, gradually allowing an ever increasing number of typos and incomprehensible non sequiturs. Let's see if I can dig a few up:

"Storm makes every effort to keep here motions under control, but she's not always successful." ("Her emotions.")

"Wind can also move soil and shaping sand dunes, which, at its most extreme, can turn farmland into a dessert in a few years." (Yum.)

"Like radar and sonar, the ultrasound bounces back off objects and a sensing device then translates that information into detailed images." (I'll just point out that "the ultrasound" is an odd way to phrase it, and also that sonar generally is ultrasonic.)

"He could survive a head-on collision with a bus traveling at a hundred miles an hour. Such a meteorite would weigh more than half a million tons and would be super-heated from its atmospheric descent." (I totally did not mess with this passage at all; this is exactly how it appears in the book.)

"Beast exhibits characteristics that are considered 'neotonous.' Neotony is an evolutionary phenomenon that explains why Beast has a big modern head and a muscular hairy body." (Technically, "neotonous" is apparently an acceptable spelling of neotenous, but it drives me bonkers every time I read it. Also, yeah, sure, all babies I've ever seen have muscular, hairy bodies. Okay, maybe I'm taking the statement out of context, but it drives me nuts.)

"Like the electric eel, he might have a biological mechanism that generates and manipulates energy, in his case producing cold." (Cold is not a form of energy. It is a lack of energy.)

"The way things stand now; particle beams don't seem particularly useful as weapons." (Learn how to use semicolons before you write a book. Also, it's ironic that the authors are critical of particle beam realism when they're trying to justify the workings of mutant powers.)

I'm sure there were more than that, but I can't recall them at the moment.

Anyway, I actually make it sound worse than it is (there are some interesting and insightful bits here and there), but it's got problems. If you read it, be careful-there's a lot of junky stuff in it. It's works like these that make me prefer to read unofficial materials.

-Signing off.

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