Tag Archives: Randall Munroe

Best Books of 2014

As 2014 draws to a close, it seemed fitting to look back over the past year and share our favourite reads. There are some duplicates, and there are quite a few we didn’t review… but read on, and share your thoughts!

Meagan’s (ARamone):

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe

What if

What If? is a good read for scientifically-minded and just plain curious people alike. With often high-end science being explained in a down-to-earth, accessible way, this book is going to make you laugh while also making you think.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle, by Terry Pratchett

Dragons

A collection of Pratchett’s earliest work, written and published in his teenaged years, Dragons at Crumbling Castle gives us a look into the mind of a young but already skilled author. A true delight for all Pratchett fans, and a must-have for fans of his work.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

slowregr

This book focuses on Auri, one of the most relatable characters in The Kingkiller Chronicles, and takes us through a typical week of hers. Rothfuss’ writing makes her odd logic and justifications seem perfectly normal, making this book a delightful read for any fan of the books.

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Review: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, by Randall Munroe

From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, surprising answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask. 

Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have an enormous, dedicated following, as do his deeply researched answers to his fans’ strangest questions. The queries he receives range from merely odd to downright diabolical: 

 What if I took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool? 

Could you build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns? 

What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City? 

What would happen if someone’s DNA vanished? 

In pursuit of answers, he cheerfully runs computer simulations, digs through declassified military research memos, consults with nuclear reactor operators, times scenes from Star Wars with a stopwatch, calls his mother, and Googles some really freaky-looking animals. His responses are comic gems, accurately and entertainingly explaining everything from your odds of meeting your soul mate to the many horrible ways you could die while building a periodic table out of all the actual elements. 

When Randall Munroe is your guide, science gets really weird really fast. Near-light-speed baseball pitches can level entire city blocks. A mole of moles can suffocate the planet in a blanket of meat. Yoda can use the Force to recharge his electric-model Smart Car. 

This book features the most popular answers from the xkcd’s What If? blog, but many of the questions (51 percent!) are new and answered here for the first time. What If? is an informative feast for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical. 

In addition to reading copious amounts of fiction, I’m quite a fan of non-fiction books as well – depending on the topic. Most of the non-fiction I read (actually, all the non-fiction I read) is science-related. Combine that with the fact that the only webcomic I read is XKCD, which is really the best thing on the Internet (besides a certain blog run by yours truly), and I was quite excited to find out that XKCD creator Randall Munroe was publishing a book.

XKCD’s What if? feature has been running for a couple of years now, and in that time it’s answered some truly odd questions. What If? is no different. It covers everything from global windstorms to Twitter to how well an arrow would fly in zero gravity. The answers are delightfully informative and, often, surprising. Munroe writes with his usual wit, making the articles as funny as they are knowledgeable.

I’d be the first to admit I’m not physics- or math-oriented at all, and a physics-major friend of mine can attest to that, but despite that I had no trouble understanding the science in What If?. It’s no more complex than what you’d get in a typical XKCD comic, making it accessible to readers of all types. As a former roboticist for NASA, Munroe knows his stuff, and it shows in the text; that he can make his explanations so understandable shows how well he understands what he’s talking about. His enthusiasm for all things scientific shines through in the writing to draw the reader in and hold their interest, making for a truly enjoyable read. Interspersed through the articles are sections entitled, “Weird and Worrying Questions from the What If? Inbox”, which covers exactly what you’d expect: the oddest questions he’s ever been asked, which he doesn’t answer but instead responds to with humorous asides. These provide a nice little break from the articles themselves to stop the reader getting bombarded with too much science at a time. Within the articles themselves are relevant, yet funny short comics drawn in the style of XKCD to add humour to the articles, further adding to the enjoyment.

What If? is a great read for anyone, scientifically-oriented or not, and will especially appeal to those who like odd, esoteric, or just plain crazy knowledge.

Overall rating: 5/5


Congratulations to the 2014 Hugo Award Winners!

hugo_sm

 

From the Hugo Awards website:

The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, Loncon 3, has announced the 2014 Hugo Award winners. 3587 valid ballots were received and counted in the final ballot.

BEST NOVEL

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)

BEST NOVELLA

“Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)

BEST NOVELETTE

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com /
Tor.com, 09-2013)

BEST SHORT STORY

“The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)

BEST RELATED WORK

“We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)

BEST GRAPHIC STORY

“Time” by Randall Munroe (xkcd)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM

Gravity written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films;Warner Bros.)

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM

Game of Thrones “The Rains of Castamere” written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)

BEST EDITOR, SHORT FORM

Ellen Datlow

BEST EDITOR, LONG FORM

Ginjer Buchanan

BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST

Julie Dillon

BEST SEMIPROZINE

Lightspeed Magazine edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki

BEST FANZINE

A Dribble of Ink edited by Aidan Moher

BEST FANCAST

SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester

BEST FAN WRITER

Kameron Hurley

BEST FAN ARTIST

Sarah Webb

JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER

Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award).

Sofia Samatar

The 2014 Hugo Award winners were announced on Sunday evening, August 17, at the ExCel Converntion Centre in London, England. The ceremony was hosted by Justina Robson, Geoff Ryman. Text-based CoverItLive coverage of the ceremony was provided through the Hugo Awards web site. Video streaming coverage was provided by Ustream.

The 2014 Hugo trophy base was designed by Joy Alyssa Day

See the Final Ballot Details for a full breakdown of votes, subsequent placements, and nomination counts.


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