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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

my reads: ‘Death from the Skies!’ by Philip Plait, PhD

If you’re not already reading Phil Plait’s blog Bad Astronomy, you’re missing its irreverent mix of weird and cool science (photo of Hurricane Earl from science, taken by an astronaut on the space station? check), stuff about awesome explosions, debunking of myth and antiscience nonsense, and general geekery (Phil is a huge Doctor Who fan, for one, and he doesn’t care who knows it). I’ve been a fan of Phil’s for years, and we were on a panel together at WorldCon in Los Angeles in 2006. I can’t even remember what the panel was about: blogging, probably.

And now Phil has done us the favor of gathering together, all in one book, all the ways that the Earth could die. It’s so comprehensive that one of them will one day come to pass. Phil discusses everything from asteroid and comet impacts to supernovas (of nearby suns not our own, that is), to alien attack (it wouldn’t be like what we see in the movies) and wandering black holes, to, you know, the eventual heat death of the universe in a trillion trillion trillion trillion years. This gloomiest of topics Phil explores with his usual offhand aplomb, combining the kind of lookit that! glee we expect from disaster movies to rigorous scientific background info. It’s a terrifying book, but hugely entertaining at the same time.
I don’t think I can do better than Daniel H. Wilson, quoted on the back jacket: “Reading this book is like getting punched in the face by Carl Sagan.” It’s true. Phil is about my age, so he would have been totally enthralled by Cosmos on PBS when he was a kid. Death from the Skies! is like if Michael Bay remade Cosmos, but with Phil along to make sure all the science was right.



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  • Shadowen

    I have this book. It is awesome.

  • Gail

    Are you watching Bad Universe on Discovery? It’s awesome.

  • Drew

    Phil Plait’s new TV show is basically his book in 1-hour segments, plus explosions. As in, more explosions than are in the book in the first place.

    The best part by far is the comic-book scientists. Every time they introduce a scientist they take a still
    frame and draw the scientist looking epic. I really hope this catches on.

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