REVIEWS by SULLYDOG
Borderlands of Science
by Charles Sheffield
When I said that Gregory Benford should have incorporated more
graphics and charts in his novel Eater, it was wishful
thinking, not criticism. The same does not apply to Sheffields
non-fiction offering, Borderlands of Science. Sheffield
has written what could have been a definitive science primer and
reference for sf authors. Unfortunately, his effort is crippled by a
complete lack of graphics.
Now, if Eater, or any other hard sf novel that deals with difficult concepts, isnt ruined by a lack of figures, then why should I be so hard on Borderlands? Because Eater is a work of fiction, and ultimately all fiction is about what happens to people. But Borderlands is, in the final analysis, a science textbook. I challenge you to find any basic science textbook worth its salt that isnt packed with figures. You might counter that Borderlands is geared for a more general audience than most science textbooksbut then youd be making my argument for me. Even Newsweek knows better than to try to explain DNA or black holes to the general public without graphics. College professors, teaching everything from chemistry to calculus, know better, too. A picture is still worth a thousand words.
Now, dont get me wrong--despite profound reservations, I have to recommend this book.If you want to write sf, Borderlands of Science probably deserves a place on your shelf, even if youre a scientist. Im a scientist, but unless Im writing about my own little corner of biomedicine I need an ectopic brain. Ive already gone to Borderlands to help me put together a story or two. Sheffield, like Asimov, writes with authority on a wide range of subjects. He covers the basics with clarity and elegance, and most importantly he goes beyond convention to examine the most fertile ground for sfunresolved dilemmas and scientific heresies. And he does it all with that charming Sheffield irrascibility. What he doesnt do is provide us with figures. And thats why theres a huge and dissapointing gulf between what this book is and what it should have been.