King Ævil's Reviews > The Planet That Wasn't

The Planet That Wasn't by Isaac Asimov
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's review
Jun 24, 2007

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bookshelves: general-science, 2007, asimov
Read in June, 2007

Please see my review of X Stands for Unknown ([]) for general comments on Isaac Asimov's science essays.

The Planet That Wasn't, a collection of essays from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction spanning December 1974 through April 1976, is on the whole, surprisingly mediocre, given the high proportion of skeptical essays criticizing, and occasionally lampooning, pseudoscience and religious enforcement of ignorance. Three notable essays stand out, and in all three Asimov highlights the beginnings of currently well-established environmental concerns. "All Gall" relates the history and properties of cholesterol, with a footnote including what little was known about the effects of dietary lipid intake on atherosclerosis. In "The Smell of Electricity," the topic is ozone—a highly toxic yet useful substance. Asimov then seems to change subjects with "Change of Air," describing the history and properties of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), but then connects them with ozone in reporting some preliminary findings that CFCs may degrade the ozone layer high in the atmosphere (at the time, this effect was little more than speculation), thereby increasing our exposure to nasty UV rays sleeting down from the Sun.

Other essays in the compilation focus on Mercury's noticeably relativistic orbit, how features of the Martian surface acquired their names, the sizes of satellites in the Solar System and the features of their orbits, the optics of rainbows, the only (discovered) element besides bromine and mercury that is liquid at room temperature, the evolution of our atmosphere (which is covered in greater detail elsewhere), the misogyny of witch persecution, the population explosion (in which the author makes a spectacularly wrong prediction that the world's population will have stabilized by 2000 if humankind is to survive that long), UFOs, how science can solve problems that religion cannot, the nature of intelligence, the "Star in the East" cited in the New Testament, and silly arguments for the existence of God.

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