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The Science of Sci-Fi: From Warp Speed to Interstellar Travel

(The Great Courses)

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,846 ratings  ·  251 reviews
Science fiction allows listeners to go places they can only dream of seeing—other worlds, distant stars, entirely different galaxies. While not every story is concerned with the hard science behind space travel and other futuristic ventures, fiction can give listeners an amazing insight into what people could be capable of and what people dream of doing.

In the 10 lectures
Audible Audio, 4 pages
Published November 19th 2019 by Audible Original
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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J.L.   Sutton
Oct 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Star Trek-like 'tricorders' promise DNA analysis on the go | Genetic Literacy Project

Erin Macdonald brings enthusiasm and, of course, geekiness to The Science of Sci-Fi: From Warp Speed to Interstellar Travel. I appreciated the broad range of references from many of the sci-fi shows I watch such as Star Trek (I think every series from the original to NG, Deepspace 9, Voyager, Discovery), Battlestar Gallactica, Fringe, X-Files and more to the topics she presented in each of the 10 lectures. Enjoyable and interesting. 3.5 stars
Sep 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This series of lectures is an absolutely fun, refreshing & compact way to learn a little bit about science fact and science fiction, even if you haven't the least idea about mathematics and astrophysics.

Erin McDonald presents it all in a way you can (mostly) understand with relatable references to famous sci-fi movies and series. It still gets mindboggling from time to time. But that's understandable. We are talking about rocket science after all. :)
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, 2020
I have to admit, I've always been a little curious as to what sci-fi gets right. This was a lot of fun to listen to and confirm some suspicions while learning some brand new things.

Like the fact that the universe is always expanding and accelerating and how long it would take, at a certain acceleration to reach lightspeed. Thus ... is the universe expanding at faster than light speed (FTL) at this point? The didn't address this specific point, but I'm still curious.

And that's what I really enjoy
Lis Carey
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an entertaining, informative set of ten lectures on the physics used, whether accurately or creatively, in science fiction. Erin Macdonald is a physicist--and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable science fiction fan. She wants the interested fans to be familiar with the science behind their favorite movies, games, and books, but for the purpose of greater enjoyment and more fun, not for the purpose of telling us, "But that can't work and you shouldn't be enjoying it."

She starts off with an
Mar 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
At times, beyond my level of understanding, but the narrator is so enthusiastic, not to mention a fellow Sci-fi geek, that I felt like I'd met a new friend. Loved all the references to my favorite shows. More than once I though, "oh, so THAT is what an inertial dampener is!"

My new, favorite science term: "Spaghetttified" No joke, haha!

3.75 stars
Jenny Baker
3.5 stars

I feel like I just took a year of college physics in under four hours except this has a lot of fun sci-fi TV show examples. Recommended for sci-fi fans.
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Audible version.

The narrator was lovely & knowledgeable. Don’t let the science intimidate you, the concepts discussed aren’t foreign nor is every minutia on the topic reviewed. She explains just enough for you to appreciate how the real life science was applied into the sci-fi invention or used as a basis for an amazing concept in a sci-fi series/game/movie etc. She explains the science well but I did need a quick refresher (using google) on some of the science discussed. Overall it made for a h
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Warp speed!!

Okay, admittedly, there were times I hit the "go-back-go-back" button because I had to listen to the concept a couple times to get it. But come on, man. It's physics and quantum theory and a whole lot of multiple syllable words I usually mentally faint like a goat over when I hear. But it was so much FUN!

I might listen to this again in the future because a) I won't remember a lot of this for very long and b) I imagine I would catch even more through round two.

The author breaks down
Not a lot of meat on the bone, at least for most SF fans who take at least some interest in science. Most of the Sci-Fi the author discusses are movies, TV & video games, though a couple of references are dropped to written works of Heinlein (time travel), Campbell (hyperdrive), James SA Corey (artificial gravity), and Le Guin (the ansible).
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great overview of the physics at play in lots of modern sci fi, mostly movies and TV.
My only complaint is around the speaker’s overuse of the the rhetorical construct where he or she says something is, well, something. I don’t know what it’s called but it is, well, annoying.
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is great for any fan of science or science fiction and you’re really going to love it if you like both! The author has incredible enthusiasm when discussing the various scientific concepts and because of that there is never a boring or dull moment during each lecture. Most of the scientific material I already knew but having it annexed to events that occur in my favorite science fiction series and films was awesome! It makes science fun and interesting like it should be and everything ...more
Stephen Heiner
Nov 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
If you want to hear the actual scientific explanations for how inertial dampeners might work, the problem of humans living in extended zero-G, and why earth wouldn't be sucked in if our sun turned into a black hole, this will be a worthwhile listen for you. The narrator is overqualified in both her knowledge of science and science fiction, which is probably precisely why she's able to make this series of lectures enjoyable and engaging. Warning, the first three lectures are pretty heavy on the s ...more
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
The science is technical, like Newton's law of motion, gravity, wormholes, black holes, and Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Then the author points out what was right or wrong in movies/TV series. For example in "The Martian", a wind storm on Mars with its fine dust particles and only a third of Earth's gravity could not have caused the damage as seen in the movie. Obviously, it was needed for the suspense in the movie, but it's interesting to know when the science is or is not accurate. ...more
May 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Interesting and informative, great examples that make it easy to follow
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was an audio only book because it is basically a collection of lectures given by the author. She takes specific examples from popular Sci-Fi and explains in layman's terms how they could possibly work in the physical world. Good stuff. ...more
I have gotten to hear Dr. Erin speak at Starbase Indy the last two years. I enjoyed her lectures and decided to spend an Audible credit and check out her Great Courses contribution. Since I have heard her in person I had heard a few pieces of these lectures, but the lectures were laid out in a logical fashion. I enjoyed her giving me a crash course in physics, not all of which I knew (I never took physics in high school or college), and then we began to play with science and fiction. Her enthusi ...more
Alan Teder
Reasonably User Friendly Explanations of Out of This World Concepts
Review of the Audible Original audiobook (November 2019)

[Rounded Down from 3.5]
I enjoyed this 4 hour series of ten lectures which briefly explained concepts such as Einstein's Theory of Relativity through to the impossibility of Star Trek's transporter technology due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. I did find my mind wandering at times, probably due to the lack of visuals although Erin Macdonald is very personable and ta
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is an entertaining and very educational lecture series. The lecturer does a marvelous job of tying the principles of physics to popular science fiction, deftly using the latter to elucidate the former. In presentation, she comes across as the kind of professor you’d want as a thesis or dissertation advisor, or even as your Physics 101 prof. She’s knowledgeable, articulate, passionate, and deeply nerdy. Strongly recommended for those with an interest in the science of science fiction.
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
A neat collection of chapters going over the scientific part of sci-fi and looking at how it should be done properly. Includes introduction to a good portion of sci-fi oriented science.

Things I liked:
- Positive attitude. Not bashing bad sci-fi but promoting good ones.
- Actual scientific crash course before talking about any subject.
- Example of real, futuristic/exotic scientific ideas and theories.

Things I didn't like:
Kate Sherwood
May 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Audio version.

Pet Peeve: I'm not a fan of being told "You won't believe" or "Your mind is about to be blown" or whatever... feels like the speaker is making weird assumptions about how I react to things.

That aside? I did other things while listening to this, and it was interesting background information. I don't think I would have been fascinated if I'd just been sitting there, listening. For what it was, it worked for me.
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
What fun this proved to be. A series of ten lectures that look at the science in science fiction, this is entertaining and thought-provoking. Is a worm hole possible? What is hyper-space really? Can we use black holes as travel shortcuts? Macdonald tackles the heavy-duty science in the first lecture and then discusses how sci-fi uses or misuses scientific principles in the following talks. This series is a pleasant surprise.
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable listen comparing real science to science fiction. In general (though not entirely) this is space-themed, so there are a lot of sci-fi topics that it doesn't cover. However, for a 4-hour Great Courses lecture series, it still managed to fit in a lot of topics. ...more
Mar 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, audio
Honestly, I'm pretty sure I didn't get 90 percent of what all was said. Never was a science fan! ...more
Mar 15, 2020 rated it liked it
I loved the attempt to tie popular sci fi books and movies to teaching actual scientific principles. It was a little more technical than I personally found helpful, but a good effort.
Mar 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2020, science
That was fun! I'll have to listen to this one again. ...more
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is some seriously good (and nerdy) stuff
Scott Kinkade
May 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Pretty good. Depended too much of what happens in movies instead of explaining the possibility of futuristic technology or what it would take to make the technology possible.
Todd Fischer
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
The narrator is very smart but also fairly boring. A lot of fun examples and it's an interesting trip through popular sci-fi. ...more
Apr 03, 2020 rated it liked it
A fun, if sometimes clunky lecture series trying to tie major scientific concepts to popular science fiction films and video games.

This series of 10 lectures mostly works in giving a broad overview of hard science as it appears in science fiction (warp drive, wormholes, time travel, etc) but occasionally tries too hard to be "relevant" and some of the pop-culture references or jokey comedy falls flat.

Still entertaining and a good basic intro to some very technical concepts.
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
Highly entertaining look at the science (or lack thereof) in science fiction.
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Dr Erin Macdonald is an astrophysicist, science fiction consultant, aerospace engineer, and host of the online series "Dr Erin Explains the Universe". Her specialty is in general relativity, having previously worked in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration searching for gravitational waves. ...more

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