Thursday, 18 May 2017

Wormholes, by Dennis Meredith - 4 Stars

This is a solidly compiled adventure that explores an old theoretical physics model (then science fiction concept) in an entertaining way, with medium paced storytelling, and it then presents a good twist that the reader almost certainly wouldn’t have thought of on their own. I wouldn’t say this book was extraordinary throughout or the only source you ever need to learn about wormholes but I would strongly recommend the author send it to several the main sci-fi archive collections in the world because this may be the first time anyone has put the next step of concept development included here into fiction (I might be incorrect but this isn’t something I can check quickly, so add a comment if you’ve seen the following before). Specifically, this book presents passing through a wormhole, disengaging the Earth end and then steering it from the other end to potentially explore previously inaccessible reaches of our own galaxy. With no inertia, the limits of physical speed would melt and travel distance would no longer be governed by the human life span because you’d only begin travelling through after the wormhole had got there. Count me in please (packs towel and satchel).

As a fictional work on wormholes, this story includes everything the layperson would look for to cover that subject and, importantly, it doesn’t ape other wormhole influences (Pratchett’s The Long Earth, the TV show Sliders, Stargate, Deep Space 9 etc) so the reader is getting something fresh and dare I say it more realistic with this. There are things which are necessarily alike, such as casting two well educated scientist characters: a radical thinker man (similar roles were Dr Fox Mulder in X-Files and Professor Daniel Jackson in Stargate) and a bright, independent woman (e.g. Dr Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park) but I can’t imagine dim or unscientific people would be the first humans to bring such a phenomenon as this under control, so of course it would be people of this type. Dimensionally, I’ve just looked at myself out of the corner of my eye but it probably won’t happen.

In this, the arrival of the wormholes is made as realistic as possible, the leading characters then being drawn together and pulled in, if you’ll forgive a pun. There’s nothing supernatural about this story as it is all published and accepted physics, with the possible exception of magnetic containment working but more on that quibble below. Although the events are arguably US-centred, the author develops the idea at a global level and I think avoids the trap of whenever anything visits Earth it always lands in Central Park and wants to meet the same person (not my leader, thanks).

The author also has a good line in non-terrestrial animal design, avoiding the childish trap of imagining aliens as fitting the standard terrestrial vertebrate pattern (head on top, four limbs, rib cage, central spinal axis), which exists because Earthlings all share a common ancestor – which would not be in common with non-terrestrial life. The author is also correct when he says that any astrophysicist or physicist you ask can tell you there are other dimensions that the ones we see. Mathematically, that’s correct and we can model multi-dimensional shapes with data visualization to get our heads around the idea; add a length scale, add breadth, add height and then add another at a right angle to those. Easier that going around Hyde Park Corner on a moped.

The writing flaws were fairly marginal. I think I just spotted one spelling mistake (it’s/its) in this long book, so that’s pretty amazing by modern standards, i.e. to have a smooth read.

On the mechanical side my flow of consciousness travels into deep, intangible places and I might be badly wrong and tripping over my own brain stem but I don’t think that in our four dimensional reality (length, breadth, height and time) within the two standard physical models, that we could influence a wormhole’s geographical boundary/horizon position using magnetism (or the strong or weak nuclear force) unless it did not involve a separate universe dimension. In other words, yes I’m a nerd, but to use the author’s method of describing dimensions at right angles to our own: If you label our dimensions a, b, c and d and a wormhole opens to another dimension of e, f, g and h, the physical laws are only compatible if it is in another part of our own Universe (folded space) and the Newtonian and quantum settings match exactly (the same settings for physical conditions in separate universes is billions to one). Then again, the settings which allow life to exist in this universe are also fine-tuned to an improbability of a similar magnitude (don’t use the word design, don’t go there). If I’m correct (I could knock on a door at this university to find out if that’s possible, but I owe too many favours already) the scientist characters should conclude that if you can move the diameter of the aperture or the hole’s location with anything, showing the same physical settings across the boundary – even if you’re only testing magnetism, that indicates an immensely high probability that the wormhole must exist within the same universe as us (the other end is far away?). So, why go to the other end to steer it within our Universe if you can do the same thing from this end? If the wormhole is connected from ours to an alternative pocket universe or unique set of dimensions, the framework should collapse instantly (revert to one side, mutual exclusivity). Even if it didn’t collapse, the odds say life there would be impossible (too hot, too cold, matter too dispersed, atoms not holding together, elements not existing…) and any matter coming through would change state because the forces pushing and pulling it have changed.

I know I'm asking for trouble here because I sense the author has a scientific background but I can't help myself when the ball is rolling. I guess what I mean is, is this an extra dimensional wormhole structure which connects two areas of the same universe in which the same laws apply (I think so) or is it an extra dimensional wormhole structure that connects our universe to different universes where different laws apply (I don’t think that works)?

A related problem (okay, same problem, different application) is the rescue mission: A second wormhole is used to reach people stranded by the first. I can’t see any reason why the second wormhole would open in the same universe at all, let alone in any realistic proximity to the end of the first wormhole. Even if it formed comparatively very close, e.g. one solar system away, without a map of the other side it would be hard to bring the two together. If their dimensions are somehow linked to ours, geographical point position in 3D won’t obey quantum superposition rules over in dimension number 2, I think, although that assumes the small scale and large scale will obey the same laws over there (when they don’t here). If it works, in proximal space, this also suggests that the Earth system is rubbing up at right angles against (the same) other area of our own Universe, i.e. that the three dimensional topographic plane has folded and we’re meeting the same place on the other side, two close points here, two close points there – which would explain the rescue hole appearing nearby although I think I’ve said the same thing in four different ways. Congratulations me. So, the author is right, I don’t have to snog a beardy postgrad physicist and I’m free to cool my aching head down in this bucket of water. Whoosh, slosh, splosh and on to the next book.

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