Enjoyable scientific fiction

2009-08-26 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

The Sun and Moon Corrupted

Philip Ball

Portobello Books

AUTHOR Philip Ball is best known for his popularisation of mind-boggling scientific ideas. In The Sun and Moon Corrupted — his first work of fiction — he brings his enviable understanding of the subject to bear to create a gripping story centring around a maverick Hungarian scientist who ­insists that Albert Einstein got it all wrong with his Theory of Relativity and that the dream of a perpetuum mobile — motion and energy for nothing — is possible.

Dismissed as a crank by the scientific establishment, his controversial claims arouse the interest of Lena ­Romanowicz, a young journalist with a few issues of her own, who sets off to try to track down the elusive ­scientist. Her journey takes her halfway around Europe and touches on some pivotal events of the 20th century ­before coming to its dramatic conclusion in the icy wastes of the former Soviet Union.

Combining scholarship with readability, Ball manages to cover an amazing amount of fascinating but difficult ground with the admirable clarity that can only come from a good command of his subject matter.

Unfortunately, having set up his­­ ­intriguing central premise — a ­machine that generates energy for free — he rather undercuts the effect by abandoning the trail halfway through the book and setting off in pursuit of another scientific heresy — does red mercury really exist?

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