Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand: Fifty Wonders That Reveal an Extraordinary Universe – Marcus Chown

Although I’ve had the best of intentions I haven’t studied science as an adult. I had an amazing science teacher in my first year of high school who inspired me and made me want to pursue a scientific career. This dream then disintegrated over the next three years as all my subsequent science teacher managed to inspire was the desire to sleep through their classes. While I still intend to one day be able to have an informed and intelligent conversation about string theory, I currently sit firmly in science nerd wannabe territory.

My wannabe status is probably what drew me to this book and its conversational tone and lack of complex mathematics equations makes it accessible to readers without prior knowledge of the scientific discoveries and theories it explains.

There’s a smorgasbord to enjoy within each of the seven parts:

  • Biological Things
  • Human Things
  • Terrestrial Things
  • Solar System Things
  • Fundamental Things
  • Extraterrestrial Things, and
  • Cosmic Things.

Given the bite size chunks of information each contain, they provide a taste of some of the marvels the universe has to offer. (Why, yes, it is almost dinner time. Why do you ask?! 😜)

While I learned enough about some topics to satisfy me I was able to narrow down some areas of interest to explore further. Each of the fifty chapters begins with a single sentence statement that may or may not give you a clue about what’s to come, followed by a quote and then several pages of explanation.

A lot of the initial statements are pretty incredible without any further explanation, for example,

“Today your body will build about 300 billion cells”.

Beginning the explanation the author makes a comparison to put this into perspective, noting that’s

“more cells than there are stars in our Milky Way galaxy.”

For those of us without scientific degrees, a cell is explained as

“a tiny transparent bag of gloop.”

Then you learn some amazing facts about your cells that should make you appear smarter than you actually are when you find a way to casually pass this information along to some unsuspecting bystander.

My favourite opening statements of the book were:

“You are born 100 percent human but die 50 percent alien”

“In the future, time might run backwards”

“The universe may have at least ten dimensions”

“Time travel is not ruled out by the laws of physics”.

My main problem with this book was its repetitiveness. I don’t mind when an author reminds a reader that a topic was previously explored in whatever chapter number so you can review that if need be but in this book some pieces of information were repeated almost verbatim. For example, in chapter 25, when talking about quantum theory, the author notes

It is fantastically successful. It has given us lasers and computers and nuclear reactors. It explains why the sun shines and why the ground beneath our feet is solid.

This is repeated in chapter 43, where the only difference is “our” becoming “your”. If you are only reading single chapters over a significant length of time or if you’re quoting a specific chapter to said bystander, this would not be a problem. However, if you’re reading from cover to cover, the multiple instances of repetition become tedious.

Thank you to NetGalley and Diversion Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Bestselling author Marcus Chown explores some of the most profound and important science about us, our world and beyond by examining some astonishing facts that reveal the vast complexities of the universe.

There is much about our world that seems to make perfect sense, and important scientific breakthroughs have helped us understand ourselves, our planet and our place in the universe in fascinating detail. But our adventures in space, our deepening understanding of the quantum world and huge leaps in technology over the last century have also revealed a universe far stranger than we could ever have imagined.

With brilliant clarity and wit, bestselling author Marcus Chown examines the profound science behind fifty remarkable scientific facts that help explain the vast complexities of our existence. Did you know that you could fit the whole human race in the volume of a sugar cube? Or that the electrical energy in a single mosquito is enough to cause a global mass extinction? Or that, out there in the cosmos, there are an infinite number of copies of you reading an infinite number of copies of this?

Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand is a mind-bending journey through some of the most weird and wonderful facts about our universe, vividly illuminating the hidden truths that govern our everyday lives.

The Deep Sky Saga #1: Achilles – Greg Boose

Spoilers Ahead!

Achilles, the first book in a planned trilogy, follows Jonah Lincoln, a first year cadet on board the Mayflower 2 on its way to Thetis, a planet in the Silver Foot Galaxy, accessible from Earth through a wormhole. After crash landing on one of Thetis’ moons, Achilles, Jonah and the other survivors start to try to come to grips with their situation. Suddenly all of the adults vanish, leaving the kids alone in a world they know almost nothing about, despite the 1,200 plus page report about Achilles provided to each of them during their 380 day spacecraft journey, which apparently almost none of them bothered to read.

The first half of this book was basically non-stop action. Things exploded, were ripped apart, were on fire. People lost arms, were impaled, sliced in half. We ran, we jumped, we climbed. Pretty much everywhere we went the body count rose. I really should have been keeping count but more than two thirds of the people we started with have been obliterated, exploded, sliced, diced or squished.

The body count rose so quickly without a great deal of character development so a lot of the deaths had me thinking, ‘Which one was that again?’ then moving on without being sure because there was bound to be another gruesome casualty right around the corner. The maiming and death scenes in this book were quite visceral. Greg Boose is certainly fond of blood, vomit and froth dripping from nostrils.

The only way you were getting any respite from the constant action in the first half was if you were unconscious or dead. Like the characters I just wanted to go and have a quick nap to get a small amount of respite from the mayhem. There were a couple of times where I was so caught up in the action that I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath, particularly around the time there was the threat of people being impaled on porcupine trees. Throughout this book, when you think their situation can’t get any worse, hold on, because it can and will.

The word that kept coming to me while I was reading the first half was cinematic. I could see the bloodshed and chaos unfolding around me like I was watching a movie. I was immersed in this strange world with its awesome gravity that allows you to leap over obstacles in a single bound and run with ten foot strides. The locations and the wildlife were described so well that Greg Boose seemed to implant a series of photographs in my imagination.

I liked Jonah as a character but I did get frustrated with him continually saying that his recruitment as a cadet was his opportunity to start over, which was almost immediately followed by him wanting to give up or thinking he should do something yet failing to and beating himself up for it. As an orphan who grew up in a series of abusive foster homes, Jonah is a survivor and as he desperately wanted to make a new life for himself I expected a dogged determination and stubbornness from him that didn’t really shine through.

Around the halfway mark we met Tunick who from the get go reminded me of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland. I felt like I was suffering the effects of a hallucinogen whenever he was flitting around. He was hyper, he was all over the place emotionally, he was unpredictable and the things that came out of his mouth made a fairly limited amount of sense. He was the town weirdo and yes, I did enjoy hanging out with him although I’m glad I was able to do so at a safe distance.

As I’ve mentioned before, the lack of character development was an issue for me. We learned bits and pieces about some of the people but not enough for me to form attachments to them or to consistently distinguish which person had just been killed off. When I got to the big reveal of who someone was near the end of the book I actually had to ask myself who they were. I recognised the name but didn’t know which kid it was.

Then there was a description of how this person acted just after the crash and I was like, “Oh!”. Then, “Hold on. I need more information. Is he the one that …?” I proceed to search that person’s name on my Kindle and it turned out it was the one that … but I think that was just a lucky guess. My Kindle name search also revealed something else about that person and I honestly thought that fact related to a different person. That sort of thing doesn’t usually happen to me.

The final quarter frustrated me no end. I get that there needs to be a set up for the second book but the storyline lost my interest. Without the vivid descriptions of new locations to hold on to I was annoyed with a lot of the characters and had some ‘Seriously???’ moments.

I have some unanswered questions and frustrations that are bugging me now that I’ve finished reading. I understand that this is the first book in a trilogy but I expect by the time the next book comes out I will probably have either forgotten about them completely or they won’t be burning questions anymore.

I may have missed it but I don’t remember there being an explanation for how the kids knew which symbols to press and in what order on the wall when they were in the cave. I know there were academics who probably figured out a pattern or something but Jonah also knew what to do intuitively and he wasn’t an academic.

Not completely separate from the above, who created the portals? How? Why? Is there a codex somewhere that explains what each symbol means, what order you need to press them in to wake them up and what each symbol combination does?

Why wasn’t Jonah as greatly affected by the verve as the other kids?

When Jonah is being guided by the thin white line, it that a side effect of the verve or a side effect of his blood disease?

Is the blood disease a real thing or is there something else about Jonah and Brooklyn that causes their eye issues?

As Jonah himself even wonders, what was so special about him that got him recruited? Is it something related to the eye thing?

Why is he now the chosen one and what’s the deal with those stupid seeds?

Who or what is Zion?

Different kids keep trying to tell Jonah why Thetis is such a bad place. Just once, would he please let them finish their story?!

In summary, the descriptions of location, animals, plants, blood and guts, all awesome. The character development, not so awesome. My rating is difficult so I’ll break it down for you:

  • First half of the book with all the cool descriptions and the movie playing in my mind – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Third quarter with Johnny Depp 2.0 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Final act with question marks and frustration levels peaking – ⭐️⭐️
  • Overall rating – as there are so many academics in this book I’m doing this mathematically. If my maths skills haven’t failed me, the average across the board is 3.75, so I’m rounding up to ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Diversion Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The year is 2221, and humans have colonized an earthlike planet called Thetis in the Silver Foot Galaxy. After a tragic accident kills off dozens of teenage colonists, Thetis’s leaders are desperate to repopulate. So the Mayflower 2, a state-of-the-art spaceship, sets off across the universe to bring 177 new recruits to the colony. 

For Jonah Lincoln, an orphaned teen who’s bounced between foster homes and spent time on the streets of Cleveland, the voyage is a chance to reinvent himself, to be strong and independent and brave the way he could never be on Earth. But his dreams go up in smoke when their ship crash-lands, killing half the passengers and leaving the rest stranded – not on Thetis, but on its cruel and unpeopled moon, Achilles. 

Between its bloodthirsty alien life forms and its distance from their intended location, Achilles is far from an ideal resting place. The situation is already dire, but when all of the adults suddenly disappear, leaving the teenage passengers to fend for themselves, Jonah doubts they’ll survive at all, much less reach Thetis. Especially when it appears Achilles isn’t as uninhabited as they were led to believe.

Body Parts – Jessica Kapp

There’s a medication you can take to be stronger. Another one to make you smarter. Another to make you more beautiful. Another to make you faster. In fact, there’s a medication for anything you want to change about yourself. You can take your pick and you have money to burn so you can take as many different types as you want. You continue taking them all because they work so well. Then you find out your liver is failing and you need a transplant or you’ll die. Do you question where your new liver is coming from? Do you brush aside any ethical dilemmas you might stumble across in the process and decide to go ahead with the surgery anyway? After all, your life is on the line.

I’m not quite sure how she did it but Jessica Kapp reeled me in by the end of the first page and had me on her hook until the end of the book. Body Parts provides a very interesting (and quite scary) commentary on both the organ transplant and pharmaceutical industries.

In the beginning of this book we meet a group of children at the Centre who are being trained to be as healthy as possible in order to increase their chances of being placed with a foster family. Each child has lived in hope that their dream of belonging in a real family will come true. We follow Tabitha as she’s given the news that a family wants to foster her and when she subsequently learns that nothing at the Centre is as it seems. Who can you trust when everything you’ve been taught growing up turns out to be lies?

I loved a lot of the characters, especially Mary, but felt like some of the peripheral characters blended into each other a bit. I enjoyed the uncertainty I felt along with Tabitha regarding who she could trust, and liked that some characters had motives that weren’t always immediately apparent. Some minor irritations, such as the ending feeling rushed and finding the Insta-love annoying at times, didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this book. I found myself wanting to rush through to find out if my suspicions about certain characters were valid and who would be saved from getting slaughtered for spare parts.

I kept thinking as I was reading that a scenario like that described in this book isn’t so far fetched that it’s not within the realms of possibility. Is it really that much of a leap, when there’s already distrust surrounding big drug companies and so many stories about black market organ theft, to believe they could easily merge into one hugely profitable venture?

Partway through this book and with questions like this playing in my head, the X-Phile in me accidentally escaped and thought it would be fun to go all conspiracy theory on me. My favourite outlandish conspiracy theory? What if this book isn’t fiction but is actually a memoir and one day far into the future, Jessica Kapp is going to come clean and reveal at long last that this is actually her story, that she is indeed Tabitha… Yeah, I know. I should be banned from watching The X-Files for life and perhaps conspiracy theory me should not be allowed out in polite company, but I love playing with what ifs. They make life much more entertaining.

Yes, I’m still happy to be an organ donor, but not until I’ve finished using them. Young adults and adults alike will enjoy this book and I’ll be looking out for future books by Jessica Kapp. Thank you so much to NetGalley and Diversion Books for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

People would kill for her body.

Raised in an elite foster center off the California coast, sixteen-year-old Tabitha’s been sculpted into a world-class athlete. Her trainers have told her she’ll need to be in top physical condition to be matched with a loving family, even though personal health has taken a backseat outside the training facility. While Tabitha swims laps and shaves seconds off her mile time, hoping to find a permanent home, the rest of the community takes pills produced by pharmaceutical giant PharmPerfect to erase their wrinkles, grow hair, and develop superhuman strength.

When Tabitha’s finally paired, instead of being taken to meet her new parents, she wakes up immobile on a hospital bed. Moments before she’s sliced open, a group of renegade teenagers rescues her, and she learns the real reason for her perfect health: PharmPerfect is using her foster program as a replacement factory for their pill-addicted clients’ failing organs. And her friends from the center, the only family she’s ever known, are next in line to be harvested.

Determined to save them, Tabitha joins forces with her rescuers, led by moody and mysterious Gavin Stiles. As they race to infiltrate the hospital and uncover the rest of PharmPerfect’s secrets, though, Tabitha finds herself with more questions than answers. Will trusting the enigmatic group of rebels lead her back to the slaughterhouse?