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By David Voss
Come on, admit it. You've always wanted to understand the neuroscience of zombies, how dragons spit fire, and how long a beheading victim remains conscious. Especially so, perhaps, if you're one of the many fans of the smash hit television series Game of Thrones, based on the fantasy books by George R. R. Martin. You now have a reliable guide in Fire, Ice, and Physics by physicist Rebecca Thompson, former APS Head of Outreach and now head of Fermilab's Office of Outreach and Public Education.
Taking place on the imaginary continents of Westeros and Essos, Game of Thrones features a lot of science fiction, and Thompson deftly escorts the reader chapter by chapter through climate science, the physics of materials, how dragons work ("bats, but with fire!"), and the more gruesome forms of capital punishment. In each case, Thompson contrasts the science of the fictional world with how things work back here in reality.
For example, the story takes place on a planet that is somewhat Earth-like (there are oceans and continents, oxygen, living creatures) but summer lasts ten years and everyone in Westeros is muttering that some dreadful "winter is coming." This is the launchpad for a wonderful discussion of climate science, seasons, elliptical planetary orbits, precession of Earth's axis, and ice ages.
But there is much more, and Fire, Ice, and Physics gives an excellent tour through this fantasy world, sorting out what could and couldn't be, and what is based in science.
Fire, Ice, and Physics by Rebecca C. Thompson, with foreword by Sean Carroll (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2019).
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik