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Reviews: Illuminating stories

Which stories have illuminated something important to you? Staff from the Lab provide their favourite…

1501-reviews-1The Inhibitor Trilogy, Alistair Reynolds

Seemingly unrelated events in distant places converging into an epic finale – how many stories like that have you read before…? Not this time. Riding “lighthuggers” for no-faster-than-light travel, creating digital sub-personas of yourself, and fighting the “nano-mould plague”, you become less than a reader and more of an explorer of a dystopic future – which the reader is led to believe is the most probable one. And you may not like it one bit. Alastair Reynolds, a former European Space Agency astrophysicist, created a genuine chronicle of human kind in a science fiction trilogy  Revelation Space, Redemption Ark, and Absolution Gap (pictured) – starting with the archaeology of extant star-faring species and ending up with walking cathedrals. Highly recommended for techno addicts, but forbidden for bedtime readers.

Rastislav Horos, postdoc, EMBL Heidelberg


Copenhagen (1998), Michael Frayn1501-reviews-2a

Why did he come to Copenhagen? The question echoes through this award winning play, which transcends history. “He” is theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg, and the answer lurks in his visit to Niels Bohr in 1941, during the height of WWII and the race to develop the atomic bomb. Heisenberg and Bohr passed away long ago, but playwright Michael Frayn brilliantly summons their spirits in a rehearsal loop and re-imagines what happened. Human behaviour becomes as uncertain as physics principles, and as we dive into the science and history behind quantum mechanics, we witness a debate about taking moral responsibility for one’s actions, and the inevitable break-up of a friendship. Interested? Watch the movie starring Daniel Craig (2002), or listen to the radio recording with Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch (2013).

Julia Roberti, postdoc, EMBL Heidelberg


1501-reviews-4The Truth About Climate Change (2006), Sir David Attenborough

Climate change is a very hot topic at the moment and the media narrative in the past has focussed on differing opinions about the reasons underlying the increase in global temperatures recorded during the past 40 years. In 2006, David Attenborough wanted to provide an answer to this very important question. In this groundbreaking documentary, he assessed the weight of evidence as to whether this increase in temperature was due to natural causes – such as sun activity or volcano eruptions – or greenhouse gases – created by human activities. He presented compelling evidence that the latter is the main contributor to climate change, and I remember being inspired by his suggestions for five ways we can reduce it – which range from scaling up renewable energy, to population growth control.

Andrea Cerase, postdoc, EMBL Monterotondo


1501-reviews-3aDie Zeit, die Zeit (2012), Martin Suter

Time, just like any other measurable factor, follows a strict rule: 60 minutes = 1 hour, 24 hours = 1 day, 365 days = 1 year. Die Zeit, die Zeit, a novel by Swiss author Martin Suter, places this stringent definition in another light. Suter tells the story of “time nihilist” Alfred Knup, who denies the very existence of time. Alfred’s thesis sounds rather simple: since time measures ‘change’, one should be able to stop time from passing, by avoiding changes  – a mission Alfred dedicates his life to. The book has influenced how I personally perceive time; instead of accepting it as a stress-provoking constraint, I now try to look at it in a more relaxed fashion – as a subjective man-made construct that does not follow any rules except itself.

Ina Hollerer, PhD Student, EMBL Heidelberg

Tags: Reviews, Science and Society

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