‘Out There: The Science Behind Sci-Fi Film and TV’: The Conskipper Review

Out There: The Science Behind Sci-Fi Film and TV by Ariel Waldman is available in bookstores now, courtesy of Running Press. In this book, Waldman— a NASA advisor and the author of What’s It Like in Space?— informs the reader on the real-life science behind many of the tropes, motifs, and plot devices of popular science fiction stories. She achieves this through a series of essays and recorded conversations arranged into chapters by topic. The result is an engaging and fascinating text which is a treat for readers’ minds and imaginations alike.

Whether the topic is cloning, black holes, living on Mars, artificial intelligence, and so much more, Waldman arranges the text in a way that it’s easy to read and follow and a treasure trove of references for movie lovers. And fans can expect nods to stories beyond the most famous science fiction fare like Star Wars or Star Trek… one only needs to plow through a couple of pages to read about the caverns of the 1902 classic, A Trip to the Moon. The analysis and scientific explanations of the book are academic at their core, but Waldman and her conversation partners achieve a conversational and relaxed approach to how the information is delivered to the reader in a way that keeps the text from every becoming laborious to consume.

It isn’t just the films and television shows Waldman covers which may be familiar to her readers. Adam Savage of MythBusters fame participates in a discussion on the spacesuits from Alien and other films, and readers will encounter perspectives from individuals with ties to both NASA and SETI Institute. These contributors, and Waldman’s own proven track record in the field, lend an authority to the text which elevate it beyond the mere speculation a science fiction fan may participate in during a conversation with their peers. Out There is the kind of book which becomes more interesting to the readers with each new chapter because it was created by a writer who clearly loves the science fiction content and science behind it as much.

While a deep knowledge of science fiction film and television isn’t necessary to enjoy the book, it definitely helps in appreciating the text. By the time the book makes reference to the artificial gravity scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I had already seen my checklist of all of my favorite movies and shows addressed in one way or another and Waldman and her peers had answered many questions I found myself asking about them. The amount of trivia the average science fiction fan will walk away with after reading this book will make for many interesting conversations in the future.

Running Press published Out There as a beautiful full-color hardcover edition of the text which is large enough to open up and hold in your hands and enjoy without anything feeling too crowded. The book contains beautiful illustrations which were made for the text and enhance the various topics. They aren’t specific to any film or show, but these illustrations wear their inspirations on their sleeves. I was surprised that there were no stills from any of the movies or shows being discussed, but their omission doesn’t really take away from following the text or understanding what is being said. The pages of text are largely uninterrupted save for a couple of text bubbles which are color-coded by chapter. The presentation is nice and crisp and clear, and it makes Out There a quick and easy read.

Out There is the kind of book that’s made for the science fiction fans out there who watch their favorite movies or television shows and ask themselves, “could this really happen?”. And based on the answers and ideas provided by the experts in the text, the answer is “yes” more times than we might imagine! This is a fun read and a great gift idea for the science fiction fan in your life who wants to know everything there is to know about the movies they love.

Leave a Reply