Sunday, June 26, 2011

Review: The Manga Guide to the Universe by Kenji Ishikawa

The Manga Guide to the UniverseThe Manga Guide to the Universe by Kenji Ishikawa

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The Manga Guide to the Universe is another offering in The Manga Guide to . . ., this time focusing on modern astronomy. And this is not astronomy as in star watching, this is astronomy as in modern physics. It tries to get across the fact that science is about answering questions through reason and data. But with cosmology as the subject, the plot is more obviously contrived than others in this series, and in this case may be too distracting to achieve its purpose.

Reading The Manga Guide reminded me of an astronomy course I took back in college. Like the others in the series, it presents the material in the context of an anime storyline set in a japanese high school, with a plot that involves some schoolgirls in a situation that requires some knowledge about astronomy to solve. In this case, they need to put on a play, and they require expert assistance in updating a traditional story for a play for modern audiences. But because too much of traditional folklore is not believable due to scientific advances, they re-write it so that the principle characters are from other places, consulting with a local university astronomy student and an astrophysics professor to join them along the way.

The plot takes us to the moon, solar system, the Milky way and beyond. Each step has the characters identify a logical flaw in the current understanding, and then they reason through a solution, with the professor giving expositions as needed to fill in the facts or to demonstrate why the reasoned out solution is in fact correct (or not). While it can be fun, the writers clearly had more trouble on this one than in others, as the exposition often has to go on for pages, unlike other Manga Guide to the ... which usually only gives exposition to present a more concise and complete explanation of the principle that was just illustrated in the story. Because of this, while it is mostly entertaining, I think that The Manga Guide to the Universe may have been a stretch too far covering too much ground for the format.

Note: I received a free electronic copy of The Manga Guide to the Universe from O'Reilly Press from their blogger program.



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