Sunday, July 31, 2011

Scary Camp Stories

The act of sharing scary stories around a roaring campfre is an age-old tradition, as old as the history of story-telling itself, when tribes would gather to listen to the words of a wise man. These days, a wise man knows not to orate the tales of Big Foot, the Missing Miners, or the Ghost Whatever, at our campfires, unless they also wish to contend with the blood-curdling screams of my little brother (but I can't poke that much fun, because, a very short time ago, that was me). It seems that the exploits of terrifying creatures and phenomena have been expelled from our camp grounds forever, so we lie around, reading books, instead.

However, maybe we haven't heard the last of the Boogey Man. A handful of tent-pitchings ago, my Dad stowed Mary Roach's Spook in his duffel, and later still, Stiff passed through his (and my) hands, too. The interest in both science and the scary proved too much for us to withstand, and we enjoyed both books immensely, and still reference them casually between episodes of Ghost Hunters (Our family is devoted. No judging).

So this interest in science and spookiness is what prompted me to pick up Death from the Skies: the Science Behind the End of the World (Yes, the cover art work did factor). :) It didn't feature things that went "bump in the night", but instead, Philip Plait, Ph.D., focused his attentions on things that went boom in the sky. Things that could possibly destroy us all.

While the book was informational, interesting, and a great conversation starter, it did confuse me a little. The chapters on various space happenings, like stars going supernova, gamma ray bursts, etc. start out with attention grabbing stories of woe and destruction, then meander through easy-to-follow descriptions of the phenomena themselves, and then finally evolve into the epic conclusion: You're not going to die. At least, not right now. In a while. And for the problems that may affect us, lots of smart people are working on it. So, relax.

To be honest, I feel like it acted as a sort of calming reassurance, for all potential scaredy cats, which contradicted everything the book had promised, with it's eye-catching cover, and apocalypto chapter openings. I felt like it didn't take the topic seriously; therefore, it hindered me from really taking any of it seriously, and didn't get me invested in the information. The message of "Don't Panic" made the entire purpose of the book seem slightly less interesting.

Maybe it's because I'm not enough of an astronomy aficionado. Maybe it's just the same lesson we learned camping: if you have to worry about the chicken hearts, the campfire won't be as fun.

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