The world of fiction reviewing

Ball Philip Ball, an ex-Nature editor colleague who continues to write for the journal as well as many award-winning books about science, has just written his first work of fiction, The Sun and Moon Corrupted. He has been reading the reviews, a process which is either pleasurable tinged with pain or painful tinged with pleasure, I can't quite make out which. One thing is clear, though, it is different from having a scientific work mauled by the critics. Phil's experience is

"an interesting awakening to the world of fiction reviewing, where one unfortunately can’t say ‘this particular criticism was disproved in Physical Review Letters in 1991’. One person’s meat is another person’s demon-haunted brew from the foul swamps of Transylvania."

Here is a review of the book at The New Humanist. An excerpt: "Philip Ball has written several popular books on subjects as diverse as how water works, what molecules are and the world of Renaissance Magic and he brings his clarity of thought to this, his first novel. The title refers to a mystical alchemical experiment. Mercury is the Moon, a female element, whilst sulphur is the Sun, the fiery male element, and seeking their union is the goal of the philosopher. Their perfect marriage is called “The Red King”, and the properties of this alloy have to do with the philosopher’s stone, turning base metal into gold. This essentially futile quest is the backbone of the book – it is the search for a perpetual motion machine – a machine that gives out more energy than is put into it, which would violate the laws of thermodynamics."

Other reviews of the book can be read at FT.com (if you can stand it: ghastly website that spreads a tiny review over two pages so it can flash yet more rubbish at you) and at Popular Science, the blissfully quieter yet content-rich website of prolific science writer Brian Clegg. The book was also the subject of the Fiction Lab discussion group in London the other night, and you can check into Jennifer Rohn's blog Mind the Gap for a write up of that event.