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Kate is a teenage girl living with her astrophysicist grandfather in New England When her grandfather's research attracts unwanted attention from an otherworldly visitor he mysteriously disappears Kate must rush to find him and the secret that can save the Earth and the entire solar system from annihilation before it's too lateOne of the best Science Fantasies I've read in a long time Madeleine L'Engle


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    Okay that's it I'm done I'm sorry I tried but I just can't do this anyMy biggest problem with trying to read this is that the science literate part of my brain is not something that I can just turn on and off at will If this had been a fantasy story that would be one thing because in fantasy magic is kind of a given But this was written and presented as science fiction and it's painfully clear that T A Barron stands comfortably alongside Madeline L'Engle in the YA Authors Who Think Science Is Neat But Can't Be Bothered to Learn How It Actually Works ClubEver since I was a student at Oxford I have suspected that deep in the core of every star there is a special substance—a substance that holds the key to explaining how stars really functionIsn't that the stuff you've written so much about? The stuff you call PLC?PCL corrected Grandfather It stands for Pure Condensed LightSure that's all fine and dandy except for the part where we already know how stars work The gravitational collapse of a gas cloud packs a lot of molecules together into a very small space while also heating them up and if this ball of gas is massive enough the extreme pressures and temperatures will bring those molecules to a point where they're colliding often enough and moving fast enough where quantum tunneling kicks in and through several different processes lighter atoms begin to combine into heavier atoms converting a tiny percentage of their mass into energy in the process This energy then makes its way to the surface in the form that we perceive as sunlight Sure it's not sexy or glamorous but there's nothing mystical about itSo you've finally proved that PCL exists? asked KateEven better answered Grandfather and his eyebrows lifted like rising white clouds I have identified all of its ingredients I now possess the recipe for PCLHow does this even work? You want to know what the ingredients for light are? Photons That's it Just a whole bunch of photons of greater or lesser energy ie shorter or longer wavelengths respectively Not only would no self respecting astrophysicist talk this way but if you need a recipe to make it then it's not lightI still don't get it How does making some substance that's found in stars allow you to travel faster than light?Well answered the inventor as he studied the humming box closely during my years of work on PCL I've learned enough about it to predict that it has some rather unusual properties For example it ought to melt anything frozen that touches it But very recently—purely by accident—I discovered that it also has another property An absolutely astonishing propertyKate could feel his swelling enthusiasm and it stirred her own What property is that?Grandfather straightened his tall frame and looked squarely at her PCL has the ability to liberate the part of us most similar to pure lightYou mean our souls? asked Kate in wondermentI don't know what the author was thinking here but it makes absolutely no sense A form of light that can not only dissolve matter and melt frozen stuff on contact for that matter which definition of frozen are we using here? The freezing point of water? Nitrogen? Lead? but literally separate the soul from the body? The only thing you've succeeded in separating here is my suspension of disbeliefAs he twisted dials the brightly colored gases of a great nebula surrounding the star came into view They spiraled around it like a brilliant veil of incandescent clouds finally fading into the deep darkness of spacePressing a button he brought the swirling clouds into sharper focus revealing several planets which orbited through the glowing gases of the star's system One of them gleamed with a pearly white color In the center of the spiraling veil the great red star Trethoniel sat like an imperious queen upon her throne unaging and untouchableGrandfather spun another dial and the seething scorching surface of the star completely filled the screen Towers of superheated gases danced thousands of miles out into spaceSeriously how is he doing this??? If you want to directly look at a planetary system around another star even the biggest most expensive most stable telescopes will get you at most a picture of a dot and maybe if you're really really lucky and go to the trouble of precisely blocking out the light of the central star a few much dimmer dots in orbit around the brighter dot—and even if you do all of that you're still going to have to stare at it for anywhere from minutes to hours That's why most of the current methods for detecting exoplanets are indirect carefully measuring the brightness of a star over time to try to catch the miniscule dimming as a planet passes in front of it carefully measuring the wavelength of the hydrogen absorption lines over time to try to catch the miniscule change in velocity from the gravitational tugging of a planet or carefully measuring the star's position over time as the planet's pull tugs it oh so slightly away from where we predict it to be There is NO WAY and I mean no POSSIBLE way with any technology that's even conceivable in the near future to obtain a detailed image of an extrasolar system complete with planets much less be able to see actual stellar flares in real timeAnd that's not even getting into the scale failure If you want to get a good look at a star then exactly none of the orbits are going to be in your frame And even for the smallest coolest stars if you want to look at the system as a whole then you're going to have to zoom out so far that you're barely going to be able to see the planets much less tell what color they are So if you ever see a picture that looks like this? It's an artist's conception and a scientifically inaccurate one at thatDo you see the dark blotch in the lower hemisphere?It looks like a huge sunspotIf only it were That is a PCL void deep within the core of the Sun And according to the figures it's spreading like a deadly cancer At this rate the Sun has no than a thousand years left to liveSay what now? The Sun is eventually going to die but that will happen when its core runs out of hydrogen to fuse Maybe there are scientifically feasible ways to end the life of a star prematurely but this hippy dippy mumbo jumbo is certainly not one of themMorpheus slowly blinked his great green eyesYou do know that butterflies don't have eyelids?He had said that every star eventually reaches a point where the age old balance between its own gravity which pulls inward and its radiant energy which pulls outward will fall apart If it's a normal star like the Sun it will suddenly shudder and compress down to the size of a moon But if it's unusually massive it could expand and expand like a luminous red balloon until—at last—it will burst and collapse so fast and so far that it will disappear completely leaving nothing behind but a black holeAnd this is the part where I'm not going to buy the argument that but but but it's fantasy Just go with it The author is referencing actual science here so I'm going to hold him to actual scientific standards He doesn't even manage to get the known science right The Sun is not just going to collapse into a white dwarf at the end of its life—only the lowest mass stars do that A middle weight like our Sun will expand into a red giant first and then collapse into a white dwarf The very highest mass stars will tear themselves apart in a brilliant explosion known as a supernova violently shredding their outer layers while what's left of the core collapses into a black hole There's oversimplifying for the sake of a lay audience and then there's just being sloppy because you think you can get away with it because you don't expect your audience to know any bettera new formation shimmering in the stellar breeze caught Kate's attention It resembled a kind of curtain a curtain made of thousands of lavender tinted icicles She heard them tinkling gently as the winds passed through them and the soothing sound helped her mood to pass as wellAh yes my old nemesis sound in space We meet againThis creature must be made of some kind of anti light cried MorpheusOkay I've heard of anti matter But what in the name of Einstein is anti light? No seriously on an actual scientific basis I want to knowNot to mention on a general level the characterization of the Royal Society as a bunch of closed minded fools because they wouldn't accept Grandfather's off the wall research without definitive proof left a really bad taste in my mouth They weren't out to get him because they couldn't handle new ideas they were doing their jobs The accepted scientific consensus can and does change but extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and if you're insisting that the scientific community just take you at your word without being ready to provide that proof that doesn't make you a misunderstood genius it makes you a quackSo now that I've given an impromptu astronomy lesson that absolutely no one asked for I'll add that the extreme scientific inaccuracies might have been tolerable if this book had actually been telling a good story but it's not As a matter of fact it just seems incredibly derivative Remember how I mentioned Madeline L'Engle earlier? Well that wasn't a coincidence As it turns out here we have a story about a girl who to save her world from a vague shadowy threat is whisked to another planetary system via a handwaved scientific principle that's only vaguely explained where she's attacked by a vague dark thing that's only ever explained as being the essence of Evil and which very nearly freezes her to death and forces her breathing and heartbeat to move to its rhythm only to crash land on an alien planet where she's healed by the kind locals This ringing any bells? If so that's because beat for beat it's almost the exact same plot as A Wrinkle in Time Not to mention that the mystical talking animal who carries and protects her through the void of space is oddly reminiscent of A Swiftly Tilting Planet Not to mention reading about a space battle with something called The Darkness just made me think of thisThus why I found it completely impossible to take the menacing villain seriouslyI quit reading right around the time we got to the alien civilizations These characters are supposed to be aliens and while they look completely different they still talk and act exactly like humans Even the way they helped Kate makes no sense if these crystal things have spent their entire lives on a planet where frozen and snowy is the normal temperature and all of the local life is perfectly adapted to thrive in the freezing cold then how on Earth did they know that Kate's life was in danger because she was too cold and needed to be warmed up? It makes no senseNow if you'll excuse me I'm going to go have an aneurysm brought on by bad science