So here's my fifth review for the year.
Title: Life Signs: The Biology of Star Trek
Authors: Susan Jenkins, MD, and Robert Jenkins, MD, Ph.D
Genre: Popular science, science fiction, non-fiction
Why do Vulcans have green blood? Why do Ferengis have such big ears? How does Geordi LaForge’s visor work? Why do Klingons have an extra heart? Is Commander Data alive? What are lifesigns anyway? Is synthehol, which offers alcohol’s pleasant effects but no hangovers, a feasible brew?
What Star Trek fan hasn’t pondered such weighty questions as these? Now, two noted scientists provide all the answers as they explore the sometimes fanciful, always fascinating, biological issues raised by
I enjoyed reading this, the second of two ‘science of Star Trek’ books out there (the other being The Physics of Star Trek by Laurence M. Krauss) and the second one I worked through. I was glad of my AP Bio and basic chemistry class background when I read this – not that it’s too full of science for the non-scientist to understand, but it certainly helped me make sense of some parts. I wonder what I’ll think of the Physics book if I reread it now, without any recent background in the subject...
Most of the chapters of the book put out the premise that you, the reader, are part of a science team going on an away mission to a new planet the Enterprise-D (since The Next Generation (TNG) is the canon referred to most here*) has discovered. It poses a question and then explains the concept – about what kind of alien life to look for, for example.
Each chapter begins with a quote or two from a movie, episode from the series (usually Original Series or TNG), or other Star Trek-related material which ties in to the theme of the chapter. The chapters themselves are a nice mix of expansion upon a particular fictional point and examination of the science that is or could be behind it, explanation of real-world concepts, and narration.
Recommended for readers interested in popular science books and/or Star Trek fans wanting to know a little bit more about some of the real-world scientific interpretations of a franchise they enjoy.
*which is one area where the book shows its age, because there’s a section referring to the treatment of the smooth vs. ridged Klingon foreheads as a “blooper”. The issue was addressed in a two-part Star Trek: Enterprise episode, but of course that aired much after the book was published.