Physics Of Star Trek
by Lawrence Krauss
While I generally won't review books that are not SF, this book seems to be worth making an exception. It is a scientific appraisal of the technology and science portrayed in Star Trek (the original TV series, the spin-off programs and films). The author is a professional physicist and clearly very much a Star Trek fan. Examples of relevant scenes from TV episodes and movies are frequently used showing extensive knowledge of the stories, as well as references to books that give the supposed technical specifications of the Enterprise.
It deserves an article here, as its purpose is much in tune with that of this site. It considers the scientific foundations of what is described in works of SF.
The book is written for non-scientists. However, if you have gotten lost reading other physics popularizations, this book you may have to work in places. I imagine this will not be the case with many readers with an interest in hard SF. And I hope that anyone else will consider the effort worthwhile.
Krauss covers many aspects of Star Trek technology: warp drive, impulse engines, the transporter, deflector shields, tractor beams, time travel, wormholes, matter-antimatter reactions, dilithium crystals, holodecks, etc. He also uses their encounters with other cultures as a stepping off spot to discuss SETI. The book is organized to handle the technologies as he gives essential related scientific principles. This, to a large degree, results in discussing one technology then another. However, it does not provide a reference book in which there is one chapter for each technology. For those seeking an educational book, that is a good thing, as I think this format accomplishes that better. Those who would prefer a reference book can at least be assured this is not a lengthy book.
Just as many of the science issue articles on this site have their share of "may", "probably", "to the best of our understanding", etc.; Krauss cannot give us definitive statements on whether certain Star Trek technologies could one day be implemented. Some are not consistent with science if implemented in exactly the way described in the show, but the function might be accomplished by another means. Other technologies would be dependent on areas of science that are not yet well defined, so may or may not be feasible. Some are permitted by the laws of nature (although, perhaps some rather obscure ones), but would require mind-boggling resources we cannot say whether humans will ever control.
This should not be taken the wrong way. Krauss refers to various ways the producers of Star Trek took aspects of physics into consideration (as well as mentioning a few significant exceptions). It's neither a book for devotees who only want praise, or for bashers who only want criticism. It will provide some useful perspective for many hard SF readers.
I would also recommend the book as a good orientation for writers who want to strengthen their ability to develop hard SF.
Krauss has also written another book, Beyond Star Trek: Physics From Alien Invasions To The End Of Time, which deals with non-Star Trek SF. It is also informative and clever. It may not have as much flair as the first book, but worth reading either for an insight into issues in SF or as a more entertaining way to learn more about physics.