I've been on a bit of a popular science kick, lately, reading-wise. It's David Attenborough's fault - all those fish have warped my mind. Although it probably doesn't help that my two favorite English-language bookshops are light on fiction but have quite a lot of interesting-looking stuff of the boffin-at-the-beach variety on their shelves.
Also, last month's National Geographic came complete with one of their giant shiny wall charts. Since a childhood happily spent filching them from Dad's collection and using them to plan imaginary expeditions and paper my furniture, I have always had a quiet geekian affection for these big pull-out charts and maps. This one's of "The Solar System, December 2006: Eight Planets: The New Cosmic Order", which makes it sound as if there's been an intergalactic coup, rather than spot of relabelling last August by astronomers not a million miles away from where I type. In the solar system, it's like 1929 all over again but with more astral bodies, apparently.
Apart from the still-controversial relegation of Pluto to "dwarf planet" status, the chart includes a sparkly white Kuiper belt, and my new favorite cosmological feature, the Oort cloud. Purely for the amusing-name factor when said out loud in a gravelly voice: "Oooort cloud". "Oouuurrrrt cloud." Finally, for those who combine their interest in interplanetary travel with a concern for weight management, it handily it gives the Earth-weight equivalents for the effects of other planet's gravities. Just a suggestion, but Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune might be handy as places of banishment and shock therapy for the more annoying "00"-size celebrities.
The only problem with all of this, I've discovered, is that it can be the reading equivalent of brushing one's teeth before the orange juice of speculative, s/f fiction. I tried reading some futuristic thingimabob the other night and discovered that I had turned into the worst kind of pedant… "Faster than light speeds? What utter bollocks." ... "Anti-gravity propulsion drive? Bwahahaha. Puhleese. Idiot." … "NOise? In Space? Have they never seen Alien?" ... "Humanoid extra-terrestrials? Aaarrghhh!" *thump* I've had to go and lie down with a historical whodunit to recover.