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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Cyber Monday Among Friends

By Phil Plait

One of the fun things about being a writer is having lots of friends who write, too. An even funner thing* is that, as a writer, I can help promote their stuff.

Since it’s Cyber Monday—a day promoting online shopping for the holidays—then I’ll take my chance now to help a few pals sell a few more books. And this is more than just cronyism; these truly are good books, even great ones. If you have a geek in your life (and let’s face it: you’re reading this blog, so look in the mirror) any and all of these make perfect gifts.

Furiously Happy

I’ll start off with this one, which isn’t really in the geek category, but Jenny is a great person, and a Doctor Who fan, so I’ll allow it.

Sometimes, we can’t find any happiness in our lives. The deep, dark terrors within us make us broken, and devour that happiness.

But sometimes—not always, but sometimes—we can with help overcome those seemingly insurmountable problems, face down the wall blocking us from the light, and find the happiness that is, in fact, there.

Sometimes it’s those flaws themselves that cast that light into relief, show us that despite and even sometime because of our flaws, things can be OK. Better than OK.

That’s the lesson I got from my friend Jenny Lawson’s book, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. It may not be the lesson you get, but that’s part of the theme anyway: We all have our dragons to ride. Jenny encompasses that more than anyone I know, a woman who has self-admitted flaws that might keep a normal human down, but instead make her shine so brightly. Watch:

I get choked up watching that every time. Somehow, though, Jenny manages to take these terrible things and spin them into magic, writing a book that is as absurdly funny as it is uplifting. If you’ve read her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, then you already know that, but if you haven’t, a) go buy it, and 2) buy this one and read them both. She’s a master of turning the horrible into the funny.

On top of all that, Jenny is profoundly NSFW. Man, I love her.   

You’re Never Weird on the Internet [Almost]

If you need an introduction to Felicia Day, then you should have your Internet privileges revoked. Felicia is an actress, a producer of geek content, a gamer, a writer, and just an all-around good person. Also, apparently, a Mad Scientist, too.

It’s easy to think of her as a “celebrity,” someone larger than life. But in her book, You’re Never Weird on the Internet [Almost], she talks candidly of her struggle with mental illness, including a crippling anxiety that has tried to take her down many times. And like Jenny’s book, it’s really funny and charming and endearing (which I think she can’t help).

I will guarantee someone you know has been or is going through the same sorts of things Felicia and Jenny have. At some level, we all have. Buy them these books.

Thing Explainer

For reasons I’ll never quite understand, I have a lot of really smart and creative friends. Even then, I don’t use the word “genius” much, but if it applies to anyone, it’s permanently affixed to Randall Munroe. Creator of Xkcd and What If?, I’ve never met anyone who can absorb knowledge in so many disparate fields, integrate it, and then use it to make funny things.

His new book, Thing Explainer, is a wonder. I already wrote about it when he announced it, so go read that, come back here, and buy the book. You want it.

Full disclosure: I helped a bit with the space section of the book, but you should get it anyway.

Zen Pencils

Gavin Aung Than is another buddy of mine. He’s an artist who takes inspirational writings and speeches and draws comics around them; he calls his work Zen Pencils. He has a gift for taking strong words and amplifying them with art, and I love his work. I’ve written about his stuff many times. His first book, Zen Pencils: Cartoon Quotes From Inspirational Folks, is great, and now he has a second: Zen Pencils-Volume Two: Dream the Impossible Dream. He has cartoons about Amy Poehler, Chris Hardwick, Isaac Asimov, and many more.

He really is great. His drawings never fail to make me smile and can be profoundly insightful.

Hollyweird Science

I met scientist and writer Kevin Grazier a long time ago at a sci-fi convention in L.A. We hit it off right away. He got me a gig as a science consultant on a TV show for kids, and we’ve done eleventy bajillion panels together at various cons.

Like me, Kevin doesn’t like bad science on TV and movies, but also like me he’s more than willing to forgive the odd transgression or two when it helps the story along (and also gives points for stories that at least try to get things straight). Along with Stephen Cass, Kevin wrote a book called Hollyweird Science: From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse, which dissects the good, the bad, and the ugly in various programs.*

It’s written for the interested layperson but doesn’t shy away from the more mathy and sciencey bits as well. This book is a must-have for any science fiction fan who puts stress on the first word of that phrase.

Hawai’i Nights

Rogelio Bernal Andreo is a master astrophotographer; I’ve posted his work countless times on the blog (and he graciously allowed me to use several of his shots for Crash Course Astronomy, too). He has a book out with pictures he’s taken from Hawaii that shows the beautiful islands combined with the night skies there, and the results are gorgeous. It’s called Hawai’i Nights, and if you’re looking for a lush coffee table book, here you go. It’s available as a digital copy, softcover, and hardcover, too.

Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond

I’ve known Megan Watzke and Kimberly Arcand for forever, it seems. They’re fellow science communicators, working with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, where they do an excellent job educating the public about X-ray astronomy.

They’ve written a new book called Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond, which is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a coffee table book filled with fantastic images explaining all the different flavors of light and what they tell us about the Universe. It’s written in clear, readable text, and it’s entertaining as well as educational. I just checked the price, and it’s a flipping steal at $19.22! Hurry!

Breakthrough!: 100 Astronomical Images That Changed the World

I’ve featured Robert Gendler’s astronomical images on my blog here many times. He’s put together a book with Jay GaBany called Breakthrough!: 100 Astronomical Images That Changed the World. This is more than just a pretty picture book; they go through the history of photography and astrophotography, showing important pictures that really did change how we view the heavens.

I learned a lot reading this, and it was fascinating. Examples: The first known photo was taken in 1826/7, and it was an eight-hour exposure using a camera obscura. The first astrophotograph was taken of the Moon in 1845, and was destroyed in a fire. It goes on like that, with very cool photos loaded with information about them. They go through the history of technological improvements over time, and by halfway through the book you’re in the modern era of digital color imagery, and your jaw will hang open in awe at the progress we’ve made.


Because why not: I wrote some books, too. Bad Astronomy, Death From the Skies!, and Nerd Disses are all still available, and I think they’re pretty good.

So that’s what I have for you. Mind you, this is a small slice of what’s out there, of course. If you have a favorite science/geek book, then feel free to leave a link in the comments! The point of all this is to share the joy and wonder, so go ahead and share them.

* I am a professional writer, and I used that word; therefore it is a word.

*Correction, Nov. 30, 2015: This post originally misspelled Stephen Cass’ first name.  

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