My rating: 4 of 5 stars
While it takes a book like this to remind us how cutting-edge and accurate Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar really was, author Kip S. Thorne (predictably) ignores what is perhaps the biggest idea of the movie.
This idea has also proved the most polarising, with a range of critics and viewers labelling Nolan as sentimental, goofy and on a New Age trip as a result. I am, of course, referring to Dr Amelia Brand’s Big Speech near the end (played with deadpan earnestness by Anne Hathaway):
Love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful, it has to mean something… Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.
Many critics have commented that the strong father-daughter relationship that drives the emotional engine of Interstellar is a vestige of the script/story when Steven Spielberg was still on board to direct it, as far back as 2006.
The only time that Thorne refers to the human elements of the movie is when he talks about Mann’s planet and the explosion of Endurance, adding (apologetically) that Dr Mann’s murderous actions lie outside the remit of science (instead of a mad robot as in 2001, Nolan presents us with a … mad scientist. Gee, how original.) Thorne then launches into a detailed, gleeful account of the Endurance explosion and how accurate it is, as enamoured as a Boy Scout with a ball of string.
Of course, the first time that Hollywood tried to depict a black hole was Disney’s 1979 movie, prosaically entitled The Black Hole. Thorne gives a compact account of how much our knowledge has changed in the interim.
The first time that the concept of a wormhole entered Hollywood as an SF staple of time/space travel was Robert Zemeckis’s Contact (1997), starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey (John Lithgow in Interstellar was also in 2010), based on the book by Carl Sagan (Thorne worked with both Sagan and Zemeckis on the science).
Flash-forward to 2014 and Nolan’s answer to Stanley Kubrick: a rigorously scientific and accurate SF movie, based upon (and extrapolated from) the latest research and data. Everything from Dr Brand’s equations on the blackboard to what Cooper sees within Gargantua, from the crop blight which decimates the earth at the beginning to the space colonies at the end, is either plausible or completely accurate.
Apart from Thorne himself, a crop of eminent scientists, theoreticians and academics were called upon for their two cents’ worth (though the final decision always lay with Nolan, Thorne points out constantly, especially when he has a quibble or two with the director’s artistic licence).
Needless to say, you should only read this book after you have seen the movie. If you attempt to read this first, I think you will have no desire whatsoever to see the movie, because it sounds like a graduate-level quantum physics lecture.
If you have seen the movie and then read a book like this, you will be amazed (as I was) at the amount of science you would have absorbed. And quite painlessly, all with state-of-the-art CGI and a truly thunderous Hans Zimmer score to boot.
My only quibble is that Thorne is a much better teacher than he is a writer – there are some wince-inducing instances here that could have used an editor’s cudgel. Apart from that, Thorne’s enthusiasm for his subject matter shines through every page, making this a truly memorable companion piece to a great movie.
Is it the greatest SF movie ever made? I would have to say it is probably the best American SF movie ever made, as the idea that the whole concept of space travel is simply to replicate the American Dream among the stars is singularly depressing.
There is no inkling here that base-line humanity will have to change; that evolution and transformation go hand in hand. One only has to look to great SF writers like Paul McAuley and Stephen Baxter to read what lies in store for us; hopefully Hollywood catches up soon.