It predated the popularity of cyberpunk and was written right at the end of the enviro-disastrous 1970s, and the overall tone is quite gloomy; especially a chapter which outlines the various esoteric calamities that might befall the Earth, culminating in colliding black holes. The coverage of science fiction's doomed attempts to explain faster-than-light and time travel in the context of relativistic physics is clear and mildly depressing. Overall the book is a neat antidote to the gosh-wow technology books of the time, with their endless recycling of NASA concept space wheels and Apple II screenshots.
Physically the book is a chunky hardback with a cover by, I believe, Chris Foss; inside, it's glossy, with mostly colour photographs of dead fish, Japanese people in capsule hotels, microcomputers, and stills from 'A Clockwork Orange' and so forth. 'Star Wars' doesn't feature very highly and 'Blade Runner' had not yet come out. The final chapter compiles a number of common sci-fi goofs - space pirates with slide rules, hyper-intelligent robots co-existing with room-sized mainframe computers - and ends with the suggestion that the space age might already have run its course. As such the book is right on the cusp of post-modern self-doubt, what with Apollo being only a decade old at that point.
Unlike the TV shows that explain how a magician does his tricks, "The Science in Science Fiction" is not a book that tries to take the sense of wonder out of an imaginitive genre. Rather, it discusses the viability of ideas which science fiction writers commonly exploit, e.g. time travel, hyperspace or cloning, describing how these things may be achieved in the future, and the steps scientists are currently taking to make fact out of fiction.
If there is one thing this book teaches us, it is that we shouldn't be too dismissive of things that sound like idle day-dreaming. There was a time not so long ago when people scoffed at the idea of walking on the Moon. Look where we are now. Unfortunately, it is also possible for us to bring about the end of the world with those much talked about "weapons of mass destruction".
Towards the end the book does provide a list of failed predictions and wrong science. Quite rightly, Nicholls points out that the space craft in "Star Wars" would be inaudible in space and that laser beams would be invisible, but he does concede that films like "Star Wars" would be less fun if they stuck too rigidly to the facts. Invisibility sounds great until you realise that invisible retinas would result in blindness.
It is interesting to read about the section on cloning, because at the time of writing no one had yet succeeded in the cloning of mammals. It would be another fifteen years before the controversy over Dolly the Sheep erupted. This information about cloning is accompanied by an amusing illustration of two Ali clones in a fierce boxing match.
Science fiction has provided a wealth of inspiration for both writers and artists. Things may not be achieved in the way they imagined, or in the time that they predicted, but we can still accept the phrase "all things are possible".