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Darthy (UK)

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The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen
The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen
by Brian Cox
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a bit of effort, 22 Nov. 2011
There are plenty of books about quantum mechanics out there that give you a bit of the history of the science, broadly explain the uncertainty principle and the exclusion principle, and spend a lot of time on Schroedinger's Cat and parallel universes. Those books have value, but this book is trying to do something a bit different.

Cox and Forshaw begin with the notion that a particle can act like a particle but also like a wave, and that the wave signifies the likelihood of finding the particle in a particular place. From there, they take the time to show how this knowledge leads quite naturally to quantum theory, to the uncertainty principle, to the exclusion principle, and to an understanding of the nature of atoms and the workings of a transistor.

There are few logical leaps or waves of the hand. It takes some effort - if, like me, you haven't done any maths or science since GCSE, you might have to spend a bit of time with this book, and perhaps read it more than once, but the result is well worth it. The counterintuitive nature of the quantum world comes to life in a way that seems entirely natural, and there are wonderul "Eureka" moments, such when you realise the authors are building towards an explanation of the uncertainty principle.

If you have no knowledge of quantum theory, I'd recommend starting with Jim Al-Khalili's "Quantum" or Polkinghorne's "Quantum Theory - A Very Short Introduction", but then also moving on to this. Don't be scared by the maths or by the clocks - be prepared to put a bit of effort in. The result is well worth it.

And not a cat in a box in sight.

Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Cosmology: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Peter Coles
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good intro, but slightly out of date, 9 Dec. 2010
I found this to be a very useful introduction to Cosmology - though the concepts are notoriously difficult to understand, Coles writes well and covers all the basics. The history of the study of cosmology is outlined, and relativity and quantum mechanics given equal weight.
However, readers should be warned that, having been published in 2001, the book is a little out-of-date now - Coles often refers to forthcoming studies which have now been completed, and to mysteries about which we know a lot more - the value of Omega and "shape" of space, for example. The book was also written at a time when the notion that the expansion of the universe is accelerating was new, and Coles therefore often writes on the assumption that the expansion of the universe is slowing down - which we now know not to be true. Dark energy, another new concept at the time, is not mentioned by name, only as a new theoretical notion of "vacuum energy", and string theory is also given just one paragraph.
I would suggest going on to read "Galaxies: A Very Short Introduction", which updates much of the information in this book. I would also suggest Michio Kaku's "Parallel Worlds", the first few chapters of which provide an excellent overview of cosmology and which also discusses string theory, as well as Stephen Hawking's "The Grand Design", which summerises much of current understanding.

Doctor Who -- The Complete Series 5 [DVD]
Doctor Who -- The Complete Series 5 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Matthew Smith
Offered by movielovers786
Price: £25.98

18 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A sad disappointment, 8 Nov. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I was hugely looking forward to the first season of "Doctor Who" under the helm of Steven Moffat, whose work on the series I had loved and admired. As everyone knows, Moffat had written several of the best "Who" stories of recent years, including "The Empty Child", "The Girl in the Fireplace" and "Blink". That I found myself, halfway through the season, to be thoroughly disappointed and - worse - disinterested was very much a surprise to me.
The series feels very tentative. Rather than finding his own unique voice and taking the show in a bold new direction, Moffat here plays it very safe - "The Time of Angels", for example, merely treads over old ground, and a story like "The Hungry Earth" is remarkable in its uninspired ripping-off of previous "Who" stories (it is merely a shadow of Pertwee's superb "Silurians"). Indeed, looking back at the recent RTD years, Series 5 simply feels as if it's trying to do things exactly the same ... but not quite pulling it off as well.
There is also a major issue of characterisation. Almost every secondary character here is bland and instantly forgettable, while Karen Gillan's Amy Pond is a positive catastrophe - she barely feels like a character at all, more a shrill noise perpetually shrieking out one-liners. It's a major problem, therefore, that the series is focused on her story far more than it is on the Doctor's.
A couple of episodes do stand out - Richard Curtis's "Vincent and the Doctor" is wonderful, while Gareth Roberts' "The Lodger" also deserves high praise. The finale, however, is slightly disappointing - all promises of a complex, dramatic finale tying together all threads give way, and instead are are given a daft, zany, nonsensical romp - "Night at the Museum", "Doctor Who"-style. The whole thing is light as a feather - superficially fun, but little in the way of depth.
A word on Matt Smith, however - he is indeed perfectly cast as the Doctor, and is without doubt the highlight of the season, emerging from the shadow of one of the most popular Doctors ever, and making the character his own. But he really needs better material than this, Steven ... give him something to DO!
A quick mention of the DVD set itself, too - everyone, I think, realises that this set is massively overpriced, considering there are only 13 episodes, and barely any extra features - they haven't even bothered with commentaries on each episode this time. I don't know how much longer 2Entertain can justify charging this much, compared to the prices of other 13-episode series box-sets ...

The Fry Chronicles
The Fry Chronicles
by Stephen Fry
Edition: Hardcover

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does not disappoint, 8 Nov. 2010
This review is from: The Fry Chronicles (Hardcover)
Having read "Moab is my Washpot" several years ago, I had been awaiting the next volume of Fry's autobiography with huge anticipation and high expectations. I certainly wasn't disappointed.
This book does not bring Fry's story up to the present day - another volume is seemingly promised. Instead it shows us the formative years of Fry's career - actor, writer, comedian - beginning at Cambridge an continuing into his early stage and screen productions, leaving the story around the time of "Blackadder II".
Fry is typically honest and self-deprecating - often harshly so, but without ever falling into the trap of self-pity. His affection for his years at Cambridge is very apparent, as is his love and respect for many of those he has worked with - particularly Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton and Rowan Atkinson. Fry's feelings of inadequacy when compared to these other talents are particularly fasincating, though I don't doubt that they each felt something similar. There are also wonderful and hilarious anecdotes of the likes of Robbie Coltrane and Miriam Margolyes.
Fry wilfully admits that he will use ten words when one will do, but his prose are so elegant and his love of language so infectious, I doubt many readers will mind. This is certainly a more straight-forward narrative than I remember "Moab" being - "Moab" would often veer off into tangents and Stephen would give us his views on life, the universe and everything, and it is a shame that there isn't a bit more of that in this book. But this is a very minor quibble.
All in all, anyone who read "Moab" should certainly read this, and everyone else should probably read it too. A genuine and honest insight into the life and the mind of an always interesting, entertaining, and thoroughly likeable man.

Doctor Who - The Five Doctors (25th Anniversary Edition) [1983] [DVD]
Doctor Who - The Five Doctors (25th Anniversary Edition) [1983] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Davison
Price: £5.98

23 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth buying because ..., 27 Jan. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The original release of this story was the first Doctor Who DVD, and as such, was a very basic package - it only contained the 90s "special edition" version of the story, with no special features.

This new version is a two-disc edition, containing both the original transmission version, and the special edition edit, newely cleaned up. The transmission version will feature an audio commentary with Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane), Mark Strickson (Turlough), Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) and Carole Ann Ford (Susan). The special edition has a commentary with Peter Davison and writer Terrance Dicks.

The set also has some new documentaries. The first is a 50-minute look back at the 20th Anniversary celebrations surrounding the production and transmission of this story, full of interviews with the key players, and narrated by Colin Baker. There's also a 25 minute documentary looking at the way "The Five Doctors" ties in with past and future stories, narrated by Paul McGann, and 20 minutes of studio footage, showing the Doctors on set together.

All that, along with trailers, outtakes, and segments from contemporary shows like Breakfast Time and Blue Peter, featuring interviews with the Doctors. And we're also promised the "Best Easter Egg ever" - rumour has it that it's a hidden commentary, possibly even by David Tennant himself. Time will tell!

All together, it looks like being a great package, and I'd say it'll be well worth the purchase, even if you already have the original release.

The Very Best of The Smiths
The Very Best of The Smiths
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £13.73

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction, 31 Aug. 2006
It's really pointless to discuss whether or not the right tracks have been chosen for this release, since everybody will have a different opinion on what should or shouldn't be there. A "Very Best Of" set could easily have included Reel Around The Fountain, Girl Afraid, The Headmaster Ritual, Well I Wonder, Rusholme Ruffians, Rubber Ring, Asleep, Cemetry Gates, The Queen is Dead, Frankly Mr Shankly, You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby, Half a Person, Death of a Disco Dancer, A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours ... the list goes on. But there isn't a "dodgy" track in this selection - they're all among the best works of the band, and perhaps more importantly, they're all very accessible songs to new listeners. This makes "The Very Best of The Smiths" the perfect CD to introduce somebody to the band.

Another plus point is the audio quality, which is excellent. Some have complained about it, and the songs do indeed sound different to their original releases, but in almost every case, it is an improvement (especially the songs from the debut album, which always sounded poor). Don't listen for the difference on your PC or laptop - a quality CD player and speakers will reveal just how great this sounds is.

There are a couple of quibbles, however. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side sounds weaker and less melodic here, probably because they have remastered the single version of the song, as opposed to the superior version from The Queen is Dead. Also, the beautiful two-minute intro to Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me has been cut completely, as in the single release - while the song still sounds great, it now lacks the punch that makes the complete piece one of the Smiths' best. I'd have been happier to see a song like I Started Something I Couldn't Finish dropped totally from the CD to make room for the full intro.

Still, these are minor quibbles. For the new fan, this CD is perfect. If you're already a fan and are a devoted completist, and have a few quid to spare, this might be worth a look purely for the digital remastering, and to own the single version of Last Night I Dreamt ... on CD. But at this price, you can't really beat it as an introduction to the Smiths.

The Smiths
The Smiths
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £4.21

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most underrated Smiths album, 25 July 2006
This review is from: The Smiths (Audio CD)
It might lack the impact of later albums, but I would agree with several other reviewers that "The Smiths" is the second-best Smiths album, after "The Queen is Dead". Perhaps its lack of recognition in regard to later albums is partly due to the slightly leaden production, partly the "atypical" nature of some of the songs, but for me "The Smiths" contains some of the band's most beautiful, haunting and memorable work.

The obvious early Smiths classics are all there. "This Charming Man" remains as catchy and whimsical as ever, and is perhaps the greatest early example of a perfect combination between Marr's composition and Morrissey's lyrics. "Hand in Glove", the group's first single, is still one of the most romantic songs ever written - Morrissey's observations on the experience of being in love are remarkably astute. "Still Ill" is a stunning nostalgic tale, and "What Difference Does It Make?", while not quite achieving the impact of the three tracks already mentioned, sits comfortably among the group's best work.

Despite these songs, some of the most beautiful work on the album is found on the slower ballads. The opening track "Reel Around the Fountain" is a wistful yet strangely relaxing tune of contradictions - though at first it sounds like a beautiful love song, closer attention to the lyrics reveals that it is about nothing more than sexual desire. "Pretty Girls Make Graves" is a clever and memorable song about confused sexuality, and "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" is surely one of the group's most underrated songs. Full of haunting imagery and with a subtly unsettling edge, it deserves recognition as one of The Smiths' greatest ever songs, and features one of Morrissey's best lyrics. "Suffer Little Children" also deserves special mention - there has never been a song about a real event which packs so much punch as Morrissey's incredibly moving song about the Moors Murders.

As for the other songs, "You've Got Everything Now" is an amusing and catchy rant at jealous school-friends, and "I Don't Owe You Anything" is yet another lovely song which deserves more recognition than it gets. The only duffer on the album, for me, is "Miserable Lie" - an interesting experiment, and perhaps it works better played live, but as a studio recording it simply doesn't hold up, and it sticks out like a sore thumb on an album full of so much quality.

Overall, the quality of this album really shines through. Not as punchy as "The Queen is Dead", but just as beautiful, and well worth the purchase.

Doctor Who - The Complete BBC Series 2 Box Set [DVD]
Doctor Who - The Complete BBC Series 2 Box Set [DVD]
Dvd ~ David Tennant
Offered by movielovers786
Price: £28.01

21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It just keeps getting better ..., 24 July 2006
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Russell T Davies has achieved something of a miracle over the last few years. Bringing back a series like Doctor Who so brilliantly was a feat in itself, and the ratings and awards success (BAFTAs!) are surely beyond anything anybody expected. But perhaps his greatest trick was managing to make the second series even greater than the first.

The major change, of course, is the Doctor himself, from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant. Eccleston's performance was always going to take some beating, but amazingly, Tennant manages it. He fills the role naturally, and is an electrifying presence as the Doctor. He doesn't quite the dramatic weight of Eccleston, but then, who does? Tennant compensates with raw energy and enthusiasm, and you simply can't take your eyes off him. He also has what Eccleston lacked - perfect comic instinct, and a natural eccentricity that never feels forced. And when called upon for it, his quieter, reflective, emotional moments are as good as have even been seen in the series. A superb performance.

"The Christmas Invasion" was the perfect entrance to the tenth Doctor. It's fun, epic, emotional, with a fantastic climax - it's "Independence Day" with a good writer. "New Earth" is a fun way for the series to begin properly, but mainly stands out as a showcase of Billie Piper's acting - her transformation into the villainous Cassandra is effortless and natural, and she shows a range of performance that I didn't expect, even after her brilliance last year.

"Tooth and Claw" is where the series kicks into gear, and starts a run of three episodes which are as good as anything the series has ever seen. It's a scary horror runaround, but as it's written by Russell T Davies, it's full of fun and humour, and stands out as one of the highlights of the series. Next comes the return of Sarah Jane and K9 in "School Reunion". Like "Boom Town" last year, the Doctor vs The Alien plot is secondary to the emotional story of the characters, and writer Toby Whithouse handles this superbly. Elisabeth Sladen is as good as ever, and the list of great guest performances in this series continues with Anthony Head. Then comes the highlight of the series, one of the best and most beautiful pieces of television I have ever seen - Steven Moffat's "The Girl in the Fireplace". It is as close to fairy tale as the series has ever come, and works perfectly. The "Doctor in love" story is well handled, and there's an air of magic and whimsy about the story which makes it totally engaging. One of the best episodes of Doctor Who ever made, and certainly the best of the 2005-6 series.

After that, the "Rise of the Cybermen" two-parter couldn't help but come as a bit of a disappointment. It's not bad, it just feels a little flat and pedestrian when compared to the rest of the series. That said, the Cybermen themselves are superbly realised, and it features a wonderful performance from Noel Clarke as Mickey. "The Idiot's Lantern" is certainly an improvement on Mark Gatiss's previous story, the dreary "The Unquiet Dead", but isn't particularly memorable.

The series gets right back on form with "The Impossible Planet", a sci-fi/horror story set on a planet orbiting a black hole. Episode 1 is terrifying; episode 2 handles questions about the existence of Satan himself with great skill. It's one of Tennant's best performances, and may be remembered as his "Empty Child". Then there is "Love & Monsters", which has divided audiences like no other episode. Personally, I loved it. Russell T again shows his incredible skill for characterisation, making secondary characters more sympathetic in 45 minutes than most Hollywood main characters are in 2 and a half hours, and Marc Warren carries the episode superbly. Another highlight, though it may not be to everyone's taste.

Like "The Idiot's Lantern", "Fear Her" is one of the more forgettable episodes. It's not exactly bad (the series is still yet to produce a real duffer), it just doesn't grab the imagination quite like many of the other episodes. But there's no doubt that the epic finale "Army of Ghosts" will go down as a classic. The Dalek vs Cybermen war is handled well, and Russell T again does well to realise that the story is not about the war, it's about the characters. He brings all of them back for the fight - the Doctor, Rose, Mickey, Jackie, Pete - I was half expecting Captain Jack to show up as well! The ending is truly heartbreaking, one of the most beautiful and emotional pieces of television I have ever seen, and David and Billie's greatest moment. Russell T has a talent so brilliant it is almost unfair.

Overall, series 2 shows more confidence than series 1, and the stories are generally of a higher quality - I can think of four or five truly superb stories from series 1, while seven spring to mind from series 2. David Tennant as the Doctor is also a step up from series 1. If series 3 improves at the same rate as this, we could be in for something very special. This box-set is well worth the purchase - quite simply, the best sci-fi/fantasy series on television at the moment.

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