Blinding us with science, and China in our hands: Marcus Chown and Jung Chang in Christchurch next week

There are some tasty literary events coming soon to Christchurch – two next week!

Marcus Chown – Astrophysicist (Wednesday 12 March)

Photo of Marcus ChownMarcus Chown is talking in Christchurch next week at the Aurora Centre. Marcus is a celebrated astrophysicist and writer who communicates pretty mind-blowing science in a witty and informative way. He is brought to Christchurch by the Royal Society of New Zealand, in association with New Zealand Festival.

Marcus is sort of our homeboy too – Moata did a great interview with him back in 2009, and in 2010 he visited our blog and you can read his guest post.

Cover of What a wonderful worldCover of Solar SystemCover of Tweeting the universe

An evening with Jung Chang  (Tuesday 11 March)

The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival brings you An Evening with Jung Chang.The best-selling author will deliver a stunning multi-media talk about her new biography Empress Dowager Cixi, the Concubine Who Launched Modern China. With a healthy 61 holds on this book, we know a lot of you are keen to read this.

Her book Wild Swans is an all-time classic (64th in the latest Whitcoulls Top 100) in which Jung Change chronicles the struggles of her grandmother, her mother, and herself to survive in a China torn apart by wars, and more. Her biography of Chairman Mao was an utterly compelling read too.

Cover of Empress Dowager CixiCover of Chairman Mao

Science is stranger than science fiction – just ask our guest blog star Marcus Chown

Kia ora Marcus.
We are pleased to welcome science writer Marcus Chown to our blog today as part of his virtual trip around the blogosphere. He’s the star of our blog, and also the Christchurch City Libraries web site which has just published an interview with Marcus by Moata Tamaira during the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2009.

I asked  him a few questions:
Who is your favourite science writer and what is it about their writing that appeals to you?

I suppose it’s the people I read when I was a teenager, who expanded my mental horizons and blew my mind, who are my favourites. I’m giving away my age but I would say Arthur C. Clarke and Carl Sagan. I know, that’s two! So I’ll narrow it down to Carl Sagan since Clarke was principally a science fiction writer.

I particularly liked Sagan’s The Cosmic Connection. I recall him describing being a planetary astronomer and working on the NASA Mariner flybys of Mars. When the space probe arrived at its destination, to everyone’s dismay Mars was shrouded in a planet-wide dust storm. But, gradually, as the dust settled, there were revealed volcanoes that would dwarf Everest and canyons whose minor tributaries were bigger than the Grand Canyon. Sagan had the gift of sharing with you what it was like to be at Mission Control as, one by one, the grainy, black-and-white pictures came in. He communicated the excitement of being one of the first people in history to stare at face of an alien world. It sends a tingle up my spine even thinking about it. So, I think Sagan has my vote for his genius in conveying the sheer wonder of the Universe we find ourselves in.

Actually, I interviewed Sagan once. It was one of my first journalistic jobs. I was so nervous at meeting my hero, who was staying in a palatial suite at London’s super-posh Dorchester Hotel, that, rather than asking him much about him, I told him all about me. Even now, I cringe at the thought!

I love this quote from Sagan: “To create an apple pie from scratch you must first create the Universe.” As British comedian Robin Ince has observed: “Maybe that explains why Sagan’s recipe books never sold.”

(I’ll just add in this lovely mashup song  that utilised Sagan’s ‘create an apple pie’ words)


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Fantastic Silver Fox – Marcus Chown to visit our blog

Not only rock stars go on tour. And not every overseas jaunt involves jets and carbon footprint damage.

Arch exponent of popular science Marcus Chown, bestowed with the  Smartest, sexiest silver fox award in our Auckland Readers and Writers Festival sum up is on a virtual trip around the blogosphere, and will be popping into our very own blog on Tuesday 19 January for a visit.

Marcus’s biography sums him up thus:

Marcus Chown is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. Fomerly a radio astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, he is currently cosmology consultant of the weekly science magazine New Scientist. His books include The Universe Next Door, Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You and Felicity Frobisher and the Three-Headed Aldebaran Dust Devil, which the UK’s The Sunday Times called “One of the books most likely to fire children’s imaginations”. Although Marcus’s wife is a nurse and does a very socially useful job, Marcus tends to write about things that are of absolutely no use to man or beast! Can time run backwards? Are there an infinity of universes playing out all possible histories? Was our Universe made as a DIY experiment by extraterrestrials in another universe?

Have you got any questions for Marcus? Comment away!

The next 100 years

The famous opening line from Allan Ginsberg’s poem Howl goes “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”. This afternoon I got the sense that I simply saw the best minds of my generation as James Surowiecki, George Friedman, Hendrik (Rik) Hertzberg, Richard Holloway, Marcus Chown, and Mohammed Hanif sat in comfy chairs to discuss the deliriously lighthearted topic of where humanity might be going in the next century.

I had hoped that this session might be a little more freeform with the gathered “big brains” perhaps riffing off each others ideas a little more but I guess this was difficult given that each person (notably no women) had quite different “realms of interest”. The next 100 years is a pretty big topic after all and discussion on this  could go in any number of directions. Initially Chair Sean Plunket did pretty well in sharing the spotlight amongst the six men but as the hour and a half long session wore on the three Americans tended to dominate necessarily veering the discussion into the area of world economics and politics. James Surowiecki and George Friedman were particularly, yes I will say it, long-winded in their responses to questions. Continue reading