London, 2012. I’m shopping in Soho, and I’m in heaven. I pick up SHEET MUSIC (in a store!!! – a delightfully fat book of Beethoven’s symphonies arranged for piano) and then raid all the other shops I can find.
Walking through a bookstore I see a picture of a cat with maths symbols all over it. It gets my attention.
So I pick up the book and read the front cover: ‘In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat’ by John Gribbin. Never heard of him. Then the front blurb catches my eye: ‘Gribbin is an established master in the game of demystifying quantum mechanics.’ That sounds like fun! I need something to keep my attention on the long flight home. And quantum mechanics could certainly do with some demystifying.
Turns out the book is not only scientifically accurate, but it’s an entertaining, easy read as well!
Now, around that time, after returning to the land of kangaroos and dust, I decided that because I was bored and not enough people hated me yet, I should get a group of talented authors together and we should write a science fiction anthology.
By that stage, through some accident of the tides and eddies of Facebook, John Gribbin was on my Facebook page (I think I ‘liked’ one of his other books, realised belatedly that he was also the author of that great little book I bought in London, and ‘followed him’).
Then I noticed that he wrote fiction! So, on the theory that you can never have too much gall, I asked if he’d like to join the Perseus team. He was politely disinterested.
I soon realised that he was not just the author of one or two great books on physics, and a couple of novels. He’s written dozens of books!
I thanked him for responding and hoped he would quickly forget my faux pas. Then I went off and worked on getting ‘Tales from the Perseus Arm’ together.
I was on my email one morning before work, and there was an email from John. ?? With an attachment ???
I opened it and there was a polite message from him that he had a story to spare and it was attached, if I wanted to use it for Perseus. I couldn’t say ‘Yes’ or ‘Thank you!!!’ fast enough. I sent him a polite ‘Thank you, yes please’ email in return and read the story. It was the short but brilliant ‘Artifact’! I did NOT jump up and down with excitement! (I lie, dear reader...)
John is now on our Facebook group for the Perseus authors, a polite, kind and witty man. He’s our go-to guy for physics questions, especially quantum physics questions! For example, when my 11 year old son asked me a question about gravity that I couldn’t answer, I messaged John. He answered the question, then said, “I’ll send him a book.”
About a fortnight later, a huge stack of physics books arrived from England, all by John and Mary Gribbin: ‘Time and Space,’ ‘From Here to Infinity,’ ‘Dazzling Discoveries,’ ‘Time and the Universe’ and ‘The Science of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.’ All were suited to my son’s age group, and he loved them. I suspect my son now knows more than I do about quantum mechanics, time and space. Of course we conveyed our heartfelt thanks to John, and my son took all the books to his school to tell the librarian they should get them in!
John has since been quietly supportive of the Perseus team, and continues to provide us with wonderful, pithy stories for the anthologies, like ‘Easy as Pi’ in the second anthology.
His wonderful book ‘In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat’ is deservedly Number One at the moment in the Amazon Bestseller rankings in Theoretical Physics.
It’s a great starting point for anyone wanting to learn about the field. If you’re thinking of buying a book on quantum mechanics, buy this one!
The wonderful thing about John’s books is that you’ll come away from reading them with the realisation that the universe is a much bigger and much more interesting place than you ever thought!