Title: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Author: Randall Munroe
Narrator: Wil Wheaton
Audiobook Length: 6 hours, 36 minutes
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 2 September 2014
“Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have a large and passionate following. Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent of the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there were a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last?
In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by signature xkcd comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.”
Thoughts on the Novel: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is simply a collection of the questions posed on Randall Munroe’s website. However, he manages to bring the collection together in such a way that not only emphasizes the absurdity of the questions but also the seriousness of the answers. For, no matter how unusual or extreme the question, Munroe approaches each answer with logic, math, and science as his arsenal. He may do so in a light-hearted fashion, but the resulting explosions or world-ending catastrophes all have a scientific basis behind them.
As an audiobook, one loses the visual elements of the comics, but listeners will find that they are not necessary to capture the essence of the book. Most will be able to grasp the concepts Munroe applies to each of his answers. As a fair warning, however, there is some fairly advanced math and scientific theory at work throughout the collection. While Munroe tries to make each concept understandable, the fact that he discusses complex laws of physics with the same casualness that others discuss the weather means this is not the type of book towards which the casual reader would gravitate.
That being said, for the right audience, this is a wickedly clever collection of the most outlandish hypothetical situations. Munroe makes science and math fun with the questions he chooses to answer and with the sarcastic approach he takes with each answer. He offsets the zaniness with a detailed explanation of the theorems and laws of nature at play so that behind each wacky answer lies substance. Best listened to or read in short bursts to allow a reader adequate time to process the details and come to an understanding of what he is saying, What If? is a fun way to tease your brain every day.
Thoughts on the Audiobook: At this point in time, Wil Wheaton could probably narrate a phone book and make it sound interesting. The fact that he tends to narrate science or science fiction books only adds to his appeal as a narrator. With this particular book, his natural sarcasm lends itself quite well to the often bizarre and quite comical questions posed and answered. The combination of Munroe and Wheaton is definitely an experience that is not just for the science nerds and geeks out there.