I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Authors' Mistakes #6 - Michael Crichton & Richard Preston

I just read Micro, the novel left unfinished by Michael Crichton when he died and completed by Richard Preston.

Crichton is a great author and I enjoyed several of his novels, and especially Timeline, Airframe, and Jurassic Park. Micro is also a very entertaining story, but this time, in my opinion, he went too far with his scientific (or not) speculations.

That an extremely high magnetic field can shrink objects is difficult to take, but what happens when objects are shrunk violates the basic laws of Physics in an unacceptable way.

According to Crichton and Preston, when people are compressed, they become very light and strong. This might make for a nice story, with people jumping around like fleas and falling from great heights without getting hurt, but it is not scientifically credible.

For one thing, where does the mass go? The principle of conservation of energy-matter has been proven correct uncountable times. Even if we accept that the space between the molecules and atoms (and perhaps subatomic particles?) is reduced, why should the mass of a person be reduced as well? It doesn’t make any sense.

Then, there is the issue of body temperature and thermoregulation. Crichton and Preston mention that shrunken humans have some problems with maintaining their body temperature, but it is not an issue that one can dismiss easily.

If you reduce the linear dimensions of something by a factor of 1000 while maintaining its shape, its volume is reduced to one billionth of the original one and its surface to one millionth. This means that the surface per unit of volume would grow by a factor of 1000. No way that the human body could function under those condition. It would lose all its heat and die.

Finally, the authors don’t even try to explain how the shrinking process can be reversed. To shrink people to 1/1000 of their original size, they apply three times a strong magnetic field. Every time, the people shrink by a factor of ten. Then, without any explanation, when they apply again a magnetic field, the people return to their original sizes. This goes against logic. What is it? Three is a charm? Give me a break...

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