t has long been a truism that women are underrepresented in the world of Western science. This book may fix that problem. Young girls who accompany Fizz on her journey will quickly discover how good it feels to satisfy their curiosity about how the universe works. Men and women of all ages who enjoy learning outside of school will also be enthralled with these adventures in physics.
The beginning point: An Eco-commune in Iceland in the future (2110) which eschews science and technology as leading to prying, meddling, war, and destruction. Like other technophobic groups, they allow young members a trip to the Outside when they come of age, to decide for themselves how they wish to live. Despite considerable opposition, Fizz makes the choice to answer her questions about the world she lives in.
What the Ecocommunity doesn't know is that Fizz's dad, who left before she was born, has invented a time machine. Fizz will spend her PCC (Personal Choice Clause) dining with Aristotle, throwing apples at Newton beside the river Cam, and discussing the mind-bending theory of Schrodinger's Cat with Einstein himself. But all along several questions plague her: Would she rather live in her mom's world or her dad's? What really happened between her parents? Is it okay to label technology "evil" while accepting the benefits of advanced medicine?
The personalities of the real-life physicists are well-drawn: From the arrogant Aristotle (who thinks women are less human) to kindly old Galileo to the hostile and suspicious Newton, etc. Challenges that each scientist faced are presented boldly—opposition from the Church in the case of Copernicus, world wars that prevented Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein from communicating with other scientists, gender bias in the case of Marie Curie. Somehow, physics moved on—and young Fizz asks all the right questions.
Will she ever get home again? And if she does, how will she have changed?
Zvi Schreiber's writing is clear and the plot zooms along. A mention of Islamic science, which developed certain modern scientific methods earlier than Greece did, or early advances in China would have made the book more comprehensive, but for a history of Western science (full of old dead white guys as it is) the book covers a staggering number of European countries plus America and many different time periods.
Not since Sophie's World, to which this novel bears important similarities, has there been a book to do for the scientific world what the former did for philosophy—inform, intrigue, and entertain. And in Fizz's case, a book that may need to be set down for a moment just to digest the ideas. Fortunately, served up like tapas as they are, it's usually a pleasant experience. Even Fizz has some hostility toward the general theory of relativity when first introduced to it, but that's because if you're not a genius, it's just so darned hard to comprehend. Still, it's the trying—and the discussions—that are fun. A lot of fun.
Debut novelist Schreiber uses the conceit of a naive protagonist and time travel to teach the history of Western physics in this “edu-novel.”
Fizz lives in an “Ecommunity” in Iceland in 2110, a back-to-earth society that has negotiated a complete dissociation from mainstream science and technology. On her 18th birthday, she has the opportunity to experience “the Outside,” and her renegade father just happens to have invented a time machine that can help to answer her burning questions about the natural world, such as: How do the stars move across the sky? What is sound? What causes tides? Over the course of her three-week journey, she meets Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Hawking and many others who explain their theories, leading her, with each visit, to believe that all her questions have been answered, only to realize, upon reflection, that there are a few loose ends that she needs to ask someone else about. She progresses from a mechanical, clockwork universe through the technology of the Industrial Revolution to quantum physics and chaos theory. Schreiber explains the science clearly (readers with a basic knowledge of physics should be able to follow it easily enough); however, as with most didactic novels, the story devolves into a series of lectures. The most successful chapters involve Galileo; Fizz convinces him to take her on as a lab assistant, and as a result, she learns by experiment. Other chapters consist of Fizz showing up at a university, lab or (with Einstein) patent office and asking, “So, [physicist du jour], what are you thinking about these days?” Underlying Fizz’s quest is her nagging worry—Are science and technology forces for good or for evil? Is knowledge worth the price of war, pollution, loss of privacy and information overload? Ultimately, she must decide whether to return to her close but close-minded community or brave the dangerous freedom of the Outside. Or could there be an alternative?
For those who learn best through narrative and a certain amount of historical context, Schreiber’s tale will be an excellent introduction to the basics of Western physics.
-- Kirkus Reviews
thoroughly enjoyed reading Fizz. It was not only entertaining, but it was also informative. Despite its extreme length, I recommend it for any person, young or old, interested in knowing more about how the world works and how we figured it out. You can find the author's description below. The future. In response to environmental degradation, the Eco-community sect eschews science and technology, returning to an austere agricultural life of nature-worship. But one young member, Fizz, has a burning curiosity that defies suppression. Risking life and social standing, Fizz embarks on a quest that brings her face-to-face with the often-eccentric giants of physics, from Aristotle and Galileo, to Einstein and Hawking. One encounter at a time, Fizz pieces together the intricate workings of our universe, and struggles with the resulting intellectual, moral, and personal challenges.
Returning as a changed person from the epic quest, Fizz faces the decision that will change her world forever.
The story book nature of Fizz disguises the fact that it is actually teaching the history of physics. The first chapter pulled me in by introducing a character with many questions about her sheltered world and an opportunity to escape it all and have all her questions answered. A regularly scheduled visit from her father on her birthday changes everything and sets the book rolling.
The chapters are organized very logically each introducing just a few new concepts. They follow history chronologically through all its mistakes and triumphs. All of Fizz's encounters with the historical figures were amusing, yet still believable. Many of the interactions involved thinking exercises and had a very logical progression. It is almost like a more grown up version of the children's programs in which the onscreen adults ask the on screen children a question and they pause so the kids watching the show can call out the answers as well. It felt completely natural.
One of the unique things about this book is that it feature a female lead role. Not only was she the hero of the story, but she was also incredibly smart, resourceful, and feminine. Of the few stories that dare to feature a female protagonist, too many of them make the character into a tom boy basically suggesting that even though the character is a girl, it is the stereotypic male traits that make them the hero. I praise Zvi for taking a direction that sadly few others do.
Despite all this praise, there were a few things that didn't make sense and therefor really stuck out. For one, at the beginning of the story before she leaves on her journey Fizz is thinking on her own about how to categorize matter and she comes up with the word "gas" to describe air even though it seems like she has never heard that word used before. The other thing that bothered me throughout the whole story was Fizz's assumption that every day she spent in the past correlated with her being gone for one day in her home time frame. This is a girl who learns years worth of physics over the course of a few weeks and yet she doesn't realize she could return to her home at any point in history including just moments after she left. This feels completely not plausible to me.
The thing that bugged me the most was when Zvi inserts himself into the story as the author. I'm talking like "Hey I'm the author. I created this world and can change things as I please, so I'm just going to do some magic in an otherwise completely physics based story." This really disappointed me because I felt like it was a huge cop out and ruined the flow of the story. The book would have been so much more satisfying without Zvi's magic.
Overall I really enjoyed the book and I especially like the teaching style employed within. Despite the intimidating length, it was worth *almost* every page. The book has an extensive reference section full of historical notes (detailing where the story diverges from actual history), credits, and indicies of topics covered. It is clear a lot of effort went into making this book a fantastic teaching aide. Due to the plot flaws though, I can't rate it above 3.5 stars as a sci-fi story.
Zvi Schreiber (pronounced tsvee shryber) is best known as a tech entrepreneur, having built several software startups, one of which-Ghost-was also a pioneer of Palestinian-Israeli business cooperation. He's involved in supporting community computer rooms for the benefit of both Palestinian and Israeli children and adults. He is currently CEO of Lightech, which produces power supplies for energy-efficient LED lighting. Educated at the University of Cambridge and Imperial College, London, he earned a BA in mathematics, a PhD in computer science, and an MSc in theoretical physics. He has published one previous book, a small novelty picture book with his own photography; Fizz
is his first novel. Born in London, Zvi lives with his family in Jerusalem, Israel.