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The Physics of the Buffyverse Paperback – December 26, 2006

4.2 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

There's science beneath the fantasy in the beloved television series about a teenage girl battling monsters in her California exurb, insists this lightweight pop-science primer. Science writer Ouellette (Black Bodies and Quantum Cats) hopscotches through the fictive world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spinoff Angel to rationalize their outlandish goings-on and mine heuristics that illustrate scientific principles. She compares exotic demons to real animals, draws lessons on Newtonian kinematics from Buffy's kickboxing, susses conservation laws in Buffy's economy of magic and compares Buffy's fight against evil to mankind's doomed struggle against entropy. Many Buffyverse plot devices (teleportation, time loops, alternate dimensions) lead Ouellette to advanced physics concepts (wormholes, relativity, quantum entanglement) that are equally weird and esoteric. Here, unfortunately, the author's sketchy disquisitions fall back on strained metaphors ("Just like the couplings... between the various characters in the Buffyverse, each iteration of string theory is connected to another through various dualities") and opaque analogies ("[i]t's best to think of imaginary time as a direction of time that runs at right angles to real time") that laymen will find as baffling as a runic scroll in a dead language. Too often, Ouellette's treatment comes across the way science does on Buffy—as a breezy, jargon-filled, unenlightening gloss on some fanciful spectacle. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Vampires and demons might be regarded as the stuff of fantasy writers' imaginations, but science writer Ouellette finds that real-world science can indeed be applied to the universe of the cult TV showsBuffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Despite the title--which owes a debt to the 1995 tome The Physics of Star Trek--Ouellette doesn't limit herself to physics; she also takes a look at the biological and chemical workings of the Buffyverse. Ouellette explains the ins and outs of vampire physiology, discusses why Buffy's fighting techniques are successful, and even delves into robotics and AI technology as seen on the show, and in our world. Not everything is scientifically sound--Ouellette argues against the possibility of telekinesis based on the amount of energy it would require--but she presents a strong case for many of the seemingly impossible aspects of the world Buffy and her friends inhabit. All the while, she makes the science accessible, guaranteeing that fans of the show will be receptive. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 325 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (December 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143038621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143038627
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,414,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm an English major turned science writer, through serendipitous accident. It's been a wild ride since I first dipped a toe into physics, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I've written articles about molecular mixology, eggshell physics, black holes, the game theory of poker, pseudoscience, fractal patterns in the paintings of Jackson Pollock, the science of yodeling, and the acoustics of Mayan pyramids, among other colorful topics, for places like The Washington Post, Smithsonian, Slate, Mental Floss, New Scientist, Discover, Salon, and Nature. I maintain a science-and-culture blog at Scientific American called Cocktail Party Physics. The latter is my "writers laboratory," where I explore new topics and ways to communicate science. That's also how I met my husband, Caltech cosmologist Sean M. Carroll, author of the fabulous "The Particle at the End of the Universe" and "From Eternity To Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time").

I've written four popular science books, aimed at readers like me (non-specialists who appreciate stories with their science). The most recent is "Me, Myself and Why: Searching for the Science of Self," detailing my quest to illuminate everything that goes into shaping the people we become. Other books: "The Calculus Diaries : How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse;" "The Physics of the Buffyverse"; and "Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics." I also edited the 2012 anthology "The Best Online Science Writing."

From November 2008 through October 2010, I was director of the National Academy of Sciences' program, The Science & Entertainment Exchange, founded to foster creative collaborations between scientists and the entertainment industry: http://www.scienceandentertainmentexchange.org. I like to think I made a difference, but I also got to meet Ridley Scott. So that's a win-win in my book.

You can read more about me at my Website: http://www.jenniferouellette-writes.com, and at my blog: http://www.blogs.scientificamerican.com/cocktail-party-physics.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Physics of the Buffyverse, by Jennifer Ouellette is an in-depth look at the science behind the hit shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Ouellette pulls from a wide variety of examples of extraordinary monsters and happenings from the Buffyverse and explains how they might be possible in the real world, and how they'd work. She often compares vampires and other demons' abilities to the nature of common animals and insects in Ouellette's section on biology.

I was afraid that this might be a bit over my head, since my favorite subject wasn't physics. But Ouellette does a wonderful job of explaining the science in layman's terms, complete with the occasional illustration to drive her points. I found a lot of the facts behind "what is possible and why" pretty interesting. From how someone the size of Buffy could toss a larger man to theories on time manipulation, Ouellette covers a large range of topics and conjectures.

If you're a big fan of Buffy and Angel, and would like learning more about how things work in the Buffyverse, this book is for you.
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Format: Paperback
The Buffyverse was very unusual, not in a bad way but not in a terribly good way either. The author was trying to teach physics by putting the concepts into a pop culture context. Since I have watched every season of Buffy, I thought I would be more familiar with the references Ouellette makes, but I found myself scratching my head often, going "I don't remember this," an effect I attribute to my age and not Ouellette's writing. While it is clear that Jennifer is very knowledgeable, and must be a huge Buffy fan, the association she creates between the Buffyverse and our universe feels contrived, almost forced. On the other hand, Ouellette must be congratulated for trying to popularize science and doing it in a way meant to be entertaining. People do not have a real appreciation of science and the elegance of the scientific method and that Ouellette is trying to correct this. Overall, the book was enjoyable to read, by far a better review of physics than The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene but was not as a worthwhile expenditure of time as Big Bang by Simon Singh.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not a "Buffy" fan but had heard about the show many times during it's long run. I came across a review of this book and was instantly intrigued by the concept! I thought it was almost rebellious to combine the previously tedious and boring subject of physics with a television show, especially Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I find the book captivating and easy to read. I'm not plowing through it cover to cover but reading some every few days and the writer is a hoot AND I think I'm learning something at the same time. A real pleasure. Kindof makes me wish I had had a teacher as interesting when I was in school.
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Format: Paperback
Jennifer Ouellette analyzes the Buffy and Angel TV shows through the spectrum of science using several disciplines besides the obvious misleading title Physics to include zoology, and several branches of math (when did a curve become the shortest distance between two points?). Fans of the two related series will enjoy the deep insight into the biology of vampires, demons and other supernatural essences as much as the deep look into robotics. Also adding fun to the tale is the theory behind multidimensional portals such as wormholes and the energy displacement physics of a witch's spell. Obviously targeting fans of the Buffyverse, but within that circle to an even more limited cell of those who enjoy reading the complexities of how string theory applies to the multiverse of vampire slayers. In short this reviewer enjoyed the convergence of science and Buffy, but not as much as my husband who tries to keep current on the latest theories in science and math.

Harriet Klausner
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First, the seller: Quick, competent response. The book arrived promptly; securely and protectively packaged. I'm 100% satisfied with the seller's service.

Second, the book. Oh my! Oh yes! The book is exactly what the title suggests, an intelligent, skeptical but ultimately supportive description of how the Science does, or at least could work in the Universe (capital U) of Buffy Summers' Sunnydale and (Bonus!) Angel's Los Angeles.

Author Jennifer Oulette writes brilliantly; she presents specific situations, conditions, actions and possible paradoxes of events in the "Buffy/Angel-verses" and then provides delightfully readable, engaging and comprehensible descriptions of the physics that may support the science of the fiction. Make no mistake, Oulette is not an apologist; she does not stretch the fabric of reality (pun intended) to accommodate the scripts. But she does a great job of writing to the contradictions, where they exist. And while she does so, she commits to her audience. Oulette is (probably) a fan. She is most certainly a physicist who respects BtVS' fans and importantly, the Mutant Enemy Production's writing team's efforts to provide more than a modicum of hard science to underpin their plot devices. The physics explained in "The Physics of the Buffyverse" will not satisfy every physics knowledgeable fan of the Buffy and Angel milieu, that is not the book's intent. The ambition behind "The Physics of the Buffyverse" is to simultaneously enhance the viewing experience while introducing legitimate physics to any discourse about the shows.

I'm a BtVS fan: Today, more than a decade after Buffy made the choice to save the world at the price of destroying Sunnydale, I still laugh, gasp, clap and cry when I re-watch the show.
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