My summer reading always includes at least one sci-fi novel; the choice this year is Book: The God Particle, A Simple Tale of Subatomic Particle Metaphysics by Scottish writer Peter Lihou.
Lihou’s story begins with a news event: a European Nuclear Agency has built a gigantic machine called a particle accelerator outside Geneva, Switzerland. The machine failed in early testing, causing much distress:
News of the accelerator breakdown spread around the world like wildfire and as the doom mongers were celebrating divine intervention, a single God Particle was finding its way out of the LHC and into the control system computer network.
Metamorphic changes between matter and pure energy allowed it to penetrate any physical obstacles in its path and before long it took root on the hard drive of a Computer Server at the heart of the CERN Laboratory network.
The story may have ended there and then if that computer had been sitting in splendid isolation on a scientist’s desk in 1979. But in 1980, thanks to an Englishman called Tim Berners-Lee, CERN had become the home of the World Wide Web.
—Book (The God Particle) (Kindle, Locations 47-52).
The god particle evolves, gains strength, grows in size and eventually follows the WWW to Arkansas where the GP materializes itself under the assumed name Book. Book is unusual looking but he is recognizably human dressed, as he is, in a green hoody. However, Book is unusual; he has no human internal organs. Further, he has a hydrogen fuel cell inside him; that is his source of power (very convenient when his laptop needs recharging).
As this comically improbable story continues, the CIA and British MI5 mistake the human looking Book for a terrorist and a chase ensues. As the CIA close in, Book is joined by other GPs who seem to be cloning themselves willy-nilly (probably due to widespread use of the internet). The GPs, each wearing a green hoody, flee to the countryside in Cornwall, England where Part I of the story plays out. There is a Part II, which takes up where Part I ends, but never mind. These books cost 99¢ in Amazon’s Kindle store.
Let’s look at some of the concepts behind Lihou’s imaginative story.
First, there is the Big Bang, which was a cosmic explosion that destroyed the order and unity of the universe and scattered the elements throughout the cosmos:
Many great minds — Democritus, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Albert Einstein — took giant steps toward bringing the universe’s lost unity out of hiding. In 1964, Peter Higgs, a shy scientist in Edinburgh, added his name to that list by coming up with an ingenious theory that gave scientists the tools to explain how two classes of particles, which now appear to be different, were once one and the same.
His theory proposes the existence of a single particle responsible for imparting mass to all things — a speck so precious it has come to be known as the ‘God particle.’
—Time, Eben Harrell, Geneva Wednesday, Apr. 09, 2008
Next, an enormous machine has been built to prove that the ‘God Particle’ exists. The following article from Time describes the project:
On Sept. 10, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) laboratory in Geneva will switch on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) —a $6 billion particle accelerator that will send beams of protons careening around a 17-mile underground ring, crash them into one another to re-create the immediate aftereffects of the Big Bang, and then monitor the debris in the hopes of learning more about the origins and workings of the universe. Next week marks a low-power run of the circuit, and scientists hope to start smashing atoms at full power by the end of the month.
—Time, EBEN HARRELL Thursday, Sept. 04, 2008
But, what of the subatomic particles? What sort of thing is a Higgs boson, the so-called god particle?
In the rolling hills above Stanford University lies the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. An aerial map of the center shows a long box-like building pointing due west like an off kilter magnetic needle. The building houses the two-mile long linear accelerator that is the heart of the center.
SLAC is a fading showcase for high-energy particle physics. Years ago, physicists at SLAC discovered the first sub-atomic particle, which they gave the odd and unpronounceable name J/ψ meson, but most physicists now call it just ‘J’. It is also called the charm quark or the charmonium. Charming indeed, the discovery of the quark earned a physicist at SLAC the Nobel Prize in 1976.
The SLAC findings confirmed portions of a mathematical theory of the universe called the Standard Model of Quantum Mechanics. Higgs speculated additional subatomic particles, including the god particle:
Working from Higgs’ theory, scientists postulate that initially weightless particles move through a ubiquitous quantum field, known as a Higgs field, like a pearl necklace through a jar of honey. Some particles, such as photons — weightless carriers of light — can cut through the sticky Higgs field without picking up mass. Others get bogged down and become heavy; that is the process that creates tangible matter.
—Time, Eben Harrell, Geneva Wednesday, Apr. 09, 2008
This science sometimes reads as fiction too. Fortunately you don’t need to understand physics or cosmology to enjoy Book: The God Particle.
Here is an excerpt in which Book, fleeing from the CIA, has arrived in England where he meets a beautiful street-walker and her friend Ruby. The street-walker asks if Book has any cash money:
Reaching into his bag he grabbed a handful of bank notes and adeptly snatched to reclaim his credit card. Her eyes lit up.
“Err… yes sure, what should I call you? You can call me ‘Honey’ if you like. Is there more in there?” She leaned over him and reached for the bag but Book moved it beyond her grasp.
“Book, my name’s Book.”
Honey (OK, we’ll call her that), Honey now rested on her elbow and looked into his face.
“OK, so this is some kind of joke, yes? Ruby put you up to it right?” She was grinning widely.
“Well no actually, my name is Book.”
“That’s just a bit weird.” She looked ever so slightly worried now but her expression still contained an ounce of disbelief. “So you’re called Book and you don’t have… you don’t have the equipment.” A mischievous glint in her eye now replaced the concern and she decided to prove this was one of Ruby’s jokes.
—Book (The God Particle) (Kindle, Locations 188-194).
Honey has a son Jack; he’s precocious and likes the GPs. Honey and Jack join the band of fugitives (maybe Book’s money had something to do with it). Suspend your disbelief, forget that you don’t understand some of the technical terms and enjoy Lihou’s story for what the entertainment that it is.
Due to Book’s “lack of equipment”, there is no sex in this novel. It is suitable for all age-levels, but, as always, use discretion if you are reading to your children.
Week 25-2012: Book: The God Particle Series (parts 1 and 2), Peter Lihou (2012).