What if the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a real thing, and its planet-hopping contributors were a little less sarcastic?
That’s the basic concept of Simon Chun Kwan Chui’s awkwardly titled Book of the Wonders of the Galaxy, which is more in tune with the science-rooted extrapolations of Arthur C. Clarke and other ‘hard’ sci-fi authors than the wit of Douglas Adams, though it’s still pretty funny at times.
“In a galaxy of alien landscapes, cold asteroids, distant stars, and with the emotionless AI as the only other beings for humans to have an intelligent conversation with, there’s something profoundly comforting about finding a cat-shaped continent on a distant extrasolar planet.”
One of the most memorable sections of the classic documentary series Cosmos was when Carl Sagan took a break from educating us about planets and pulsars to imagine the types of exotic life forms that might have evolved in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. This is a whole book of just such speculations, based on the latest scientific understandings (I have to assume) and presented in ways that are easy to understand. Even if the extent of your scientific background is watching Cosmos.
If you’ve ever picked up the weighty rulebook to a role-playing game that you have no intention to actually play, just to marvel at the rich fictional universe they’ve created, you’ll understand the appeal of a book like this. If your favourite part of science fiction novels is when the author goes into detail about how their made-up civilisations and technologies work, this is the book you’ve been waiting for, with hardly any pesky plot getting in the way.
There is a narrative connecting the disparate entries, as our anonymous chronicler travels across the inhabited galaxy, picking up tips from android ambassadors to seek out lesser-known sights off the tourist trail, but the bite-sized chapters lend themselves best to snacking.
Still, there’s one crucial missing ingredient that’s keeping this from being truly stellar. If the author could get the funds together to commission a fantasy artist to illustrate every one of these entries and bring out their glorious details, this guidebook would earn its place on coffee tables throughout the cosmos. Though it might be a bit awkward fitting it in your backpack.