Brad Feld

Tag: physics

My idea of a really good afternoon on a three day weekend is to lay on the couch and read a book. Other than a nap in the middle of the experience, that’s what I did today.

I read the Supersymmetry by David Walton. It’s the sequel to Superposition, which I read earlier this year. They are both excellent near term sci-fi in the action/adventure save the world while learning physics genre.

When I read Superposition, I was on a long airplane flight with Amy on our way home from Paris where we went for our Q2 vacation. We were both exhausted when we left for Paris so we mostly slept, read, walked around the city, and ate a little. Superposition was the last book I read on the trip and I liked it a lot, but the activity of re-entry after a week off the grid swept it quickly from my mind.

On September 1st, I got the following email from David Walton.

Mr. Feld,

Just writing to let you know that Supersymmetry, the sequel to Superposition, comes out today. (It follows the story of the two girls, Alessandra and Alessandra, living separate lives 15 years later.) If you would like a promotional copy, I would be happy to send it to you.

I was so psyched that you read and enjoyed Superposition earlier this year. I’m sorry if I seemed to pester you about it at the time–I was just thrilled that you had picked it up and read it and actually *liked* it so quickly.

I went online, purchased a copy, and told David. I realized that I had never written a review of Superposition, which was a miss on my part as I enjoyed it so much. Within a few chapters of Supersymmetry I remembered why David is such a strong writer. He combines action/adventure with sci-fi with strong female protagonists who have an other-worldly backstory. The writing, like that of my favorite sci-fi writers, including William Hertling, Daniel Suarez, and Ramez Naam, could plausibly happen in my lifetime, but it’s a little distant from today so it takes the scientific leap that good sci-fi forces you to take.

What’s special about David’s work is that it is infused with physics. When I was a freshman at MIT, I thought I was pretty good at physics. In high school, I did well in AP Physics, although I only got a 3 on the AP Physics exam so I didn’t place out of it, which ended up being a blessing. MIT makes all freshman take a full year of physics, which for most is 8.01: Classical Mechanics and 8.02: Electricity and Magnetism. I felt like I was doing ok in 8.01 until I was ten minutes into my first exam and realized I had no idea how to answer any of the questions. Two days later I got my grade, which was a 20. Having never gotten a B on anything in Physics before, I did the only rational thing for a 17 year old freshman at MIT to do after getting a 20 on his first test – I went to my room, locked the door, and cried for an hour. The next day at 8.01 recitation I found out that class average was a 32, meaning I got a C, which wasn’t great but worked for the pass/fail grade that all freshman at MIT get to work under. At that moment, my belief that I was good at physics ended and my understanding of the MIT approach of being a daily assault on one’s self esteem began.

So, I have nostalgia for physics, even though I have no expertise with it. Superposition and Supersymmetry do a nice job of explaining some concepts in short bursts, unlike the pages that Neal Stephenson unfurls around physics in Seveneves, which I also loved but will admit to skimming in sections that were either tedious or too heavy for me.

It gives me great joy to discover new writers who I know I’ll be sticking with for a long time. I’m psyched to add David Walton to the list.