The latest from No Starch Press is another in their series of Manga guides, three of which I’ve reviewed here before (The Manga Guide to Calculus, and the Guides to Physics and Statistics). The idea is a simple one: Teach a subject that’s normally dry and boring, but do it in a narrative comic book format that provides so much fun you’re not even aware that you’re learning. That’s the idea, anyway.
It’s a good idea, in my opinion, but executed in a, well, pretty thin way. I wanted to like these books a lot (as an anime fan), and they’re OK. The thing is that relativity and all its funky cool effects (time dilation, changes in mass, etc.) can make great plot points. I’d expect these stories to be action adventures, where the physics of what’s happening play active roles in the story, and the characters need to understand and predict what’s going on. Learning on the fly, with millions of lives at stake!
Too much to ask for, I guess. It’s the frustrated screenwriter in me thinking out loud. Like the others, the plot of this book centers around a character needing to learn something for a class, or for work, or for some mundane purpose. The information is thus delivered by talking heads, not really getting much more exciting than the odd demonstration or two. If you’re looking for explosions, aliens, universes at stake, and the ubiquitous manga love triangles, the Manga Guides may fall short of expectations.
But for what they are, they are still quite serviceable. They’re indexed so you can look things up; each section ends with a few textbook-style summary pages; and they give a pretty thorough overview of the subject. And, what the heck; it lends a certain amount of nerd cred to have these on your shelf.