And Then You’re Dead: A Scientific Exploration Of The World’s Most Interesting Ways To Die by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty (book review).

November 10, 2017 | By | Reply More

Want a nice cheery book for this time of year? I doubt if the thrill-seekers or even the unfortunate who contemplate taking their own lives will find this book of use. Many of the situations are a tad extreme to get into and might actually put them off.

What Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty’s book ‘And Then You’re Dead: A Scientific Exploration Of The World’s Most Interesting Ways To Die’ to use its full title is about some of the ways you can be killed in extreme circumstances and, more importantly, might have some chances of surviving. All of this is supported by people who have actually survived some of these circumstances, as well as some who clearly didn’t. Some of these ways are also off-planet and clearly not possible. As the authors point out in their introduction, details are not always given in news reports what happens but they are given here. In many respects, this could even be read as a survival manual under some circumstances. Take shark attacks. Great whites only bite for taste and don’t like human meat, it’s the deep sea whitetip sharks you have to really worry about, especially if you’re in the middle of the ocean.

From a writer’s point of view, having the correct knowledge of what really happens will add some accuracy to your story material and let you focus on more ingenious solutions if possible to get your characters out of them. With some 44 options, you should find something of note.

I do have to wonder about how you can pick your seats on an aeroplane. It’s said that to survive a crash, you need a seat at the back of the plane, so obviously you shouldn’t go first class. However, it isn’t musical chairs on an airliner where you sit and as I discovered on the Net recently, some airlines do distribute passengers by body weight to balance their planes. The authors point out here that should an aircraft window break, you’re better with an aisle seat and as long as the person sitting by the window is wider than 16 inches will block the hole as they get sucked towards it. You’ll never look at fat people in quite the same way again. Please note, I’m extrapolating from what I’m reading here so each piece will make you think. If anything, I wish they’d also included the odds of some things would happen, if only to reassure the nervous of the low chances any of these things will happen.

Considering being buried alive has often come up in our genre, seeing the chances of survival will make you think. I do think that if you’re buried without a coffin, I doubt if the person doing it will take the time to put you six feet under but more like a shallow grave.

There’s also the assumption that you would stowaway on board a spaceship in ordinary clothes. The Russians do have generic spacesuits so it is conceivable that you could ‘steal’ one and replace another member of the crew but the authors do cover what you have to tolerate on take-off. I suspect vomiting in the helmet is likely to be the real killer than the gees going up.

I do think being wired into the original Dr. Frankenstein’s machine would be tantamount to being electrocuted but it wasn’t designed to be used on a live person. Speaking of lightning, they do explain how to improve your chances of surviving by a lightning bolt by making sure you are really wet thus ensuring it goes right through you to earth. Maybe I should be wet when I meet Victor.

What I wouldn’t fancy is being plonked into the coldest liquid bath. I though I’d never come across the Leidenfrst effect although I think, having watched a YouTube clip, that I did see it at work. Essentially, if your hot plate is hotter than the vaporisation point of water, its own meniscus (that’s the ‘skin’ water has that maintains its bubble shape) will let it bounce around the plate. Please watch the clip than try to do it. This effect is also what will protect you from some supercool liquids for a few second so definitely don’t do this test neither.

The one problem the authors don’t address with the use of a time machine is why would anyone want to go back to the pre-life period of the Earth when you’d see more when mankind was around. Then again, they make no allowances on how to measure time nor the fact that the Earth would have moved a considerable distance irrespective of how far you go back unless you match the distance variable.

Comparing a human stampede to that of ants does feel an odd choice. Ants can readily climb over each other because of their size and weight in a way humans can’t. Outside of the young of some animals, you’d be hard pushed to find suitable biped comparisons.

I’m not entirely sure if anyone would just jump into a black hole without being in a rocket in the first place. I’m pretty sure you’d run out of oxygen far before you’re drawn thinner than spaghetti.

Although I suspect berths on the Titanic have long been filled, the effects of having been dropped in icy oceanic water mostly unprepared can still happen today. I was surprised to learn that swimming to keep your blood circulating was not a good idea and you’re better off floating in a life-jacket if a lifeboat isn’t available.

You can also learn things inadvertently. Although diving through a hole in the Earth to, say, China, is a bit impractical as you’re also fighting air resistance let alone extreme heat, I did wonder what would happen if this was applied to an atmosphere free asteroid or dwarf planet.

Likewise, you do have slightly better odds surviving being shot in the forehead than the side of the head. Neither author accounts for dum-dum bullets or the former cannot be self-inflicted and survived.

I swear sometimes they want to give extreme sportspeople thought when they select places like Venus to go skydiving. Likewise, by this way through the book, you would have thought they had a scale chart showing your rate of survival because you can last longer in some situations than others.

Throwing things off the Empire State Building, other skyscrapers are available but equally not recommended, disputes a myth as to how easy it is to kill an innocent bystander. It doesn’t. However, apart from the problem of getting a blue whale that high, it’s not weight that is the issue but mass which is the critical problem.

I do get worried at the number of times they describe turning their book into a weapon. You would think these writers have a deathwish or something.

As you should tell from the length of this review, I have a lot to say and think from this book. I’d be hard pushed to consider ways they have missed. It would be interesting to see a sequel to this book on fatal things that people can actually survive from.

As pointed out at the beginning of the book, this isn’t a list of things to try to find out if they are right. Some of the information could actually save your lives and might even save some sharks. Jump in the right way to get this book.

GF Willmetts

November 2017

(pub: Allen & Unwin/Atlantic Books. 235 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-76029-113-6)

check out website: www.allenandunwin.com/uk

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Category: Books, Science

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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