Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones

Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones


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Exploring the science in George R. R. Martin's fantastical world, from the physics of an ice wall to the genetics of the Targaryens and Lannisters.

Game of Thrones is a fantasy that features a lot of made-up science—fabricated climatology (when is winter coming?), astronomy, metallurgy, chemistry, and biology. Most fans of George R. R. Martin's fantastical world accept it all as part of the magic. A trained scientist, watching the fake science in Game of Thrones, might think, “But how would it work?” In Fire, Ice, and Physics, Rebecca Thompson turns a scientist's eye on Game of Thrones, exploring, among other things, the science of an ice wall, the genetics of the Targaryen and Lannister families, and the biology of beheading. Thompson, a PhD in physics and an enthusiastic Game of Thrones fan, uses the fantasy science of the show as a gateway to some interesting real science, introducing GOT fandom to a new dimension of appreciation.

Thompson starts at the beginning, with winter, explaining seasons and the very elliptical orbit of the Earth that might cause winter to come (or not come). She tells us that ice can behave like ketchup, compares regular steel to Valyrian steel, explains that dragons are “bats, but with fire,” and considers Targaryen inbreeding. Finally she offers scientific explanations of the various types of fatal justice meted out, including beheading, hanging, poisoning (reporting that the effects of “the Strangler,” administered to Joffrey at the Purple Wedding, resemble the effects of strychnine), skull crushing, and burning at the stake.

Even the most faithful Game of Thrones fans will learn new and interesting things about the show from Thompson's entertaining and engaging account. Fire, Ice, and Physics is an essential companion for all future bingeing.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262539616
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 11/10/2020
Series: Mit Press
Pages: 296
Sales rank: 752,256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Rebecca C. Thompson, PhD, is a physicist and author of the popular Spectra series of comic books about physics. She is Head of the Office of Education and Public Outreach at Fermilab, the particle physics research facility near Chicago. She served as Director of Public Engagement for the American Physical Society from 2008 to 2019.

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Caltech and the author of popular science books, including The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xiii

Foreword Sean Carroll xv

Introduction xix

1 Winter Is Coming-Or Is It? Seasons in Westeros 1

What Exactly Are Seasons? 2

Why Does Earth Have Seasons? 5

Very Elliptical Orbit 10

Moving Axis 11

Milankovitch Cycles 14

Two Suns? 16

So, What about Westeros? 18

2 And Now My Watch Begins: The Science of an Ice Wall 23

What Is Ice and How Does It Work? 24

The Amazing Pykrete 30

Ice on a Large Scale Is Basically Ketchup 32

The Great Wall of Westeros versus The Westernport Wall 36

3 North of the Wall: How to Survive in the Cold 39

Body Temperature Regulation 40

When Your Body Just Can't Take It 45

Animal Fur (Evolution Is Amazing) 48

Keeping Humans Warm 50

Does Jon Snow Need a Hat? 58

4 White Walkers, Zombies, Parasites, and Statistics 63

What Is a Zombie, and Do Wights and White Walkers Count? 64

Neurology and Biology of Zombies 66

Zombie/Wight Rot 71

Zombie Neurology: What's Going on in Their Heads? 73

Zombie Statistics and a Survival Plan: Can Westeros Get Out Alive? 76

Bonus: Zombie Dragons 79

5 Regular Steel, Made in Pittsburgh 83

Hard, Soft, Brittle, and Bendy: Why Steel? 84

Isolating Metals: Smelting and the Dawn of the Bronze Age 88

The Bronze and Iron Ages 90

From Steel to Swords 96

How Does It Do in the Cold? 99

Sam versus a White Walker, Take One 100

6 Valyriam Steel, Made in Damascus 103

Raw Materials: Crucible Steel and Wootz 104

Working Ingot: Not Europe's Sharpest Moment 108

Really Ancient Technology Meets Really New Science 111

"Damascus" Steel on eBay 115

Valyrian Steel and White Walkers 117

7 Dragon Biology: Bats, But with Fire 119

Warm-Blooded or Cold-Blooded? 120

Airplane Flight 122

Birds and Bats and All That 125

Dinosaurs 130

Finally, Dragons 132

8 How to Kill a White Walker: The Physics of Dragonglass 137

Solid, Liquid, or Both? What Is Glass? 138

The Sad Case of the Pitch of John Mainstone 144

Obsidian 147

Sam versus a White Walker, Take Two 150

9 Harrenhal: Can Fire Melt Stone? Take Down a Wall? 153

What Is Fire? 154

How Might Dragons Make Fire? 156

Different Colors, Different Sizes 163

What Is Melting, and Can It Happen to Stone? 168

What about Harrenhal and Balerion the Black Dread? 170

Viserion's Magic Fire 171

10 The Battle of the Blackwater: The Science of Wildfire 175

Water Doesn't Always Beat Fire 176

The Dangers of Pollution 177

Modern Fire Weapons "Perfected" 178

Colored Fire 182

Greek Fire 186

11 Houses Targaryen and Lannister: The Genetics of a Family Tree with Few Branches 193

How Genes Work 194

How Traits Are Passed On 197

23 and You 199

Identifying Genetic Diseases with the Help of Incest 200

The Importance of Variety and the Problems Caused by the Lack of It 202

Finding the Balance between Alike and Different 204

Diagnosing a Mad King 208

12 We Do Not Sow: The Science of the Sea 213

Quick and Light versus Slow and Deadly 214

Picking Up Speed 218

Getting There 221

Drink Your OJ! 225

13 The King's Justice: The Biology of a Gruesome Death 227

Beheading 228

A Golden Crown 231

Hanging 234

Poison 239

Crushing the Skull 245

Burning at the Stake 247

Drowning 249

So, What Type of Justice Would You Pick? 251

Epilogue 253

Notes 257

Index 269

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

In a world full of magic, there are still scientific rules that this alternate universe plays by. Rebecca Thompson guides the reader through what we know and what might be possible based on known science, blurring the mental lines we've drawn to separate fantasy from reality.

Ethan Siegel, theoretical astrophysicist; author of Treknology and Beyond the Galaxy

Even if you can't tell a White Walker from a White Russian, you'll find Becky Thompson's Fire, Ice, and Physics to be endlessly rewarding. From how to build an ice wall to how to make Valyrian steel to the aerodynamics of dragons, this fun and engaging book is full of clearly explained physics and real-world applications. I couldn't put it down!

James Kakalios, Taylor Distinguished Physics Professor at the University of Minnesota; author of The Physics of Superheroes

From the biophysics of dragon fire to the engineering of ice walls, this book gives all the material you need to elevate those Game of Thrones conversations to even higher levels.

Clifford Johnson, Professor of Physics, University of Southern California; author of The Dialogues: Conversations about the Nature of the Universe

Customer Reviews