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Device

Device is a monthly book discussion with a science-based twist. In each episode, we discuss a novel that uses science to drive the story’s action, and dissect the plot device for scientific plausibility.

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Presence Mechanism

Ragle Gumm discovers he’s living in a simulated reality, and is pretty sure he’s starting to "go sane." In "Time Out Of Joint," author Phillip K. Dick envisioned a future where we would be walking on distant planets by the 1990s, as NASA did when the U.S. Spaceflight Program was created in 1958. The San Diego Air & Space Museum provides some history on NASA’s ambitions. Virtual reality developer E McNeill chats with host Emily T. Griffiths and producer Derrick Acosta about current VR technology and how it has its roots in NASA’s exploration research. Cover art is a still frame from "Auralux: Constellations," from indie game designer E McNeill.

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Ants, Ants, Revolution

In "The Poisonwood Bible," author Barbara Kingsolver takes us to 1950s Belgian Congo via the Prices, a missionary family. While this novel is great historical fiction, it’s embellished scientifical fiction when a horde of driver ants attack an African Village. David Holway from UC San Diego gives us the rundown on local ant species while Michael Wall from the San Diego Natural History Museum highlights insect appreciation, something Kingsolver could have been better at.

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Loom Moon

Shane Haggard and Lisa Will from San Diego City College discuss what would happen to the Earth if a meteor knocked the moon closer to us, and what happens to Miranda Evan's family in "Life As We Knew It" by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

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Once Bitten

A cultural legend, the great white shark’s reputation as a man-eater is directly linked with the blockbuster story "Jaws." That's something its author Peter Benchley heavily regretted, and spent most of the decades after the book's success trying to overcome.

Wendy Benchley, Peter’s wife, called in to give us the rundown on the greatest threats sharks are facing today, and from the National Marine Service in La Jolla, Heidi Dewar explains how the shallow waters of the southern California are a nursery for our protected population.

Cover Art Title: "The King" by Nicholas DeNezzo.

A woodburned image with acrylic paint highlights on a hand-carved wood shark fin. At nearly 2 feet tall, the fin itself was carved to be the size and shape of that on a full-grown adult white shark. Inspired by a George T. Probst photo (@iphotographsharks on Instagram). DeNezzo is a local artist and marine conservation graduate student at UC San Diego. This piece is part of a larger series focusing on human-shark encounters and efforts to prevent shark bites.

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Cat's Climate

In Kurt Vonnegut's “Cat's Cradle,” the mysterious polymorph ice-nine freezes the world’s oceans. If something like that really happened, how would it impact our climate? Meteorologist Alex Tardy from the National Weather Service discusses Vonnegut’s lofty claims, our region’s non-weather and the city of San Diego’s ambitious plan to reduce carbon emissions. And from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Osinachi Ajoku, Elizabeth Drenkard, and Daniela Faggiani Dias discuss what their research can tell us about climate change and what climate models may predict if all the water on Earth froze. Ultimately, though, it’s not so much about what Vonnegut got wrong about the weather, but how he asks us to think about what’s right.

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Introducing 'Device'

“Device” is a monthly book discussion with a science-based twist. Frequently, authors incorporate scientific phenomena as a plot device in their fictional stories. This can create thrilling tension, progress the plot, and/or provide the foundation for a philosophical debate. Often a caricature of science is described; it isn't always realistically plausible.

In each episode, we discuss a story that uses science to drive the action of the plot and dissect it for scientific integrity. San Diego has top-class research institutions and innovative technology start-ups which can help us review various scientific plot devices critically. We'll discuss how the author altered reality for the sake of the story. How much was intentional hyperbole, willful manipulation, or perhaps ignorance? Were the alterations minor, and the device highlights a natural wonder? Or does it contribute to the public’s misunderstanding of science? In short, does it pay off?

Follow along and read all the books we’ll be examining in season 1: “Cat's Cradle,” “Jaws” “Life As We Knew It,” “The Poisonwood Bible,” “Time Out of Joint,” and “Cannery Row.”