Media we love: Altered Carbon, The End of Everything

Media we love! EarthSky Editors share their favorite Earth- and space-based books, TV shows, movies, games, podcasts, YouTube videos and more.

Deborah recommends Altered Carbon

Okay, I admit it. I started watching season 1 of Altered Carbon on Netflix, while in the midst of watching For All Mankind on AppleTV, just because the leading man for both is the Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman. Yup. I love him, and I love his character on Altered Carbon of Takeshi Kovacs, a super-soldier (and super hunk) from an earlier place and time.

Laeta Kalogridis created the Altered Carbon TV series, basing it on Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 novel by the same title. And it’s cyberpunk all the way, set in a dystopian future featuring the classic cyberpunk qualities of “lowlife and high tech” we sci-fi fans all know and love. The basic premise of Altered Carbon is that people can transfer human consciousness from body to body (from “sleeve” to “sleeve”). And in this setting, the story goes, Takeshi Kovacs is released from prison in order to solve a murder.

For All Mankind is a great show, too, and especially fun to be watching as we’re poised to see the Artemis 1 launch to the moon. I like For All Mankind. But I love Altered Carbon. I love the story, and Joel Kinnaman, and the several strong female leads in season 1 (especially Detective Kristin Ortega, played by Mexican actress Martha Higareda). There’s also a great depiction, one of the best ever, of AIs.

Now I don’t seem to be able to pull away from Altered Carbon (I’m close to the end of season 1), to get back to For All Mankind. And how can I recommend Altered Carbon any more highly than that?

The first season of 10 episodes premiered on Netflix on February 2, 2018. Execs renewed it for a second season of eight episodes, which began on February 27, 2020. Then the execs canceled it. But there are still the books!

Media we love: Book cover with golden lines bending inward over starry sky.
The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking) by Katie Mack. Image via Katie Mack.

Kelly recommends The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking)

This fascinating book – The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), by Katie Mack – discusses the end of the universe in a way that’s actually somewhat enjoyable. While Katie does express the sadness the topic can bring toward the end of the book, she manages to spread humor throughout. The book begins at the beginning, as in the Big Bang, and then delves into some fates you may have heard of, such as the Big Crunch, heat death and the Big Rip. Then she enters more challenging territory, covering vacuum decay and bounce.

When she describes the Big Crunch (the idea that the universe ends when it collapses back in on itself), she does so in a way that is the perfect combination of a little scary and a little amusing:

If the expansion of the universe reverses, this diffusion of radiation does too. Suddenly the cosmic microwave background, the innocuous low-energy buzz, is blueshifting rapidly increasing in energy and intensity everywhere, and heading toward very uncomfortable levels.

To put it mildly!

The book left me thinking about entropy, which is disorder or randomness. The second law of thermodynamics says that entropy must increase. In other words, order inevitably decays into disorder. (I used to joke: “Why do I bother cleaning my house if the universe is ruled by entropy?”) The beginning of the universe appears to have been from a state of low entropy (or homogeneity), and all the possible ends are low entropy as well, whether it’s all crunching back to a point or expanding to complete dissolution, etc. Low entropy is a “suspect” state, yet we seem to begin and end that way, which somehow comforts me.

I highly recommend this thought-provoking book that will teach you more about the eventual demise of the universe. If you’ve already read this book and loved it, give it a shout-out in the comments!

Media we love

Bottom line: EarthSky’s Deborah Byrd highly recommends season 1 of the TV miniseries Altered Carbon. Kelly Kizer Whitt highly recommends the book The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking).


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