I went back and forth on this book so many times I still can’t quite decide what to say about it.
It’s unusual, that’s for sure. And it’s good. Very good? Very good. I think.
It’s about a girl called Fizz, and also about the universe.
It’s 2110. Fizz lives in an “Ecommunity”, a kind of anti-technology cult that has areas around the world that are cut off from the technologically advanced society around them (the “Outside”). Per the rules of her community, on her 18th birthday Fizz is allowed to exit Iceland, where she is based, for three weeks to visit the Outside and see what it’s about. To say this isn’t encouraged would be an understatement, but Fizz’s dad lives on the Outside and she’s always been curious about the big questions of life: questions she’s not allowed to ask.
I picked it up because of that blurb. I too grew up as an inquisitive child in a cult that didn’t allow questioning, and I too had to make the decision between leaving to explore and being ostracised by those I loved, or staying in an intellectually void bubble for the rest of my life.
Fizz chooses to explore. Luckily, her dad is pretty handy with spacetime, and he agrees to give her the use of his time machine to explore the universe as much as she can in the short period available to her.
She sets off on a journey of exploration, meeting some of science’s greatest names, beginning in ancient Greece and winding her way through the tunnels of time, picking up knowledge as she goes.
It is a hugely ambitious work; essentially a Sophie’s World for science. And on the whole, it works really well. The science is explained clearly and simply throughout, in exactly the way you’d have to explain it to an intelligent person who was coming across it for the first time. As I was reading it, I thought it would be a great way to introduce teenagers to the wonders of physics, which can seem like such a dry and boring subject in school but is actually so full of fascination.
So, let’s get the good out the way first: I would absolutely recommend this to people who think they’re probably interested in science but don’t know where to start. It also provides a glimpse into the scientific process and how that has changed over the years. And there are little pictures throughout that help bring the story to life even more.
The bits I didn’t like so much: I thought more could have been done with the character of Fizz herself. It seemed like Schreiber was assuming we’d know what her motivations were and that we’d understand her personality on a level that’s not possible without a bit more explanation from the author. At times she seemed a bit two-dimensional, like she was only there as a gateway to learning about science (which, let’s face it, she basically was, but it wasn’t great to be reminded of it).
Also, a couple of times the scientist talking to Fizz assumed knowledge she wouldn’t have had, and then built their arguments on the basis of that. Probably in a book like this it would be hard to avoid doing this occasionally, but it jolted the story a bit when it happened.
Towards the end of the book, the author takes a risk. I’m not going to say what it is, because I enjoyed being surprised by it and you probably will too, but it was a big risk that could easily have gone badly wrong. In my opinion, he just about pulled it off, and possibly even made an interesting philosophical point while doing so. But it’s one that will divide opinion, and its position right near the end means it might disappoint some readers.
I read the book in two sittings because it’s quite long. When I put it down, I realised the publisher – Zedess Publishing – was the author’s own initials. This made me wonder if it was self-published, and from everything I can find online about the publishing company, that seems to be the case. This is frankly astounding, because the vast majority of self-published books are utterly crap (yeah, I said it. Fight me.) Fizz definitely does not read like a self-published novel.
On the whole, I’d recommend it if you’re into science, or wanting to get into science, or if you like books that make you think or help you learn about history. It’s pretty long, but quite easygoing despite the intellectual subject matter.