Outland (Quantum Earth I) – Dennis E. Taylor

University engineering students Mike and Bill are approached by physics students who need their expertise to continue experimenting with quantum tunneling and parallel universes. The experiments turn out to be more successful than expected, opening up a big can of worms. They can now open portals to alternate timelines, with different conditions, for example, one where dinosaurs did not go extinct, and one, which they name “Outland”, where mammals are prevalent but humans seem absent. A pastoral paradise of sorts. Meanwhile, Erin, a geology student, and Mike’s girlfriend, is caught up in unprecedented events at the Yellowstone caldera, which seems poised to erupt, potentially causing widespread destruction. Due to university politics, the quantum tunneling team decide to clandestinely move their research off-campus, while disassociating themselves with the university funding stream. What started as an academic project becomes a get-rich stream, and then rather unexpectedly morphs into an escape hatch for refugees.

The concept and usage of the portals is very well realised, with a slew of interesting applications that have to be improvised as conditions “Earthside” change dramatically. The adventure story parallels to Stargate SG-1 are obvious, and references by the characters themselves. While the protagonists are likable and it is easy to root for them, they are not very three-dimensional. On a side note, this is very much the young white American apocalypse, even if one of the main characters is Indian. I suppose it can be explained away since the setting is a university in Nebraska. That criticism aside, I found this to be a real page-turner just like his other books, with Mr. Taylor’s fast-paced plotting and the constant witty snark highly entertaining.

Rich People Problems (Crazy Rich Asians III) – Kevin Kwan

Nearing the end of a long and storied life, “Ah Ma” Su Yi becomes ill, and it is apparent she does not have long to live. The extended family flocks to Tyersall Park, ostensibly to pay their respects, but in many cases to vie for part of the inheritance. Eddie Cheng in particular is scheming deviously to outmanoeuvre the still estranged Nick. Nick himself isn’t particularly interested in inheriting the house, but Rachel convinces him to return home and try to make peace with his grandmother.

The third and final instalment neatly ties up the plot threads, but still holds a few surprises. There are also some particularly hilarious scenes, with Eddie Cheng taking pride of place as the fool. A worthy end to a trilogy that made me smile and laugh.

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – “Randall Munroe”

What If? deals with the absurd questions that Mr. Munroe receives on a section of his website, which is primarily known for hosting his webcomic XKCD. Questions include what would happen to you if you started to rise at the rate of one foot per second and what would happen if the Moon disappeared.

While the questions themselves are absurd, Mr. Munroe works through the logic and maths in a serious way, which results in some surprising insights. His trademark irony and delightfully witty foodnotes make for a very enjoyable read.