First Posted: 9/16/2014
As a teacher, I always tell my students that there are no silly questions. It is a fib of course, as there are definitely silly questions. But, in webcomic artist and author, Randall Munroe’s first major publication, “What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions,” readers find out that perhaps it is not about the questions asked, but rather, how we come to find the answers.
From infancy it seems Munroe was struck by genius. At a young age, Munroe had asked one question after the next, ultimately resulting in an infinite file of questions that would eventually lead to his first work: A collection of ridiculous, but well-thought out hypotheses. As Munroe notes, “it turns out that trying to thoroughly answer a stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places.”
Munroe, who has maintained webcomic, “xkcd” since 2005, discusses topics ranging from romance and math to sarcasm and language — all of which involve his trademark stick figures. Before his shift into publishing, however, Munroe served as a roboticist with NASA. In 2006, following the success of his webcomic, Munroe left his position and began writing and drawing fulltime.
Over the course of several years, using his site, Munroe compiled select questions posed by his readers, ultimately resulting in the creation of the book. If you are an “xkcd” enthusiast, much of the content will be familiar. That being said, “What If” also includes never-before-seen material that are inspired, yet bitingly funny. Like “xkcd,” each of the predicaments include Munroe’s signature animations and witty jokes. Some of the best pieces include: “Global Windstorm,” “Common Cold,” “Soul Mates,” “Lightning,” “Glass Half Empty,” “Lego Bridge,” and “Facebook of the Dead” to name a few. In the first, Munroe explores what would happen in the event the Earth stopped spinning. Certainly, as Munroe explains, “nearly everyone would die,” leaving only places like Helsinki, Fi., with a chance of survival — you know, assuming their uranium-clad bunker was up-to-code.
Munroe may not know the impending nature of any of the questions posed, but he educates readers by presenting hard facts unified with humor. Just remember, his all-encompassing knowledge is not always for our betterment. As Munroe notes, “I am a guy who draws pictures on the Internet. I like it when things catch fire and explode, which means I do not have your best interests in mind.”