This year NASA launched Third Rock Radio, an Internet radio station that plays a mix of indie rock and the latest space news, with on-air appearances by astronauts, engineers, and other NASA personnel. (Free, NASA)
If watching House on TV has you itching to sort out symptoms for yourself, then Prognosis: Your Diagnosismay be the cure. Solve medical case studies based on actual patients, with a new case added every weekend. (Free, Medical Joyworks)
The newly updated National Parks app features sweeping photos, helpful guides, and sample itineraries for 20 of America’s designated national parks. Use it to plan your next vacation or just explore Yosemite from your armchair. (Free, National Geographic. Mac iOS only.)
Appease your inner mad scientist with Crazy Formula, a puzzle game with a laboratory motif. Fiddle with flasks, test tubes, and other scientific instruments to advance through 15 formula books’ worth of problems. ($0.99, AppGeneration)
With Geo Walk, an interactive encyclopedia, kids and adults can tap their finger on a spot on a virtual globe and learn all about that place’s culture, flora, fauna, and technological history. Test out your new knowledge in the app’s quiz mode. ($2.99, Vito Technology. Mac iOS only.) —Mary Beth Griggs
THE MANY APOCALYPSES OF 2012
The end of the world has been an irresistible topic of fiction at least since Lord Byron fantasized about the death of the sun in his 1816 poem “Darkness.” But doomsday stories really took off this past year, inspired no doubt by conspiracy theories about an impending impact with the (nonexistent) planet Nibiru and by nutty misreadings of Mayan texts (see page 80). In 2012 fictional Earths met their ends by a creative variety of means: not only by impact, but by infection, epic power failure, and more.
DEATH FROM ABOVE
An enormous asteroid trundles toward an inevitable smashup with Earth in Ben Winters’s darkly intriguing novel The Last Policeman. One detective investigates a suspicious death after most other cops have quit, disappeared, or simply stopped caring in anticipation of the planet’s demise.
The summer film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World depicts the same dire scenario with more whimsy—the asteroid is named Matilda, for one—as neighbors Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley) embark on an adventure-filled last-days road trip. With that setup, cuteness, like death, is imminent—though a little too much of the one might make you impatient for the other.
Chef Michael (Ewan McGregor) and scientist Susan (Eva Green) meet just as waves of disease begin to rob humanity of its physical senses one by one in the indie movie Perfect Sense. Despite its medically and romantically improbable beginning, the film becomes surprisingly poignant as the relationship and the epidemic progress.
Journalist Peter Heller’s debut novel, The Dog Stars, follows Hig, a Cessna pilot who flies the lonely skies of the southwestern U.S. after a flu pandemic kills 99 percent of the world’s population. Heller’s poetic prose buoys readers across the bleak new landscape.
It doesn’t always take an extinction event to end civilization as we know it. In the new TV series Revolution, from J. J. Abrams (Lost), electricity inexplicably stops working, reducing modern society to decaying cityscapes and roving militias. Early episodes reveal the first clues to how and why, as one character says, “physics went insane.”
The postapocalyptic world of Tom Hanks’s animated web series Electric City (electriccity.yahoo.com) does have power, but in the wake of an unspecified calamity that nearly destroyed civilization, it is strictly rationed. —Mara Grunbaum
Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt
The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking by Matthew Hutson
Exploring both physics and philosophy, the author ponders why there’s something rather than nothing.
Journalist Hutson illuminates humanity’s hardwired tendency toward wildly irrational interpretations of reality.
Zoobiquity by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers
This animated account seeks to apply veterinary insights to human health care, plumbing the many maladies people share with other creatures.
The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
Statistics guru Silver delves into why it is so hard to forecast the future and what makes a prediction stick.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Earth’s rotation suddenly slows in this elegant novel, upsetting climate, gravity, and the rhythms of daily life.
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
This haunting sci-fi epic expertly crafts a future in which humans have spread across the solar system.
Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson
A platypus escapes the zoo and ventures through Australia in this spirited novel.