2018 Year End Book Reviews
We read quite a lot here at the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization and thought that it would be good to end the year with a short selection of some of our favourite books that we have read this year. Book reviews will feature throughout the year but we will always aim to have an end of year review in case you need a gift idea or something to read yourself. This post is a joint contribution by Thomas Cheney and Lauren Napier. Lauren has reviewed two fiction works, the first Sunstorm by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephan Baxter and the second Artemis by Andy Weir, author of The Martian. Thomas reviewed Alexander MacDonald’s The Long Space Age. We hope you enjoy the reviews, and if you’re inspired to pick them up, the books.
Arthur C. Clarke and Stephan Baxter Sunstorm (Del Rey 2005)
Review by Lauren Napier
Though published in 2005, Sunstorm (part of the series A Time Odyssey) written by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephan Baxter, is an incredibly topical and interesting read for anyone interested in space, space weather, Earth sustainability and sci-fi adventures! This is the second book of a trilogy but after reading both this book and book 1 Time’s Eye I can say that this book can be read alone as well as in the series. The basis of this book is that the Sun starts wrecking havoc within itself which then creates some super stellar space weather for which Earth and its inhabitants just can’t withstand unless something is done to shield the planet from the extreme “storm” of the Sun. While the storyline should best be experienced by reading it I can mention that there are some themes that come up which we are thinking about today. Notably is the concept of Moon and Mars colonization, space planes, humans living on orbit, and the need for humans to pull together to work on keeping Earth sustainable for the current and future generations. This book is a disaster adventure laced with feeling, societal ways of dealing with the unknown and the hard to understand, technology and a dash of politics just for good measure. If you are already a fan of Arthur C. Clarke or Stephan Baxter, then look no further because this book kept me entertained and made me really think about our current situation with space travel and space applications for Earth sustainability. I am looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy entitled Firstborn and can encourage you to even start at the beginning with Time’s Eye.
Alexander MacDonald The Long Space Age: The Economic Origins of Space Exploration from Colonial America to the Cold War (Yale University Press 2017)
Alexander MacDonald is an economic historian with a PhD from Oxford University in economics and social history who works as an economics advisor to NASA. The Long Space Age attempts to do what the full title suggests and argue that the history of American space exploration should be considered in the longue duree and in doing so it demonstrates that the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are actually a return to the norm and it was the Apollo era that was the ‘aberration’ or innovation. Most of the book examines the history of the development of observatories in Colonial America and the later United States, noting that despite several high-profile attempts to create a national and/or government funded observatories (including a fight over what to do with what would become the Smithsonian) the observatories that were built were with private funds. Initially these were raised by means of public subscription but in the later 19th and 20th century, particularly during the ‘Gilded Age’, were increasingly by ‘High Net Worth Individuals’ and their philanthropic foundations (like Carnegie.) He also makes the argument that these endeavours were equivalent to NASA’s smaller robotic missions in ‘equivalent’ percentage of national resources consumed (there is an explanation of this calculation in the book, which fortunately doesn’t require a PhD in economics to understand, but basically is about adjusting for inflation not just of money but also productivity).
However, motivations are important, private funding was largely about ‘signalling value’, argues MacDonald. In the age of public subscriptions this was about signalling that your city was enlightened and/or rich enough to support an observatory not about science, indeed MacDonald provides several examples of astronomers who having been successful in getting the funding for an observatory failed to do much science because they had to allow access to the public who had provided the funding thus leaving them with little telescope time. This is where the shift to government funding was different as MacDonald argues that government was (and is) better at funding the science even if the motivations for America’s space exploration programme were and are still largely about ‘signalling’.
Towards the end of the book MacDonald looks at the ‘modern phenomenon’ of the likes of Bezos and Musk and argues that when examined in the longue duree it is clear that they are a return to the American norm. He also argues that this is a lesson that space advocates need to take on board, and in fact should take hope from because he argues that as long as there are people willing and able to devote their personal resources to the cause of space then “the Long Space Age is far from over.”
This book should be read by all space enthusiasts and advocates, but particularly those based in or involved with the United States. It is a fairly easy read which avoids getting overly technical on the economic analysis (despite being a university press publication it is clearly aimed at the general reader). It should be noted that as the full title would suggest it is exclusively focused on the United States, which isn’t a criticism although it does leave me wishing for similar works on Russia, China, Europe and beyond…
Andy Weir Artemis (Del Rey 2017)
Review by Lauren Napier
I really enjoyed reading The Martian by Andy Weir and so of course I was game to read his second book Artemis set on a Moon colony with a strong female lead character. Jazz flies under the radar where she sells smuggled contraband to over rich citizens of Artemis the colony on the Moon. She gets caught up in a commercial/political war over fibre optics which keeps us page turning all the way until the end. Jazz doesn’t play by the rules and it seems neither do many living in Artemis. This is a “shit hits the fan” and keeps getting worse kind of novel that is action packed and full of interesting characters getting into all kinds of shenanigans. A quick read and fun. Though Andy still hasn’t really gotten a grasp on space law we can forgive him because he does keep us entertained.... on Mars and now on the Moon. I look forward to his future works. In the meantime, read Artemis and pop The Martian in the Blu-ray player this holiday season!