• Thomas Cheney

2019 End of Year Book Reviews

The end of the year once again, the nights are long, dark and cold (although that might just be England...) Therefore it is time for our second annual end of year book review roundup. These are books we've enjoyed or found interesting this year think are worth your time either over the holiday season or sometime in 2020. We also have a special treat this year as Morgane Royer has provided us with a bilingual review of a French space book.

Space Chronicles [1], Jean-Pierre Luminet, Cherche Midi, August 2019

Review by Morgane Royer

Disclaimer : To my knowledge the book has not been (yet) translated into English and is only available in French.

Jean-Pierre Luminet is an astrophysicist specialised in black holes and cosmology working at CNRS (the French national centre for research). He is also an artist and exhibited several visual works as well as published poetry and literature books, the latest being the Space Chronicles.

This summer as we were celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the first steps Man made on the Moon, Jean-Pierre Luminet retraced the history of space conquest on the French radio, France Inter[2], the broadcast have then been published as Space Chronicles . With those 40 chronicles the astrophysicist takes us on a journey through space and time.

As it could be expected the first one, entitled « It was fifty years ago »[3], is about the Apollo 11 mission. However the book goes way beyond a mere review of the history of Man in space. The author mixes indeed scientific insights with cultural references and unexpected anecdotes which makes the book feel more like a compilation of short stories than a scientific or historical work.

This does not take out, however, the scientific quality of the Space Chronicles and although you should not expect deep scientific or historic analysis, as the format would not allow, Jean-Pierre Luminet manages to provide great insights on many aspects of the space conquest. From the ancestors of rockets built in China centuries ago to the debate between astronomers and astrophysicists regarding the definition of our Solar System and where its border lies, the range of themes reached is pretty wide. As mentioned before Jean-Pierre Luminet is more than just a scientist and this shows in Space Chronicles through the many cultural references. The bibliography, discography and filmography at the end testify the abundance of such references.

The result of such mix between science and art is a very versatile book that can easily be read in a continuous way like a novel.

Chroniques de l'espace, Jean-Pierre Luminet, édition du Cherche-Midi, Août 2019

Jean-Pierre Luminet est un astrophysicien spécialisé dans l'étude des trous noirs et la cosmologie qui travaille au CNRS. C'est également un artiste qui a exposé plusieurs oeuvres visuelles et a publié différents ouvrages, le dernier en date étant les Chroniques de l'espace.

Cet été, alors que le cinquantième anniversaire des premiers pas de l'Homme étaient célébrés, Jean-Pierre Luminet a retracé l'histoire de la conquête spatiale lors de chroniques sur France Inter[4], qui ont ensuite étaient publiées sous le titre Chroniques de l'espace. Avec ces 40 chroniques l'astrophysicien nous emmène en voyage à travers le temps et l'espace.

Comme on peut s'y attendre la première, « C'était il y a cinquante ans », évoque la mission Apollo 11. Néanmoins le livre va bien au delà d'une simple revue de l'Histoire de l'Homme dans l'espace. En effet, l'auteur allie éclairages scientifiques, références culturelles et anecdotes inattendues ce qui fait que l'ouvrage se lit plus comme une série de nouvelles qu'un livre scientifique ou historique.

Cela n'affecte en rien la qualité scientifique des Chroniques de l'espace et bien qu'il ne faille pas s'attendre à une profonde analyse scientifique ou historique, le format des chronique n'y étant pas adapté, l'auteur parvient à apporter un éclairage sur de nombreux aspects de la conquête spatiale. Des ancêtres des fusées construits en Chine il y a des siècle au débat sur la définition du Système Solaire et de sa frontière entre astrophysiciens et astronomes l'amplitude des thèmes abordés est plutôt large. Comme évoqué plus haut, Jean-Pierre Luminet n'est pas juste un scientifique et cela transparait dans les nombreuses références culturelles qui y apparaissent, les bibliographie, discographie et filmographie à la fin de l'ouvrage en témoignent. Il en ressort un livre varié et léger pouvant être lu d'une traite à la manière d'un roman.

[1]Original : Les chroniques de l'espace

[2]Link to the broadcast : https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/l-aventure-de-la-conquete-spatiale

[3]Original : “c'était il y a cinquante ans”

[4]Lien vers l'émission : https://www.franceinter.fr/emissions/l-aventure-de-la-conquete-spatiale

One Way – S.J. Morden

No Way – S.J. Morden

Review by Lauren Napier

“Eight astronauts, one killer, no way home” and that is just the cover of the book! Author Dr. Morden trained in planetary geology and is based in Gateshead – literally just over the bridge from me which I found out just now doing research for my book reviews which kinda made me more excited about the books again because I just moved to Newcastle! Ok so let’s get into the book shall we? Frank Kittridge is in prison for murder but it’s not what you think. Then he gets the chance of a lifetime – a one way ticket to Mars to build a Mars-base for future astronauts – which he takes in hopes of impressing his son and redeeming himself. Follow Frank as he steps foot on Mars with other fellow prisoners and one handler in order to build the base and have it up and running before the other astronauts arrive. But things are not as it seems and as one after another is killed things really start to heat up. This really reminded me of my favorite Agatha Christie book And Then There Were None wrapped up with space adventures a la Andy Weir and The Martian. I can say you will not put this book down as you will be engrossed in it. Get ready to binge read through the holidays...and the fun doesn’t stop there... as we have a sequel!

I really can’t say much about No Way or I will spoil One Way. All I can say is that if you enjoy space crime and One Way then just keep on reading with No Way! It was a really great second addition to the story and I am really glad I stumbled upon both this year!

Places in the Darkness – Chris Brookmyre

Review by Lauren Napier

Staying with the theme of space crime I also had a chance to read Places in the Darkness which follows jaded Freeman and Earth investigator Blake on the hunt to track down a killer on the space station Ciudad de Cielo (City in the Sky) which is home to engineers and scientists building a colony ship to the stars. So who would be out for murder and expect to get away with it on a space station? As the bodies keep piling up we find Freeman and Blake forced to create a shaky alliance and discover some real darkness behind the murders in the form of a chilling conspiracy that could threaten humanity as a whole.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers

Review by Lauren Napier

Did you watch Firefly or Star Trek Voyager? Then this book duo is for you! The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit follow an odd-ball crew on the ship Wayfarer building wormholes across space. In the first novel the focus is on Rosemary, new to the Wayfarer, who has to learn to navigate life with crewmates from all walks of life and learn to adjust to the chaos of space travel. In the second novel the focus shifts to another crewmate but I will keep it a surprise because I don’t want to spoil the end of the first book! All I can say is that these were fun, easy reads about building friendships in space which makes for great reading during the dark nights of winter.

Kate Raworth Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist (Random House 2018)

Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut economics’ is a variation on the ‘circular economy’ which is an economic system which aims at eliminating waste and the reuse of resources. It is to be contrasted to the linear, growth orientated economic paragim we currently experience. Raworth, formerly an Oxfam economist[1], has developed the concept further into what she calls ‘the doughnut.’ Essentially Raworth proposes measuring economic success on the basis of our ability to meet the needs of the population (healthcare, education, food etc) whilst remaining within the ecological boundaries of our environment. This approach enables a sustainable economic system (as opposed to our very unsustainable present economic system) while maintaining or potentially even improving the standard of living. As Raworth argues, we’re addicted to growth, but we don’t have to be. While the book doesn’t discuss outer space, it is applicable. As a recent paper discusses, while resources in outer space are abundant, they are not unlimited, and a sustainable economic model will be necessary if humanity is to avoid a disastrous cliff edge.[2] The book is an easy read, fortunately not an economics textbook and has ideas worth considering for a sustainable human future, on or off the planet.


[2] https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1905/1905.13681.pdf

The opinions expressed in these blogs posts are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization or anyone else.

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