• Thomas Cheney

End of Year Reading List 2020

Updated: Dec 18, 2020

Congratulations on making it to the end of 2020. It has been quite a year. As is becoming a tradition we asked our team for some suggestions for holiday reading (or 2021 reading...) We hope you enjoy these books as much as we have.


Matteo Cappella


With the International Space Station (ISS) having turned 20, NASA in the World – Fifty Years of International Collaboration in Space by John Krige, Angelina Long Callahan and Ashok Maharaj is a must-read for those interested in the intersection between space and international cooperation. The book highlights with precision and valuable details the role that NASA played as tool of US foreign policy, narrating the interaction of the Agency with a variety of national actors. From NASA’s relations with Western Europe through the 70s; to the sensitive exchanges with the Soviet Union and the following Russian Federation, NASA has been shaping and influencing international actors’ engagement to space for decade. With a new coalition of international parties preparing to jointly embark in exploration endeavours, the book – and its chapter about the ISS – can be a precious lens to better understand how the Artemis Accords might be implemented.


In the year of social distancing and confinement, Jack Stuster’s Bold Endeavors – Lessons from Polar and Space Exploration is a book about human resilience against isolation and extreme conditions. By looking back at historical expeditions, submarine crews, and at the first decades of human spaceflight, Stuster identifies psychological needs and recommendations that can and should be considered for future crewed missions if one wants to preserve – and even boost – astronauts’ health and performance. Bold Endeavors is a great resource on psychology, human factor, and the hardship of exploration; a necessary reference to grasp what humankind is to face to establish itself as a spacefaring civilisation.


Lauren Napier


Letter 44 Vol. 1: Escape Velocity (Vol.1 of 6) by Charles Soule


I wanted to add this comic book because it is unique. Letter 44 Vol 1: Escape Velocity starts off with a newly elected US president taking office and finding out that there is a secret US space mission where astronauts were sent off into the solar system to inspect what seems to be an alien construction project in the asteroid belt. What I like about this comic series is that it is from the view of the US president as he is finding his way now in office and on dealing with this massive secret as well as from the view of the astronauts out surveying the alien project. As I studied political science, I find it great that I can read sci-fi and polisci in the same book. I have not had a chance to continue reading the rest of the volumes yet but the end of volume 1 had a nice cliff-hanger and left me wanting more. A quick, easy, highly addictive read!


Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3) by Becky Chambers


I wrote about the Wayfarers series last year as well so you can tell I have become quite the Becky Chambers fan! She is also soon to release Wayfarers #4 and has a novella from the same universe. Record of a Spaceborn Few takes place on a space station and centres around a few unique characters and their “slice of life” stories. The most striking for me was that one of the plot lines is about a woman who performs funeral services and handles the remains of the departed. Having had loss in my family last year and this year, it was sort of cathartic for me to think about spacefarers would appreciate the circle of life on a space station. While some may be frustrated that each book in the series has unique characters and plot lines, I do enjoy these different slices of life within the universe that Chambers has created. On top of it all she is very cognizant of diversity and inclusion which comes through in her characters and the use of “xyr” and “M” instead of he/she/them. I look forward to reading the novella and #4!


Psychology of Time Travelers by Kate Mascarenhas


I found this book through Amazon Prime Reading and thought I would give it a go as all the main characters are strong scientific women who invent time travel! Don’t read too much into the science of it all, just have fun learning how these women build an empire around time travel and how it changes each of their lives (some for the better, some for the worse). I liked the interwoven timeline and the way in which the time travel was depicted as it related to the main characters. This was really interesting because the chapters are written from the different characters points of view and how the time travel is changing their lives.


The Last Astronaut by David Wellington


NASA astronaut Sally Jansen is mission commander in need of redemption after a mission she led ends in disaster. When an alien spacecraft enters the solar system with a trajectory for Earth, she finds the chance try again. This book starts off with one expectation and slowly brings the astronauts to another entirely. If you like a book that is more about the journey than the end result this book is for you. Additionally, there is a unique juxtaposition between the astronauts as they are all on the journey with their own motives and needs; trying to find a way to survive.

The Three-Body Problem (1st book in trilogy) by Cixin Liu


While I am not completely finished reading this book, I have to say from what I have read it is really interesting. I like reading books written by international authors and this one so far has not let me down. The author uses real life incorporated into the book and where you might not know the context (as the book takes place in China), the author provides footnotes for clarification but not overpoweringly so. I can’t give a full critique yet, but I would recommend based on what I have read so far. All I want to say about the plot so far is that it is very scientific and offers a glimpse into the Chinese scientific community from the Cultural Revolution onward.


Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez


This book opened my eyes to so many areas of life that are biased towards men! If I didn’t feel like a bit of a feminist before I definitely do so now. The author put in so much research and gives case studies from all over the world. I was amazed to think that everything from smartphones, to pharmaceuticals, to leadership positions are all with the male gender in mind. For anyone who wants to see disruption of the male-centric status quo in numbers this is the book for you. I found I could not put it down. While she does not mention space, she does mention women in academia and women in STEM which does connect to our community as well.


The Right Stuff (2020), Disney+


While this is not a book, I thought I would give it a mention because some of us just can’t help ourselves when it comes to watching anything relating to space. While I have read the book the Right Stuff and seen the original movie, I thought I would give the series (unsure if just a miniseries or if they aim to continue off-book content into the later years of US spaceflight) a quick overview. If you are really into early US spaceflight this is a good one for you, though it does stray from the book in certain aspects. It was interesting how they picked out Shepard, Glenn, and Cooper to focus on (and sometimes in not such a good light). They also threw in a little bit about the female aviators who wanted to travel to space – namely Cooper’s wife Trudy who was an excellent pilot in her own right. Overall, it was an easy and entertaining binge session during the lockdown.


Thomas Cheney


Dr Space Junk vs the Universe: Archaeology and the Future by Alice Gorman


Dr Alice Gorman is a space archaeologist, which is a thing! In Dr Space Junk (her twitter handle) Alice takes us through a journey through the solar system, seeing the human presence through the lens of an archaeologist. Endeavouring to develop an understanding of how humans, through our artefacts and culture interact with the cosmos both in outer space and here at home. The book is a pleasure to read, full of insight and good humour and a must read for anyone interested in the human future (and past) in outer space.


Disarming Doomsday: The Human Impact of Nuclear Weapons Since Hiroshima by Becky Alexis-Martin


This is a work of 'radical geography' which examines nuclear weapons through their geography, this means looking at the impacts of these weapons on the places they are built, tested, and used. For a short book it is packed full of thoughtful insight and will change how you look at the world and nuclear weapons.


War in Space: Strategy, Spacepower, Geopolitics by Bleddyn E. Bowen


Dr Bowen's surely to be seminal IR work on 'war in space' addresses the traditional grounding of the maritime analogy used when discussing space warfare and strategy (or 'spacepower' as those familiar with Astropolitik may prefer) in bluewater naval theory and makes the argument that at least for the foreseeable future a more continental approach is warranted. The Earth orbital environment better resembles a coastal environment, where the navy supports land based operations rather than the open water Atlantic and Pacific strategies of the US and UK fleets.


Elizabeth Tiarks


The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K.Jemisin

Post-apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi mash up set in a world (possibly a far-future Earth) where the Moon’s orbit has changed, affecting the seasons and leading to regular earthquakes and other environmental issues. I can’t do justice to this series, but please read it!


Dr Space Junk vs The Universe by Alice Gorman I’m 99.99% sure everyone will have read this… It’s such a great book, mixing poetry with sociology, space, history. It’s also really funny.


The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie Tenuous link to my space work... the trilogy is called the First Law... Law... space law... (sorry!) It's a really good holiday read. It’s a fun, sweary, slightly violent caper with characters you should hate, but kind of like. That may or may not be anyone’s thing 😊 .


Into the Black by Rowland White Space Shuttle history in lots of detail, with many interesting little nuggets of info and some surprisingly amusing bits. Again, most have probably read this already.


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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