Monday, July 20, 2015

Virgin Galactic, The First Ten Years by Erik Seedhouse - Book Report #139

Not to distance myself too far from my science fiction roots my next book to help restore my faith in humanity was the story of Virgin Galactic.

You may have heard about Richard Branson's next way-out business venture; after the success of the Ansari X Prize Branson invested in Scaled Composites to create Spaceship Two and sell tickets to space.

The book tells the story of suborbital flight from it's beginnings and of all the challenges faced with this type of flight.

But the author also delves deeper into the challenges of the first ten years of Virgin Galactic up to and including the tragic crash of October 2014.  Getting this business off the ground (take the pun if you want) requires patience, bravery and deep pockets.  Luckily Branson has all those qualities but I fear that the entire project is in danger of being abandoned - How much more money can he put into this?

Given that I grew up watching the Apollo program, I really want this project to succeed.  As far as I am concerned there should be moon bases all over the place and we should be on Mars by now. Opening space to commercial ventures is the only way space will be truly explored.  Why?  Because there is money to be made up there!

Back to the book - found it odd.  Don't get me wrong, I liked it very much and got more from it than I expected, it's just that it felt like I was reading a paper-bound version of a Wikipedia page.  Maybe it was all the website links listed at the end of each chapter, maybe it's the output the author, I can't put my finger on it. 

And speaking about the author, Seedhouse should be wearing a cape!  Author, astronaut, ultra-long distance athlete, master's degree in medical science, paratrooper -  how can a person like this not be genetically engineered?  Maybe he will simply explode from doing so much.

I kid, but really, this guy is a modern day version of Doc Savage.

Virgin Galactic

X Prize - Ansari X Prize

Scaled Composites

Erik Seedhouse

Monday, July 13, 2015

Around The World In 80 Days by Michael Palin - Book Report #138

If you listen to the news you must feel, as I do, that we are living in a pretty shitty place and a pretty shitty time.  The world is not like that.  As a matter of fact it is much, much better than what we are being bombarded with in the media.  I'm not saying terrible things are not happening, they are, but it's not the only thing going on.

Because I needed to let some sunshine in and feel good about things I've turned to a few books that focus on the good that people do.

To start off I returned to my hero Michael Palin.  It was way, way back in 1988 that Michael took the challenge the BBC offered him to travel around the world following the path of Jules Vern's character Phileas Fogg.  Could the journey be done in modern times given how the world had changed since the book was published in 1873?

This book is the companion to the TV series and it is best if you take the time to watch that to get the full experience.  I read the paperback edition that holds a copyright of 1999. The original hardback was published in 1989.

The book is presented as a series of journal entries and included two sets of pictures of his journey.  Not only does Palin describe the places he saw and the food eaten but he also describes his own doubts of his ability to pull off being a presenter.  He also goes to describe the adventures of his crew, lovingly called Passepartout, after Fogg's companion in the novel.

The overwhelming generosity of strangers and the openness of people is something I found surprising and touching.  A wonderful tonic to restore your faith in humanity.

Michael Palin has made a positive impact on the world.

Michael Palin has two websites.  The first one is dedicated to his travels and you can read each book on-line!

The second one is also very, very interesting if your are interested in the man himself.  Wonderful. Check out his Ramblings page.  Also wonderful.

Michael Palin

Monday, July 6, 2015

Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire by David R. George III - Book Report #137

This is an interesting series in that it is much more an exploration of the adversaries encountered in the Star Trek universe than it is stand alone adventures from the different shows.

Each book so far, has taken individual characters out of their usual environment and entangled them into a specific culture that has been at odds with the Federation.  So far we've scrapped with the Breen, the Gorn and now the Romulans.

There are really two stories here; first, Spock is still on Romulus still trying to re-unify Vulcans and Romulans.  This was established in the TNG television shows and makes for a nice transition to the book.  The other plot line follows Benjamin Sisko as he continues to struggle to define his life and move on from his experiences in the Celestial Temple.

Both these plot lines happen at the same time as the Romulan Empire tries to avoid a civil war.

By the end of the book I have acquired a deeper understanding of the Romulan culture which will help underpin future novels.

To be honest, I'm a fan of Star Trek, but I find myself wondering how big a geek I really am.  I read these books to try and recapture a bit of the sense of wonder and excitement I got from the television shows.  This series definitely pushes our characters forward and it is those Federation characters I come to the books for.  I am less interested in the political structures of every bad guy we've encountered.

That said it just means the series is not my cup of tea -  it is not a reflection of the author's ability to write an interesting story.  In each case so far, I've wished I was following the story from the bridge of a Federation ship but I've always come away feeling like the universe has been made richer for it.  I just personally find it a bit of a slog to get through.

David R. George III