Review: Leonard by William Shatner with David Fisher

Review: Leonard by William Shatner with David FisherLeonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man by William Shatner, David Fisher
Format: audiobook, ebook, hardcover
Source: publisher, purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, biography
Pages: 278
Published by Thomas Dunne Books on February 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner first crossed paths as actors on the set of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Little did they know that their next roles, in a new science-fiction television series, would shape their lives in ways no one could have anticipated. In seventy-nine television episodes and six feature films, they grew to know each other more than most friends could ever imagine.
Over the course of half a century, Shatner and Nimoy saw each other through personal and professional highs and lows. In this powerfully emotional book, Shatner tells the story of a man who was his friend for five decades, recounting anecdotes and untold stories of their lives on and off set, as well as gathering stories from others who knew Nimoy well, to present a full picture of a rich life.
As much a biography of Nimoy as a story of their friendship, Leonard is a uniquely heartfelt book written by one legendary actor in celebration of another.

My Review:

Yesterday was NASA’s Day of Remembrance, in honor of all those who lost their lives in the quest for space, particularly the tragic losses of Apollo I and the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

Because so many people have entered the space program and the aerospace industry because they fell in love with the idea of space travel while watching Star Trek, William Shatner’s semi-biographical, semi-autobiographical book about his friendship with the late and very much lamented Leonard Nimoy seemed like an appropriate book for this week.

shatner nimoy youngTo this reader, it felt as if the book, while purporting to tell the story of Leonard Nimoy’s life, ends up combining autobiography with biography. These two men knew each other very well for a very long time, came from somewhat similar backgrounds, and found themselves yoked together, whether they liked it or not (and sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t) by their performances in what everyone expected would be a short-lived TV program.

Instead, Star Trek became a phenomenon and none of the lives that it touched were ever the same. Particularly theirs.

Because Star Trek altered the trajectory of both their lives in ways that were both bizarre and profound, this book also serves as a personal recollection of the production of the original series. While many of these stories have been told before, it is still interesting to hear them again from someone who lived through those events.

A group which gets smaller and smaller every year. Dammit.

The other story that is told here is that of the life and occasionally hard times of a working actor in what is now considered the “Golden Age” of television. There is never a good time to be an actor. It’s a lot of tiny parts, short run work, and cab driving (in Nimoy’s case) or waiting tables or some other job that can be dropped and picked up on the whim of a casting director.

And even though these stories are now more than 50 years in the past, that struggle still resonates. The reader can see how those years formed the characters of the men who performed those iconic characters, and how much those characters both represented pieces of their core selves, and how much those characters influenced who they became.

For a fan, this is a fascinating story, all the more so because it rings so true in the author’s voice.

Escape Rating B+: Sometimes I talk about what I think about a book, sometimes I talk about what I feel. Fair warning, this is one of those “feelie” reviews.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since the end of the original series. I watched some of those early episodes with my dad, so there are a lot of memories tied up in this for me. Also, the stories that Shatner tells at the very beginning of the book, about his and Nimoy’s shared background as first-generation Americans (or Canadians) in Jewish immigrant families is also the story of my parents’ generation. With very little alteration, my mother could tell similar stories.

As a fan, I read a lot of the “making of Star Trek” books that came out in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the stories that Shatner relates were also a part of those books, but they are told slightly differently from one participant’s perspective than they were in those more “reporting style” books. Different both in the sense that we all remember things differently, and that it seems as if Shatner glosses over some of his behavior that drove his colleagues crazy at the time, and for years later. Some of the more contentious incidents seem to have faded from memory a bit.

We are all the stars of our own stories, possibly in this case more literally than for the rest of us.

This was a book where I both read the book in ebook, looked at the pictures in the hardcover, and listened to the audio. I would have the audio on in the car, and then pick up with the book at lunch and after I got home. One of the things that comes through on the audio is that the author often sounds tired. He frequently ran out of breath on the longer sentences. I kept wanting to tell him to take a breath in the middle, or grab a glass of water. I wanted to be there as he told his story.

shatner nimoy laughing lateIn the end, this is a book for the fans.It is way more about the history of Star Trek than any other single topic. As a fan, I found the story interesting and often charming. Perhaps I should say “fascinating” as Spock often did.

For readers who are not fans, or for later readers who are looking to find out what all the fuss was about, this is not a book that analyzes the influence of Star Trek or its characters on pop culture and the explosion of science fiction into movies, TV and mainstream literature. That’s a book for someone else at some other time.

But for those of us who loved those men and the show that they created, and which created them, this book is a marvelous way to remember them both.

As his most famous saying goes, Leonard Nimoy lived long and prospered. And he is missed.

Stacking the Shelves (153)

Stacking the Shelves

I didn’t get a lot this week, probably a good thing. But the one book I want to highlight is the Dark Beyond the Stars anthology. It’s a collection of space opera short stories written by women. While that would interest me anyway, I was alerted to the book by an article at The Mary Sue. It seems that there is an Amazon reviewer troll who used his review of the book to claim that women are incapable of writing good space opera, and oh by the way, he has some space opera that he wrote that is inherently better because he’s a male writer and space opera is, and I disgustedly quote, “a purely male domain.” This is purely bullshit as any reader of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga will heartily attest. My own personal protest to this idiocy was to buy the book. It was well worth $5.99, (and it would have been worth considerably more) to poke this troll in the eye with a sharp “buy this book”.

For Review:
Harvest Moon (Moon #4) by Lisa Kessler
Roth (Hell Squad #5) by Anna Hackett
Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz

Purchased from Amazon:
Dark Beyond the Stars by Blair C. Babylon, Annie Bellet, Elle Casey, Ann Christy,Patrice Fitzgerald, Autumn Kalquist, Theresa Kay, Susan Kaye Quinn, Sara Reine, Rysa Walker, Jennifer Foehner Wells
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One (These are the Voyages #1) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Two (These are the Voyages #2) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn
These Are the Voyages: TOS Season Three (These are the Voyages #3) by Marc Cushman and Susan Osborn

 

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 9-13-15

Sunday Post

Last week’s schedule fell completely to bits by the end. Hopefully this week will hew a little closer to my intentions from this end of the lens. But sometimes, no matter my best inentions, a book just doesn’t do anything for me, and I drop it. Sometimes the feeling is temporary (I loved both Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh and Heartmate by Robin D. Owens on the second go around, but felt very ‘meh’ about both of them on my first try). But sometimes its permanent, and I can never make myself go back. And of course, sometimes it’s not me, it’s the book. Either it turns out not to be for me, or just plain awful. Not that I haven’t occasionally finished some of those when I think it’s going to make a scathingly funny review.

And sometimes I bounce off of one book because there’s a different one calling my name so loudly that I can’t get a stray thought in until I read it. Has this ever happened to you?

paris time capsule by ella careyCurrent Giveaways:

Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey (paperback)

Winner Announcements:

The winner of Wildest Dreams by Robin Carr is Anita Y.

autobiography of james t kirk by david goodmanBlog Recap:

Labor Day 2015
B+ Review: Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey + Giveaway
C- Review: Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
D+ Review: Ryker by Sawyer Bennett
B+ Review: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David A. Goodman
Stacking the Shelves (152)

 

 

rebel queen by michelle moranComing Next Week:

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (review)
Leaving Orbit by Margaret Lazarus Dean (review)
Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran (review)
Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman (review)
Penric’s Demon (World of the Five Gods #3.5) by Lois McMaster Bujold (review)

Stacking the Shelves (152)

Stacking the Shelves

I have never read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but I have heard enough about it that I knew what it was about. It’s about cancer cell research, with a dose of medical ethics. Which meant that I was beyond puzzled and well into flummoxed when I read that a woman in Tennessee was claiming that the book was pornographic and that not only should her 15-year-old son not have been assigned the book in school, but that it should be banned from the local school district.

As far a this woman is concerned, the information about the subject’s cervical cancer, which does include the information about her cervix and vagina and that all women have them, is too graphic for a high school student. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that someone thinks that a woman discovering she has cervical cancer should be called pornographic. Considering what happened to Henrietta Lacks and the cells harvested without her permission or consent, I’d use other words. Pornography isn’t even in the same hemisphere.

I’m reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks for Banned Books Week later this month.

For Review:
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Burn it Up (Desert Dogs #3) by Cara McKenna
Cast in Honor (Chronicles of Elantra #11) by Michelle Sagara
Dark Secrets by Rachel Caine, Cynthia Eden, Megan Hart, Suzanne Johnson, Jeffe Kennedy and Mina Khan
The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell
Heart Legacy (Celta’s Heartmates #14) by Robin D. Owens
The Paladin Caper (Rogues of the Republic #3) by Patrick Weekes
The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic #2) by Patrick Weekes
Target Engaged (Delta Force #1) by M.L. Buchman
When the Stars Align by Jeanette Grey

Purchased from Amazon:
The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David A. Goodman (review)
Captured in Ink (Art of Love #3) by Donna McDonald
Diplomats and Fugitives (Emperor’s Edge #9) by Lindsay Buroker

Borrowed from the Library:
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Review: The Autobiography of James T. Kirk by David A. Goodman

autobiography of james t kirk by david goodmanFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Star Trek
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Titan Books
Date Released: September 8, 2015
Purchasing Info: Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The Autobiography of James T. Kirk chronicles the greatest Starfleet captain’s life (2233–2371), in his own words. From his birth on the U.S.S. Kelvin, his youth spent on Tarsus IV, his time in the Starfleet Academy, his meteoric raise through the ranks of Starfleet, and his illustrious career at the helm of the Enterprise, this in-world memoir uncovers Captain Kirk in a way Star Trek fans have never seen. Kirk’s singular voice rings throughout the text, giving insight into his convictions, his bravery, and his commitment to the life—in all forms—throughout this Galaxy and beyond. Excerpts from his personal correspondence, captain’s logs, and more give Kirk’s personal narrative further depth.

My Review:

I bounced off of two fairly serious books, and found myself staring at today with nothing to post. I gave up my attempts at serious for the week and turned to the book that was calling my name, loudly and with 60s theme music. As the 49th anniversary of the debut of a quirky little science fiction TV series called Star Trek occurred this week, it seemed like a fine time to dig The Autobiography of James T. Kirk out of my TBR pile.

Just in case you’re wondering, this is the story of the first James T. Kirk. Or perhaps the “Original Kirk”, in line with the naming convention of referring to the 1966-1969 series as “The Original Series” or TOS.

The framing story that sets up the book is interesting in and of itself. It is purportedly edited from a recording that Kirk made at Memory Alpha just before his “death” on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B. Kirk was a ceremonial guest at the launch, but ended up saving the ship and being swallowed by an energy vortex when the ship was attacked. He saved the day (again) and was lost, presumed dead.

James_Kirk,_2371
James T. Kirk in 2371

Memory Alpha really exists. It is the name of one of the Star Trek wikis. Fans know that Kirk was not killed on the Enterprise-B, but was lost in the Nexus vortex and returned to real space-time to finally die while helping his successor, Jean-Luc Picard, Captain of the Enterprise-D, save the universe from a madman intent on destroying the universe. Again. (This is the plot of the movie Star Trek Generations in a very tiny nutshell.)

Kirk’s last words were, “It was… fun. Oh my…” This Autobiography is a fleshing out of exactly what it was that was so much fun. And sometimes so much tragedy.

While the book is part of the convention of fiction that is written as though its protagonist was a real person, in the same way that the Sherlock Holmes stories are purported to be written by Dr. John Watson about his friend Holmes and merely edited by Conan Doyle, this book can be read as a fleshing out of Kirk’s biographical entry in our version of Memory Alpha.

It takes all of the incidents that are known from the series and movies, and turns them into a complete portrait of a fictional life. Because the story is told from Kirk’s perspective, we see things that we did not see on film. Kirk was so often a “cowboy”; cocky, self-assured, sometimes self-absorbed, and always coming out on top with a smirk or a smile. Through his eyes in this autobiography, we see all the times when that was an act, that the outward confidence often masked an inwards doubt. And sometimes a bit too much hubris.

A James T. Kirk, Starfleet Academy photo is shown in this undated handout photo provided by CBS, September 4, 2015.  REUTERS/CBS/Handout via Reuters
James T. Kirk, Starfleet Academy graduation photo

The other thing that this book does well is put some meat on the bones of the story we heard bits of but didn’t see – both his childhood and the years after his retirement from Starfleet. In the episode Court Martial, there is a recitation of all of Kirk’s many, many medals and awards. In the book, we see how he got those awards, without him talking about them directly. We read about the tragedy that led to Kodos the Executioner (The Conscience of the King), and the insanity of the Axanar peace talks. And there is plenty of information, and plenty of regret, in Kirk’s relationship with the son he virtually abandoned.

While the story does touch on some incidents from the TV episodes, it does not become a catalog of them. Only the incidents that impacted on the life of this fictional person get any mention. So we read his perspective of The Doomsday Machine and Obsession, but not The Trouble With Tribbles. And the inclusions and exclusions feel right.

Escape Rating B+: This is, without a doubt, a book for the fans, especially fans of the original series. For readers like me, who loved that show and remember it with extreme fondness, it is an absolute treat of a book. I read it in one sitting, mostly with a smile on my face. And occasionally with a pang in my heart. Which makes it a difficult book to rate. I loved it and was lost in it, but that has as much to do with my own nostalgia rather than it does the book.

For those who loved this show, even with its many faults, the throw away treatment of the events in the laughably awful movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, is guaranteed to bring a chuckle.

On the other hand, this book is no way to introduce anyone to Star Trek: The Original Series. And possibly not for fans of the reboot who are wondering what all the fuss is about. But for those of us who already know what made this show so marvelous, this is a chance to slip back to a universe we all remember with love.

Live long, and prosper.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 3-22-15

Sunday Post

The Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop ends 3/29, so you still have plenty of time to get lucky with a bunch of wonderful bookish giveaways.

This weekend is the official beginning of Spring. In Atlanta, it has been 70 and sunny, and 50 and rainy, all in the same week. We’ve had both the air conditioning and the furnace on, sometimes on the same day. If there’s one thing that Spring means, it’s changeable weather. I’m starting to think about getting a lounge chair and reading in the backyard for a few weeks, before it gets too hot here.

On this first weekend of Spring, I want to leave you with a little ditty that always makes me smile.

Spring is sprung,
Fall is fell,
Here comes Summer
And it’s hotter than…
Last year.

Current Giveaways:

Lucky-Leprechaun-Hop-2015The book of the winner’s choice (up to $10 value) in the Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop
3 copies of Cowboy Heaven by Cheryl Brooks
2 ecopies of Romantic Road by Blair McDowell

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley is Anne.

cranky ladies of history by tansy rayner roberts and tehani wesselyBlog Recap:

Guest Post by Author Blair McDowell on The Real Romantic Road + Giveaway
Lucky Leprechaun Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
B+ Review: Cowboy Heaven by Cheryl Brooks + Giveaway
B Review: Star Trek: Shadow of the Machine by Scott Harrison
A- Review: Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely
Stacking the Shelves (127)

blink of the screen US cover by terry pratchettComing Next Week:

A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett (review)
Shadow Ritual by Eric Giacometti and Jacques Ravenne (blog tour review + giveaway)
Unchained Memory by Donna S. Frelick (review)
Idol of Bone by Jane Kindred (review)
The Kill List by Nichole Christoff (blog tour review)

Review: Star Trek: Shadow of the Machine by Scott Harrison

star trek original series shadow of the machine by scott harrisonFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Star Trek: The Original Series
Length: 99 pages
Publisher: Pocket Books
Date Released: March 9, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

An e-novella set in the Original Series universe—taking place immediately after the events of the 1979 film Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

After its recent encounter with V’ger, the U.S.S. Enterprise has returned to dry dock to finish its refit before commencing its second five-year mission. The crew has been granted a two-week period of shore leave before preparations for their next voyage begins. Shaken by their encounter with V’ger, Kirk, Spock, and Sulu travel to their respective homes and must reflect upon their lives—now forever changed.

My Review:

Star_Trek_The_Motion_Picture_posterThis short novella is not exactly a story. Instead, it reads like three character profiles of people we know well. We see Kirk, Spock and Sulu at a pivotal point in their lives – the immediate aftermath of the V’ger incident portrayed in the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

It is also, for each of them a meditation on the place that is called home, and a glimpse into their relationships with people that we know of but are not necessarily familiar with.

The poet Robert Frost once said that, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Which does not mean that you necessarily want to go there, that you want to stay, or that it still feels like home to you.

For Jim Kirk, it is not a place that he wants to go; for Spock, not a place he wants to stay, and for Hikaru Sulu, not a place that feels like home to him.

Jim Kirk is called back to his family farm in Iowa. (“I’m from Iowa, I only work in outer space”) His nephew Peter is being raised on the family farm, by Jim Kirk’s aunt and uncle, making Abner and Hanna Peter Kirk’s great-aunt and great-uncle. We’ve met Peter once before, in the episode Operation: Annihilate. His father, Jim’s brother Sam, and his wife Aurelan were killed in the invasion of the energy suckers. Only Peter survived.

Peter seems to have lost his way, or been lost in the black depths of depression after V’ger. He thought he was safe on Earth, but it has just been brought home to him, and everyone on Earth, that there is no such thing as a safe place. The teenaged Peter has lost interest in any future, and Jim’s Aunt Hanna hopes that something he might say to the boy will bring him back. That both is and isn’t the way it works.

Spock returns to Vulcan to tie up the loose ends related to his abandonment of the Kolinahr ritual at the beginning of the V’ger incident. Everyone he meets assumes that Spock plans to return to the ritual, but in meeting V’ger, he discovered that his human (and emotional) side has as much value as his logical and Vulcan side. He has been denying his own place in the IDIC principle (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) in his mistaken attempt to become fully Vulcan, which he is not.

In meeting with both his human mother Amanda and his Vulcan father Sarek Spock’s new knowledge of himself helps to further heal the family rifts that were apparent in the episode Journey to Babel.

Last, but in this case not least, Hikaru Sulu comes home to await the birth of his daughter, and while he is awed by the love and responsibility of becoming a new father, his partner also makes him aware that she understands him as much as she loves him. She is making a home for herself and their daughter, knowing and accepting that Sulu’s life is and will always be in space and not on Earth.

He discovers that he has a home, but it is not truly his.

Escape Rating B: While I enjoyed this, it is not so much a story as it is a visit with old and dear friends. The character portraits in this novella are definitely for the fans – there isn’t enough story to draw in anyone who is not already very familiar with Star Trek.

While this is an original work, there were quite a few points where the dialogue between the characters felt spot on – I could hear their voices in my head, including those that we will not hear again. For that gift, I thank the author.

Star Trek GenerationsThe bit of the story that was most original was Sulu’s story. He is not featured in as many of the stories as might have been – the Original Series was much less of a true ensemble than Next Gen, but in this case we learn a bit that has not been known before. Demora Sulu appeared in Star Trek Generations as the current helmsman of the Enterprise B, and Kirk greets her as Hikaru Sulu’s daughter – but no one ever knew anything about her mother or where she came into the story. This is that story, and it is illuminating.

I originally picked this book after reading and reviewing The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell. That true space science story had so many resonances with ST:TMP that I couldn’t resist reading a V’ger story. After the news about Leonard Nimoy’s death, I moved the book as far up the schedule as I could find a slot. It is only coincidence (but an excellent one) that this Sunday (March 22) will be William Shatner’s 84th birthday.

Live Long and Prosper.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (126)

Stacking the Shelves

220px-10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1For anyone who hasn’t seen the news, this is the second week in a row where the science fiction and fantasy world has lost someone near and dear. On Thursday, Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series, died of complications from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. He was 66, which is much, much too young. He left behind a legacy of fascinating, bizarre and humorous views of our world, as told through the lens of his Discworld series. His last tweets tell a story of Death from the Discworld coming for him. And of course Death came for him personally, because in the Discworld, Death always comes in person to escort wizards to whatever is beyond.

Sir Terry Pratchett was a wizard.

For Review:
Cold Iron (Malorum Gates #1) by Stina Leicht
Dead Wake by Erik Larson
The Deepest Poison (Clockwork Dagger #0.5) by Beth Cato
Eeny Meeny (Helen Grace #1) by M.J. Arlidge
The Marriage Season (Brides of Bliss County #3) by Linda Lael Miller
The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
Tin Men by Christopher Golden
To the Stars by George Takei
The Virgin’s Daughter (Tudor Legacy #4) by Laura Andersen

Purchased from Amazon:
Among the Mad (Maisie Dobbs #6) by Jacqueline Winspear
Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs #2) by Jacqueline Winspear
Cranky Ladies of History edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely
An Elegy for Eddie (Maisie Dobbs #9) by Jacqueline Winspear
An Incomplete Revenge (Maisie Dobbs #5) by Jacqueline Winspear
A Lesson in Secrets (Maisie Dobbs #8) by Jacqueline Winspear
The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs #7) by Jacqueline Winspear
Messenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs #4) by Jacqueline Winspear
Pardonable Lies (Maisie Dobbs #3) by Jacqueline Winspear

Borrowed from the Library:
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

Review: The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell

interstellar age by jim bellFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Dutton
Date Released: February 24, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

The story of the men and women who drove the Voyager spacecraft mission— told by a scientist who was there from the beginning.

The Voyager spacecraft are our farthest-flung emissaries—11.3 billion miles away from the crew who built and still operate them, decades since their launch.

Voyager 1 left the solar system in 2012; its sister craft, Voyager 2, will do so in 2015. The fantastic journey began in 1977, before the first episode of Cosmos aired. The mission was planned as a grand tour beyond the moon; beyond Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn; and maybe even into interstellar space. The fact that it actually happened makes this humanity’s greatest space mission.

In The Interstellar Age, award-winning planetary scientist Jim Bell reveals what drove and continues to drive the members of this extraordinary team, including Ed Stone, Voyager’s chief scientist and the one-time head of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab; Charley Kohlhase, an orbital dynamics engineer who helped to design many of the critical slingshot maneuvers around planets that enabled the Voyagers to travel so far; and the geologist whose Earth-bound experience would prove of little help in interpreting the strange new landscapes revealed in the Voyagers’ astoundingly clear images of moons and planets.

Speeding through space at a mind-bending eleven miles a second, Voyager 1 is now beyond our solar system’s planets. It carries with it artifacts of human civilization. By the time Voyager passes its first star in about 40,000 years, the gold record on the spacecraft, containing various music and images including Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” will still be playable.

My Review:

I had the same reaction to The Interstellar Age as I did when I went to the Kennedy Space Center a few years ago. I got choked up. Why? Because to this Star Trek fan, space travel is awesome and the future and I’m not going to get to go. Life is too short, and Congress doesn’t give NASA nearly enough funding for space tourism for the middle class to become “real” in my lifetime.

I will tie this back to Star Trek at the end, believe it or not.

But about the book…if you were ever hooked on space travel science fiction, or if you got up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon, or if you’ve ever traveled to see a shuttle launch (or any kind of spacecraft launch) or if you can’t get enough Hubble Telescope pictures, this is a book for you.

While without rockets, it’s just science, this is a science story told through the people who worked on it or were affected by it. While, as one of the researchers says, we shouldn’t try to humanize or personalize the little rovers and probes that form the bulk of our current space program because, and I quote, “they don’t like it”, we can’t help but invest them with personalities and motivations of their own. They represent us. In a slightly robotic way, they are us, or at least the part of us that needs to go out and explore.

Possibly, as this recent strip from xkcd attests, they represent other parts of us as well:

On January 26th, 2274 Mars days into the mission, NASA declared Spirit a 'stationary research station', expected to stay operational for several more months until the dust buildup on its solar panels forces a final shutdown.

Back to Voyager and The Interstellar Age. I want to invoke Star Trek again. Because these are the voyages of the Interstellar Voyager Project, its ongoing mission: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no (Terran) has gone before.”

Voyager 1
Voyager 1

In the past 40 years, and continuing, the two Voyager space probes, and the probes that followed in their wake, have extended human knowledge of our solar system, and are now either completely outside of our Solar System (Voyager 1) or are getting there fast (Voyager 2). We humans have sent a piece of ourselves into the space between the stars, both in the hopes that we can continue to learn from its explorations, and that someday, perhaps, some other civilization in some other star-system will scoop it up and discover who we were.

The project is huge and was in many ways all encompassing for the people who worked on it. There are folks now part of the project who were not born when it began in the mid-1970s. But the story of their involvement, in this thing that turns out to have been the biggest and the best time of their lives, is very human and awe-inspiring in that humanity. It’s impossible not to wish you were there when those first photos of Jupiter’s moons appeared. Or with any of the other many firsts accomplished by these probes and the team that worked with them.

In relating the effect that his personal involvement with the Voyager mission has had on his life, the author shows us not just why this journey was important for him, but why it is important for us all.

Reality Rating A: I have a difficult time separating my feelings about the space program from my feelings about the book. Why? Because I want to have been there, and that still touches me deeply.

There are probably a generation (or two) of us who watched Star Trek as kids and saw the hope that humanity would reach the stars. I think we all wanted it to be in our lifetimes, but that is unlikely to happen.

This is a book about the joys and wonders of “big science”. It takes hundreds if not thousands of people devoting their lives and their careers to making project like the Interstellar Voyager mission a success. Or even a possibility. The Interstellar Age is the story of not just how it worked, but why.

It’s also a 40th birthday paean to the Voyager Program itself, and to the people who built them and made them fly.

As a reader, I occasionally got sidetracked with the names of all the different component parts, but all things considered, The Interstellar Age is a popular science story at its best.

One last Star Trek reference. The first Star Trek movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was released in 1979, two years after the launches of Voyagers 1 and 2. In ST:TMP, at the heart of the alien vessel they find Voyager 6, returning to Earth in search of its creator, NASA.

Voyager 6 from STTMP
Voyager 6 from Star Trek: The Motion Picture

 

Some day, centuries from now, one of the Voyagers, scarred and pitted by the interstellar winds, might come home – in the arms (or tentacles) of explorers from another star system.

We can dream.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Stacking the Shelves (119)

Stacking the Shelves

Don’t forget that today is National Reading Day. Although the day is supposed to encourage reading by younger children, I don’t see why we can’t ALL celebrate by curling up with a good book or two.

As far as good books, or at least new books, this may be the first time in a long time (if ever) that I have bought more books than I received review copies. Or at least the first time since I started blogging. I loved Anna Hackett’s In the Devil’s Nebula so much that I just had to get the rest of the series. Yum!

For Review:
Star Trek: The Original Series: Shadow of the Machine by Scott Harrison

Purchased from Amazon:
Beneath a Trojan Moon (Phoenix Adventures #4) by Anna Hackett
Beyond Galaxy’s Edge (Phoenix Adventures #5) by Anna Hackett
On a Rogue Planet (Phoenix Adventures #3) by Anna Hackett
On a Cyborg Planet (Phoenix Adventures #6) by Anna Hackett