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review 2018-03-04 23:07
Workmanlike writing, fascinating life.
Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery - Scott Kelly

I have found Scott Kelly a lot more engaging in interviews than he was in this book, which could get a little plodding at times, but I still enjoyed it for the most part. It's certainly the most detailed and emotionally-open description of the long-duration missions on the International Space Station. (Alternating chapters were about his childhood, military career, and other NASA missions both as a space shuttle pilot and on the ISS.)


Unlike Mike Massimino, I would never describe Kelly as the happiest man in space. Even though he talked a lot about what he liked about his work and why, a lot of the book focused on the difficulty, deprivation, and tedium that comes with spending months and months away from life on earth, often with just two other people. NASA deliberately ran that man through the wringer to see what happened, and it doesn't seem to have been an entirely enjoyable experience, either physically or psychologically. The crap this man willingly put himself through through to further the science behind space exploration is flat out heroic.


I'm making it sound like this book was a drag, and it wasn't entirely. It was on a certain level good to read a book that wasn't 100% WOW SPACE! Kelly was more willing to criticise NASA and Roscosmos when he felt like they're letting the astronauts and cosmonauts down, which was a nice change, and felt more honest. He did seem to have liked his work, (most of) his co-workers, and being in space on a general level (when the toilet and the CO2 scrubbers were both working). He also seemed to be naturally a little more of an Eeyore than either Hadfield or Massimino, I think part of that being his military background, and part of it being a general outlook on life.


I would totally recommend this if you're looking for what's going on with the space program in the past few years, but if you're looking for something more fun, and frankly better written, I'd point to Massimino or Hadfield.

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review 2018-02-24 05:31
Huh. I feel like Chabon is backsliding.
Moonglow: A Novel - Michael Chabon

At least in regards to women. I felt like Yiddish Policemen's Union was a massive step up from Chevalier and Clay in that regard, but this was... a step sideways at best.


I don't know, maybe I just wasn't feeling this book. It's a pretty self-indulgent project in that it's a fictionalised family biography of his grandfather and himself wrapped together and told out of order, and it never quite gelled for me. I enjoyed a lot of the segments, especially the WWII stuff. I liked the relationship between Chabon and his mom. I liked the humour much of the time.


I just never quit developed a strong attachment to the characters, and the different timelines never really told a story in a way that justified the skipping chronology. We get bits of his grandfather in WWII, bits of his childhood, bits of a year in prison, bits of his courtship and tumultuous marriage, bits of a later courtship with another woman, bits of him dying. Almost all of it starring as him being gallant and heroic. The through line is possibly his relationship to rockets and a one-sided rivalry with Werner Von Braun, or it could be his relationship with his manic pixie dream wife. I couldn't really tell, and by the end I didn't care.


I'm probably being overly harsh with that description, but it seemed like the purpose of the women in this story was to be difficult, frustrating, slightly mad, and very sexy. We rarely if ever saw the story from their perspective, but we get a series of prostitutes, French girls with mysterious pasts, sexy widows in retirement homes. There's a lot about the grandmother's mental illness, especially in how it effects the men around her (and to some extent her daughter), and very little about what's actually going on in her head or what she wanted. A lot of the interactions involved implied sexual violence.


Towards the end, we get a narrative-shattering backstory revelation that more or less sinks without a ripple, and I always came back to the feeling that--rocket obsession aside--I'd much rather be reading the novel that Cabon decided not to write about his grandmother. Too bad he didn't go with that.

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review 2018-02-03 05:59
Bill Lambert: World War I Flying Ace - Samuel J. Wilson

Samuel J. Wilson through this book has brought back to life Bill Lambert (1894-1982), an American fighter pilot who had flown with the British during the First World War. Lambert, who emerged from the war, as America's second ranking ace, had fallen into obscurity in the early postwar years (for a host of reasons, mostly owing to his desire to put the war firmly behind him) and wouldn't be "discovered" by the general public til the publication of his wartime memoir "Combat Report" in the early 1970s. ("Combat Report" - which I read several months ago - offers a fine, gripping account of Lambert's experiences with No. 24 Squadron on the Western Front between March and August 1918.)

The book traces Lambert's life from his wartime experiences (which led to a nervous breakdown which profoundly affected the rest of his life), to his brief stint as a barnstormer and airmail pilot in 1919 and 1920 (which show a Lambert that may surprise most readers), a salesman, a small businessman and inventor in his hometown (Ironton, Ohio), his service as an officer in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) during the Second World War, and his later life as a First World War aviation artist, author, and sought-after luminary. 

My own fault with the book is its glaring typos, which somewhat detract from the quality of the text. 

In all likelihood, "BILL LAMBERT: WORLD WAR I FLYING ACE" is a book that will have greater appeal to aviation enthusiasts and history buffs than the casual reader. Nevertheless, it is a book worth reading to get a sense of a world that no longer exists.

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review 2018-01-02 00:19
The happiest man in space.
Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe - Mike Massimino

No, seriously. I've read Hadfield's book, and I thought HE was happy to be in space, but they really did send a big kid up there with Massimino. He's just jazzed to be on the show, man.


This made it one of the more relatable astronaut bios I've read, because it's sort of hard to picture being Hadfield, since he's sort of really good at everything and secretly studied to be an astronaut since he was seven and just... who does that? Massimino, age seven, spent a couple weeks dressed in an astronaut costume his mom made playing with Astronaut!Snoopy and then reverted to his baseball obsession, only coming back to wanting to go to space after college, then accidentally applied to the wrong grad school. That's just... a lot more like something I'd do. It made me feel like the whole space thing was a bit more achievable.


The writing itself is definitely aimed at the YA crowd, but not dumbed down. There are a lot of gentle lessons about not trying to go it on your own, and not listening to fighter pilots when they try to teach you how to cheat the NASA eye exam, and "No matter what goes wrong in space, you can always make it worse" (the old Chris Craft if you don't know what to do, don't do anything axiom). Plus Massimino just thought space was cool, being an astronaut was cool, all the other astronauts were cool, and it was just fun to read about someone enjoying themselves that much, even through the rough patches like Columbia. He reads the book himself, and is funny and relatable.


This book also underlined a pet peeve I have about Apollo era books, which tend to conclude with a scathing attack on NASA after Apollo, to the tune of "We were great then, and we suck now." I'm not a fan of everything NASA has done in the past forty years, but I feel like the theme of the great space age essentially ending when Gene Cernan left the moon is... a bit hard to take. Maybe we haven't been to Mars yet, but there's been a lot of amazing work done in space since the Shuttle launched, and is still being done now.

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review 2017-12-27 05:06
He 162 Volksj├Ąger Units (Combat Aircraft) - Robert Forsyth,Jim Laurier

For both its conciseness and scope, "He 162 Volksjäger Units" offers a fascinating story of the development and deployment by the Luftwaffe in combat of a remarkable jet fighter. The He 162 'Volksjäger' (People's Fighter) was developed and tested in the latter part of 1944 (continuing into the Spring of 1945) in response to a call for a fast, nimble fighter jet that would be easy to build and fly. An aircraft that would be built in the shortest amount of time with basic construction materials (both steel and wood) and also an aircraft in which Hitler Youth glider pilot trainees could be easily trained to fly in combat.


The book goes into considerable detail in showing the reader how the ideal and the reality behind the He 162 did not always coincide. Photographs and illustrations are aplenty, which will delight any aviation enthusiast and model builder. Osprey has again produced a first-rate book on an aircraft, which despite its limited combat use, incorporated features (e.g. the first ejector seat to be successfully deployed on any aircraft) that would later be adapted by a future generation of jet planes.

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