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We Have Capture: Tom Stafford And The Space Race

We Have CaptureOrder this bookStory: Lt. General Thomas P. Stafford, USAF (retired) recounts his journey from Weatherford, Oklahoma to the Cold War-era Air Force, and from there to the Edwards Air Force Base test flight facility and the second class of astronauts selected by NASA. Stafford would fly two record-setting Gemini missions and command the Apollo 10 mission, essentially a full-on dress rehearsal for the first lunar landing. He also commanded the Apollo half of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project flight, the first international mission in space and the first docking of American and Soviet spacecraft. Even after his retirement from the NASA flight rotation, Stafford would go on to serve frequently as America’s ambassador to the Soviet and Russian space programs, right through the Mir/Shuttle docking missions and the International Space Station; and at the same time, he was still fighting the Cold War as well, drawing up the B-2 Stealth bomber’s specs on a hotel napkin. He would also be on many advisory boards regarding NASA safety issues in the wake of both the Challenger and Columbia disasters, and would eventually return to Weatherford to found an aerospace museum.

Review: Co-written with Michael Cassutt (who also co-wrote Apollo-Soyuz astronaut Deke Slayton’s memoirs), “We Have Capture” is an engrossing read for anyone interested in the history of the U.S. space program. Many of the stories you’ve already heard have something in common – Thomas Stafford was on the flip-side, whether it was flying the plane that landed safely mere minutes after another plane carrying a promising two-man rookie Gemini crew crashed, or taking over as NASA’s Chief Astronaut after Alan Shepard overcame Meniere’s Disease and reclaimed his place on the flight roster, or commanding half of the Gemini 6 / Gemini 7 rendezvous mission, or commanding the Apollo 10 moon landing “rehearsal” mission that went to the moon and did everything but land. Tom Stafford was there. Continue reading

Lost Moon (a.k.a. Apollo 13)

Lost Moon (a.k.a. Apollo 13)Order this bookStory: Unusually for a book which concerns itself with events that were directly experienced by one of the writers, the entire story is told in the third person perspective, switching back and forth from the spacecraft to Lovell’s home, Mission Control in Houston, and even leaping around in time from Lovell’s early fascination with rocketry, the Apollo 1 fire and its demoralizing effect on the astronaut corps, Lovell’s earlier groundbreaking flight to the moon aboard Apollo 8, and so on. Of course, the book’s primary focus is the doomed April 1970 flight of Apollo 13, and how astronauts and ground controllers alike fought valiantly to bring the crew home safely.

Review: I missed “Lost Moon” when it was originally released just a year before the movie that it spawned. When I went looking for the autobiographical “Lost Moon”, I instead saw numerous books bearing Tom Hanks’ face and the title “Apollo 13”. Thank goodness the small print beneath the title mentioned that this was, in fact, the book that started it all – for a moment, I feared a ridiculous repeat of the Alan Dean Foster novelization of Total Recall, which itself was based on a Philip K. Dick short story! That’s a roundabout way to tell one story. This book, however, is another story entirely, and it’s well worth a read or two. For about the same price as a movie ticket, there’s a lot more story. Continue reading

Light This Candle

Light This CandleOrder this bookStory: America’s first astronaut was also one of its quietest. Fiercely guarding his privacy and that of his family, Alan B. Shepard Jr. did few interviews during his time as an astronaut, seldom talking about his stellar career as a U.S. Navy fighter pilot and later test pilot, or his quest to be the first man in space (he had to be content to be the first American in space, a mantle he was just as happy to wear), or his fierce fight with a debilitating disease – a fight he won before commanding the third successful lunar landing mission, Apollo 14.

Review: As author Neal Thompson explains in his foreword, he wasn’t inspired to write Alan Shepard’s biography until, when asked to write an article upon Shepard’s death, he discovered that no such book existed. Thompson decided to fill this gap himself, and he’s done an admirable job with Light This Candle – amazing, really, drawing from a staggering number of sources, some of them rather obscure and terribly enlightening. Interviews with Shepard’s surviving fellow Mercury Seven astronauts, as well as the astronauts under him during his lengthy grounding while battling a disorienting inner ear disease, you’d expect; Thompson goes back as far as Shepard’s Navy days, interviewing bunkmates, shipmates, instructors, fellow pilots, you name it. The FBI’s dossier on Shepard is also opened, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. Continue reading

John Glenn: A Memoir

John Glenn: A MemoirOrder this bookStory: Former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn recounts his life, from an upbringing during the Great Depression to service during World War II and the Korean War, to a series of unexpected twists and turns that culminated in his manning Friendship 7 as the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. But Glenn’s story continues into a series of false starts in the political arena, until his election to the Senate in 1974; some 24 years of policy making and surviving an increasingly hostile political environment are covered in brief, bookending his memoir with his return to space as part of shuttle mission STS-95.

Review: An absolutely engrossing read, “John Glenn: A Memoir” sheds some light on a man who chased his indelible chapter in our national history down with an attempt to keep shaping history. Continue reading

Deke!: U.S. Manned Space From Mercury To The Shuttle

Deke!: U.S. Manned Space From Mercury To The ShuttleOrder this bookStory: Donald K. “Deke” Slayton, as you may recall, was the one member of the original Mercury seven who was shackled to the Earth by a recurring heart condition. Admirably, he made the best of his condition and eventually became the first director of NASA’s Astronaut Office, selecting and coordinating primary and backup crews for the Gemini and Apollo programs, and all the while waiting patiently for a flight of his own, something which did not happen until he was declared fit to pilot the final flight in the Apollo program, the joint American/Soviet Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975. This is his story, told from his own no-nonsense perspective (with the posthumous blanks filled in by co-writer Michael Cassutt; Slayton died before the book was published).

Review: If anything, Deke Slayton’s autobiography is the Apollo astronaut bio which features the least information on the Apollo program. Continue reading

Videogames: In The Beginning

Videogames: In The BeginningOrder this bookStory: Inventor Ralph Baer, creator of the very first home video game system and the man who holds the patent on interactive games that can connect to an everyday TV (as well as literally dozens of other creations), lays out a detailed chronology of how and when he came up with the idea for “TV games.” Also covered is how he’s dealt with those who have tried to stake their own claims on authorship of the idea, and how he has remained involved with the industry since then.

Review: In this book, Raph Baer grabs the title of “father of video games,” and spends much of the book backing the claim up with ample evidence. It’s amusing and sometimes a bit enervating to see how many attempts have been made to unseat him from that throne, for a variety of reasons. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell seems to have tried staking his own claim for PR purposes, but that’s not as eyebrow-raising as, say, attempts by Nintendo attorneys in the late 1980s to challenge Baer and his authorship of numerous seminal video game patents so they wouldn’t have to pay hefty licensing fees on the NES. (In the end, Baer says Nintendo settled out of court for a cool $10 million.) Continue reading

Steve Jobs And The NeXT Big Thing

Steve Jobs And The NeXT Big ThingOrder this bookStory: Steve Jobs, once one of the wonder boys who created the now-fading legend of Apple Computer, later became more of a liability than a boon to the company with his unusual – and some would say ineffective or even counterproductive – management practices. Forced out of Apple in 1985 by John Sculley (the former Pepsi CEO who, ironically, Jobs had hired into the same position at Apple), Jobs convinced a small key group of Apple employees to follow him away from the company to start a new silicon valley venture, NeXT. Apple promptly sued, which gave the outgoing group a notoriety within the industry – maybe these people, with the legendary Jobs at the wheel, were a serious threat to Apple, and maybe NeXT would be a contender to be dealt with. With this kind of rumormongering working to his advantage, and with his own celebrity status also lending him credibility, Jobs sought investors with tons of money – including Ross Perot – and prompty proceeded to waste their money on such luxuries as a $100,000 corporate logo, a custom-designed headquarters building and manufacturing plant, and high-speed data lines running not only to the office but to his own home as well. NeXT did eventually turn out a computer, years late, millions over budget in R&D (not to mention more unnecessary expenses like those listed above), and thousands of dollars over the budgets of their target consumer demographic.

Review: Boy, I’d love for someone to update this volume…but perhaps not its original author. Published in 1993, it doesn’t cover such later developments as Jobs’ re-emergence as a savior of Apple, his humbling acceptance of investment money into Apple from the coffers of one Bill Gates, and the recent release of the Macintosh PowerCube – bearing a striking resemblence to NeXT’s flop of a computer, which also flopped on the market. Continue reading

Extra Life: Coming Of Age In Cyberspace

Extra Life: Coming Of Age In CyberspaceOrder this bookStory: Programmer and Wired columnist David S. Bennahum recalls tales of a troubled youth – starting with his parents’ separation and leading to some juvenile delinquency – that was turned around when he was presented with the gift of an Atari 800 computer. Though he originally wanted to play games on it, Bennahum discovers a new love in the art of programming and hacking, and new ethical struggles in learning how to use that knowledge.

Review: I’ll come right out and say this upfront about “Extra Life” – it’s a great read (and I’m not alone in thinking that, as apparently the rights to the book have just recently been optioned for a movie), but whether or not you really “get” the book’s emotional core and its author’s struggles will depend on whether or not you were around and aware of the computer revolution as it was happening. If nothing else, Bennahum really latches on the sense of sheer wonder of growing up in that era. Continue reading

Confessions Of The Game Doctor

Confessions Of The Game DoctorOrder this bookStory: Along with Arnie Katz and Joyce Worley, Bill Kunkel created the idea that an entertainment feature magazine could focus entirely on video games, and after a “trial run” column in Video Magazine, Electronic Games Magazine was born. Here Kunkel talks about the trials and tribulations of the magazine’s history, and how they paralleled the ups and downs of the video game industry itself. He also tells plenty of equally outrageous-but-true stories carrying the story forward from the end of Electronic Games’ publication to the present day, stopping along the way to comment on the state of the game industry as well as the game journalism industry that Kunkel helped to create.

Review: You’ll have to forgive me if I can’t be completely objective about Confessions Of The Game Doctor, when it’s written by one of a handful of folks whose writing I read in my idealistic youth and thought, “Hey, that looks like fun. I’m going to become a writer when I grow up.” To put it mildly, I was a faithful reader of Electronic Games magazine, and very probably owe a healthy amount of my knowledge on that topic to its articles and reviews. But how fun was it to be a writer for EG? To hear Bill Kunkel tell it, both nerve-wracking and an absolute blast. Continue reading

Commodork: Sordid Tales From A BBS Junkie

CommodorkOrder this bookStory: BBS veteran Rob O’Hara relives the pre-internet glory days of the bulletin board system, from his first computer and his first screamin’ fast 1200 baud modem (a luxury in those dial-up days) to the active Commodore 64 warez scene to the death of the BBS era, and how friendships and relationships from those days have stretched even into his life on the ‘net as we know it today.

Review: In the interests of disclosure, I’m going to point out up front that Rob has reviewed DVDs, books and Commodore 64 games aplenty for theLogBook.com. So if you love this book, and if you’re of a certain age, you will love this book, please remember that you can always come back here and soak up more of his fine writing.

I say with certainty that you’ll love “Commodork” because, having heard what some other folks are saying about this book, it’s quickly become clear that there’s a wealth of shared experience among those of us who were “online” back in the days when it was almost an elite thing, when only the technically adept could connect and configure a modem and even claim to be “online.” Continue reading