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Illustrated Encyclopedia of Space Technology

Book titleOrder this bookStory: An exhaustive compilation of space hardware, both manned and unmanned, complete with colorful Popular Mechanics-style cutaway diagrams, a complete history of successful and less than successful launches through the year of publications, details of abandoned programs (such as a Nixon-era push for man on Mars), possible future projects (orbiting power stations and starships), and everything in between.

Review: I love this book. I’ve had it for nearly 20 years, and despite the fact that it’s out of print, and despite the fact that I could be reviewing something readily available through Amazon.com that would reap a return for my investment of writing about it, I’d much rather tell you a little something about Kenneth Gatland’s wonderful book. Continue reading

The Encyclopedia Of Soviet Spacecraft

The Encyclopedia Of Soviet SpacecraftOrder this bookStory: After a brief introduction on the dawn of the Soviet space program and its pioneers, this book offers a concise, launch-by-launch, mission-by-mission catalog of the entire space program through 1987. Launch sites and dates, crew rosters, and mission accomplishments are noted, along with a surprising number of photos and diagrams. In some cases, though, the mission details and even the physical details of the craft are still conjecture, despite the author’s best efforts, due to the secretive nature of the Soviet space program at the time.

Review: This book urgently needs updating.

I found “The Encyclopedia Of Soviet Spacecraft” quite unexpectedly while doing a bit of used book browsing, and my curiosity was piqued to say the least. If you’ve spent any time visiting this site, you’ll know that I’ve read and reviewed gobs of technical, historical and autobiographical texts on the U.S. space program, and on humanity’s push into space as a whole. But never before had I seen a book so detailed in its focus on the other half of the space race. Continue reading

Chariots For Apollo

Chariots For ApolloOrder this bookStory: Long before men set foot on the moon or even set off on a journey to orbit it, NASA engineers and their brethren at several corporate contractors and subcontractors sweated blood to make sure that the astronauts would have spaceworthy vehicles to fly. Veteran aviation and theoretical engineers alike gave up family life, personal time, and other amenities because they faced the reality that, if their numbers were even slightly off, astronauts could die. Some of them watched their worst nightmares realized when Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died on the ground in the Apollo 1 fire. But they still kept up an unrelenting quest to get the numbers right and put Americans on the moon by the end of the sixties.

Review: A bit of a “tech novel” of sorts, Chariots For Apollo does not assume that anyone opening the book’s cover understands all of the terminology involved in going to the moon, let alone the math, but it does an admirable job of catching you up very quickly.

But that’s not the heart of this book.

Behind the tech talk, Chariots For Apollo is about the people who dreamed, and then built, the Apollo program (primarily the delicate lunar excursion module). Continue reading

The Apollo Adventure

The Apollo AdventureOrder this bookStory: Jeffrey Kluger’s insightful volume on the Apollo program from inception right through to the end is another treasure trove of information on that most daring era of Ameircan space exploration, focusing on other aspects that just the flight of Apollo 13.

Review: When I saw the blurb in the back of Apollo 13 nee Lost Moon for a trade paperback companion book, I figured it would be a kiddie item that really ought to be given away with Hardee’s Apollo Burgers. Wrong again. 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

The Age Of Spiritual Machines

The Age Of Spiritual MachinesOrder this bookStory: In his controversial follow-up to The Age Of Intelligent Machines, Ray Kurzweil – inventor of not only numerous music synthesizers but pioneering speech recognition, speech synthesis and optical character recognition technologies – postulates how artificial intelligences might come to possess a soul, and as it turns out in his theoretical projections, the computer might just merge with humanity and borrow our souls.

Review: I’d had this book for quite a while before realizing how controversial it was in some circles (indeed, a whole other book has been published to refute Kurzweil’s futuristic projections). After reading it, though, I think I can understand at least where the naysayers are coming from – in this book, which is part forward-looking-statement about technology and society, part speculative fiction, Kurzweil makes an awful lot of broad assumptions. Continue reading