Monthly Archives: October 2018

To the moon! (and back again)

Phil: I was reminded that a review of Andrew Smith’s book Moon Dust was overdue while sitting in a nearly empty cinema (10am showings are great if you want it quiet) waiting First Man* to begin. The thought almost persuaded me not to open my cinema treat packet of Maltesers.

The book charts Smith’s efforts to track down and talk to every man who has walked on the moon and see how the experience affected them.

We’re only talking about 9 people, 3 have already passed on, but the quest takes the author all over the world. I was fascinated by this – how did he fund his travels? I get the feeling that it was a side project to other work, but still…

Walking on another planet is, let’s face it, the most exciting and impressive thing anyone can ever do. There are many years of build-up, some terror as you sit on top of a bomb that will fire you into space and a huge job list from NASA once you arrive. All the time knowing that every single component in your equipment has been chosen because the person building it tendered the lowest price. You rely on a machine so complex that even if the  agency achieves it’s 99.9% success rate, several hundred parts will fail. There’s no intergalactic RAC to come and rescue you either!

Once you’ve splashed down, been hauled out of the sea and returned home, what do you do next?

The astronauts’ answers to this are fascinating. Some stay in the system fighting to get man back out into space and back to the moon or even Mars.

Others drop out and start painting as a way to try to make sense of the experience they have been through. Alan Bean cleverly includes dust from his space suit badge in his paints so everyone buying a picture owns a little bit of the moon. This doesn’t appear to be a cynical marketing ploy, more a way to convey the experience.

Along the way, there are insights into the world of the Apollo programme. Astronauts weren’t that well paid. They didn’t receive media training, even though they would become some of the most famous people on the planet. Wives were expected to be part of the show, but not get in the way. Space bases aren’t situated in bustling towns and Cape Canaveral was basically a swamp when they all first moved there.

This is a portrait of a very different world from the one today. It’s all history and not even recent history. Apollo was a bubble of optimism where the US, while bogged down in the Vietnam war, offered a chunk of the future. Kids who had grown up on science fiction thought they were seeing the first days of something great, little realising that a couple of missions in, the public would be so bored of the whole thing that the TV networks couldn’t be bothered to show landing live.

An enjoyable read, it probably helps if you are a little bit geeky and love space things as the author experiences the wide-eyed wonder of meeting his heroes. Some turn out to have feet of clay, but most are still clad in moondust.

*Review: Armstong is taciturn.

 

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It’s like the Da Vinci code – but funny!

Phil: A few years ago, Jonas Jonasson scored a hit with his book The hundred year old man who fell out of a window and disappeared. Now the lead character, Alan Karlsson is back.

In the first book, much of the action was played in flashback with stories telling how Karlsson had travelled the world, largely by accident, meeting pretty much every famous person over his lifetime. He stumbled into situations, often altering the world without really meaning to.

This might remind you of the film Forest Gump, Forest always being in shot during pivotal moments in history.

It all reminded me more of the Da Vinci code. Turn the page and the plot has summoned up yet another famous face to move things along. Over 100 years, Alan had certainly got around a bit and the idea of slamming all these notable names into one story was fun.

However, the new book takes place over a much shorter time, but with no fewer “characters”.

We get to meet Donald Trump, Lim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. To make matters more convincing, real-life history has been employed with Karlsson involved in uranium smuggling while the big players, especially Putin, control the world like a chess game.

Jonasson uses his characters and the story to satirise the world and it sort of works. At the end, everything becomes a little heavy-handed and a bit miserable, but not unrealistically so.  Cynics might suggest this “never planned” second book has appeared because the publishers put their author in an arm lock until he promised to write it, but I’m inclined to believe the introduction where he says there was a lot to say. A bit anyway. Maybe the appearance of a Mercedes catalogue helped too.

The story is full of cliches, unlikely conincidence, and very minor characters who have a very bad time of it. This might be realistic, but people being collateral damage always makes me feel uncomfortable. I know they aren’t real, but I’m stupid this way.

Despite the reservations, it’s a fun read, especially if you pay any attention to the news and can spot the events being satirised.

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Going where no man has gone before

You were recently selected as a potential candidate for P.O.W.E.R. (Professional Organization of Women of Excellence Recognized).
Our organization provides a powerful network of women who will mentor, inspire and empower each other to be the best they can be. Women understand the need to connect with other like-minded professionals and the importance of added exposure.

Phil: I’ve been receiving this e-mail twice a week for at least a month. I’m not sure what their vetting procedure is, but I’m thinking that it falls at the first hurdle. Unless you consider the first hurdle to be, “Has an e-mail address” rather than gender.

While I’m happy to mentor, inspire and empower people, although “each other” sounds a bit like a cult, or an orgy, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be allowed in the door. A quick look at the website suggests that door would be in America anyway. The woman fronting the video on the home page looks a bit scary too.

While they have been busy spamming me, I’ve actually had women’s groups on my mind. At our last planning session, we decided it would be a good idea to send Kate, or lead character, to a local women’s networking group. It brings her into contact with people who can be both useful and entertainingly anoying. She has an ulterior motive, but the result isn’t quite the one she hoped for – but ultimately IS good for her. I’ll say no more or SPOILERS!

It’s a good example of how Team NolanParker works. After chatting with Candice, who has been to groups like this, I wrote the first few pages of story. They were OK, but I wasn’t really feeling it.

My words went over to the Noaln and a couple of days later came back much expanded. And improved.

I’d laid the foundations, which freed her to add all the good bits. Maybe the words needed a woman’s touch, or maybe I provided enough inspiration to get her creative juices flowing. Whatever, it worked.

I have been the only man working in an office-full of women, but I am not (despite what the P.O.W.E.R. network thinks) a woman and can’t always get into the right mind. That’s why writing as a pair works so well, I don’t know how anyone does it on their own.

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