Monday, May 10, 2021

Review: Liftoff by Eric Berger

Title: Liftoff
Author: Eric Berger
Pages: 268
ISBN: 9780008445638
Publisher: William Collins
Published: 2 March 2021
Genre: Non Fiction / Aerospace
Source: Review copy from publisher

The dramatic inside story of the first four historic flights that launched SpaceX—and Elon Musk—from a shaky startup into the world's leading edge rocket company.

SpaceX has enjoyed a miraculous decade. Less than 20 years after its founding, it boasts the largest constellation of commercial satellites in orbit, has pioneered reusable rockets, and in 2020 became the first private company to launch human beings into orbit. Half a century after the space race SpaceX is pushing forward into the cosmos, laying the foundation for our exploration of other worlds.

But before it became one of the most powerful players in the aerospace industry, SpaceX was a fledgling startup, scrambling to develop a single workable rocket before the money ran dry. The engineering challenge was immense; numerous other private companies had failed similar attempts. And even if SpaceX succeeded, they would then have to compete for government contracts with titans such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, who had tens of thousands of employees and tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue. SpaceX had fewer than 200 employees and the relative pittance of $100 million in the bank.

As you watch the latest livestream of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it launches, delivers the latest batch of Starlink satellites to orbit and then successfully lands back on a droneship floating around on the ocean it's just another average day. SpaceX has made something that was unthinkable two decades ago seem mundane.  It’s easy to forget that SpaceX had a long, arduous journey to get where it is today. Nobody expected them to succeed, and yet, against all odds, they did.

"Can you believe that thing, or something like it, is going to take people to another planet for the first time in 4.5 billion years? I mean, probably. It may not work. But it probably will."

Liftoff by Eric Berger chronicles the early days of SpaceX where a handful of people made the impossible possible through their hard work, immense sacrifice and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity. With failure after failure they persisted. As the entire future of the company hinged on one final launch, they finally managed to bring Elon Musk’s vision of a more affordable, more agile spaceflight industry into being.

Liftoff is an absolutely fascinating read and shows how truly transformative SpaceX is, both in vision, management style and execution. A small upstart company which nobody believed could succeed, brought disruptive innovation into a stagnating industry which relied on the plodding status quo being maintained.

While Elon Musk is without a doubt the driving force and public face of SpaceX he didn’t do it by himself. Musk gets most of the spotlight but there was an entire team of engineers who worked tirelessly to make the Falcon rocket a reality. It was refreshing to finally hear their stories and to see how much they sacrificed to be part of something they truly believed in. Through sweat, tears and ingenuity they managed to make history. It’s about time their story is told.

If you are interested in spaceflight then Liftoff by Eric Berger is an essential read. It showcases the extremely tough early days of SpaceX and gives insight into a company which transformed the industry forever. With the development of Starship set to completely disrupt the industry once again, it was great to see where it all started and how SpaceX are building the tools to take us to the future. Highly recommended!

Thanks to Charlene from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

New Arrivals: Epic Book Haul Edition

 March was my birthday month. As luck would have it it also coincided with some really good book sales at Reader's Warehouse and Loot, my two favourite online book retailers in South Africa. Of course that meant that I went totally overboard with the book purchases, but seeing as it was almost a year since I last bought books I think it was more than overdue.

I was also lucky enough to receive some review copies from the wonderful folks at Jonathan Ball Publishers. One title in particulare made my SpaceX fanboy heart squee with glee.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Review: Later by Stephen King

Title: Later
Author: Stephen King
Pages: 512
ISBN: 9781789096491
Publisher: Hard Case Crime
Published: 2 March 2021
Genre: Horror / Crime
Source: Library

The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine - as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

It's been ages since a book kept me up reading long past midnight. Later, the latest novel by Stephen King managed to do just that. It sucked me right in and I lost all track of time while in the grip of the brilliantly crafted narrative. I kept putting off going to sleep. Just one more chapter. Just one more page. I'll sleep later. When I finally came to my senses it was 2AM and I had 3 hours left before I had to go to work. I guess you'd expect nothing less from Stephen King.

Later follows the story of Jamie Conklin a teenage boy gifted with a supernatural ability. As he slowly comes to grips with his ability he is drawn into the harsh reality of the world. A world filled with crime and malice, and those that would use him, and what he can do for their own ends. It's a story about facing your demons in whichever form they may come.

Stephen King excels at capturing the innocence of youth and the transformation which occurs when that childhood innocence is lost forever. I adored Jamie and his story, and I was captivated until the very end. Constant readers will be happy with all the small easter eggs and references to the greater King universe. 

At its core this is a horror story, but it's a far more subtle variety of horror than most of King's other works. The supernatural twist he brings to crime works very well and makes for compelling reading. The ending is satisfying and open-ended enough to hint at some marvelous future possibilities.

"You get used to marvelous things. You take them for granted. You can try not to, but you do. There’s too much wonder, that’s all. It’s everywhere."

There is one thing that I'm ambivalent about. Near the end there is a revelation about a familial connection where Jamie's father is revealed. This felt unnecessary and didn't add to the story, in fact I felt it actually detracted from it. The story might have been better if this was left out, but it does serve to challenge our preconceptions.

Jamie Conklin has cemented himself firmly into my pantheon of favourite Stephen King characters. I hope we see much more of him, hopefully much sooner than later!