Weil captures the benign madness as Gary Hudson tries to build the first civilian spacecraft.
The “entirely self-taught” Hudson and his cohorts have thus far not had much success; their ships have routinely imploded, exploded, and disintegrated rather than touched the firmament. Weil tries to convey the positive aspects of Hudson's mindset (one of his workers comments, “Some people say that Gary is ba-fucking-nanas, and I would say those people have no vision. I would not go to tea with them. Their souls are dust”), but also shows a penchant, even a desire, for failure shared by many of those closest to him. “We like to set the bar a few inches higher than we can possibly attain,” admits the test site manager. Chronicling Hudson’s three-year quest to build the Roton, a fully reusable spacecraft, Weil's tone is vigilant and lonely. It’s evident from the get-go that the project will not succeed, and the author depicts Hudson as an eternal boy: adolescently charming, messianic, asocial, restless, “refus[ing] to adapt to the mainstream world because that world obscures his hidden genius.” For all the millions he garners from venture capitalists, the world he inhabits is pretty tatty, pasty and remote and disturbingly blinkered. Of course, debut author Weil appreciates, all visionaries are cranks until they bring home the goods, and cutting hard across the grain is the whole point. But Hudson's vehicle is deeply flawed. An aerospace engineer points out that it has the wrong fuel, the wrong number of gears and stages, the wrong hardware, and the wrong business model; tests bear this out, and his funding dries up. It is comforting to know such odd fellows are out there pursuing their outlandish schemes, which might someday be beneficial and in any case are presumably harmless. It is also nice to know they are far away in the desert.
A story of dreams and delusions, with more than a soupçon of the pathetic tossed in.