For all the times that I preach about how science fiction offers more than just stories set in space, I have to admit that it's the wonder of space travel that forms the foundation of my love of SF. I have nothing against Earth, mind you...it’s just that space offers an infinite destination of escapism in science fiction stories. Perhaps it's the unknown wonders (and danger!) that space holds, or that outer space is an endless source of understanding our own universe that draws me to the pages of science fiction stories set in space. It's the real-world existence of the unknown that fuels the drive to read SF. But my love of space-based fiction has also grown in new directions over the years, and a recent set of SF-related books hold a huge amount of appeal for that very reason.
Little Book of Vintage Space by Tim Pilcher
The first recent book that caught my eye possessed the allure of vintage science fiction and brought me back to my childhood days of comic book reading. Tim Pilcher's Little Book of Vintage Space may be small, but it holds an order of magnitude more nostalgia and fun than might be apparent at a passing glance. It's a celebration of science fiction comics from the Golden Age, here defined as the 1950s. More photo and art gallery than dissertation, this fun-filled book features comic book covers, page scans, short text-based stories and other goodies that capture the magic and wonder of an age when space travel could only be found in the pages of fiction. For readers who filled their childhood with stories of Tom Corbett, Captain Science, Flint Baker and other "space cowboys," this is a spaceship ride down memory lane. For others, it's a great snapshot into how pop culture envisioned the future. And if that isn't enough to entice you, it comes with a free refrigerator magnet.
Spacesuit: A History Through Fact and Fiction by Brett Gooden
Another recent book straddles the fence between fact and fiction. Spacesuit: A History Through Fact and Fiction by Brett Gooden looks at the evolution of the spacesuit and its portrayal in literary fiction and film. Like vintage comics, there's a certain kind of charm surrounding the spacesuit. It's literally the last thing that separates mankind from alien environments and, as such, serves as a symbol for the human desire to explore the unknown and learn more about the universe. This book looks at the spacesuit's beginnings, starting with the 1800s when it first became clear that to leave Earth's atmosphere we would need protection against the dangers of space. Spacesuits were envisioned as a high-altitude parallel to deep sea diving suits. Early spacesuit designs soon found their way into books (like Jules Verne's Around the Moon in 1872) and in the pages of pulp magazines, whose creations were even more imaginative. It turns out that those fantastic designs from the pulp magazines helped push real-world conceptions by igniting the imagination of those who helped invent them. Brett Gooden's new book looks at this amazing symbiotic relationship between the true history of the spacesuit and its fictional representations and promises to be a read that's both fun and fascinating.
A New American Space Plan by Travis S. Taylor
Moving even further away from the make-believe is A New American Space Plan by Travis S. Taylor, a non-fiction book that takes a logical look at the current U.S. space program and offers a viable alternative to its questionable future. Dr. Taylor is a physicist and co-creator and star of the National Geographic Channel’s hit series Rocket City Rednecks. Over the past twenty years he's worked with the United States Department of Defense and NASA lending his expertise to worthwhile projects on propulsion, space telescopes, space launch concepts, and space-based beamed energy systems. In A New American Space Plan, Dr. Taylor presents his case for why we need to return to space. His vision is one that holds promise and wonder and is rooted in vigorous enthusiasm. It necessarily dips a bit into politics, but is first and foremost a sound vision for why and how the U.S. space program should continue and advance.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also likes bagels.