mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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Open the pod bay doors please, HAL. (64)

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach.

The saloon sign says:
"even spacemen get the blues."
The grey moon dust blows.

Mary Roach wins a big chunk of slack from me just by calling herself a "humorist." See, I like my non-fiction on the more academic side of the trade/academic divide. Pop science is fine, but at some point I want to see annotations, bibliographies, & studies, rather than "scientists say..." Well! Miz Roach hits us with foot-loose footnotes, & a heaping helping of sources. See, she may be a humorist, but she's a journalist as well, & a dang well read one at that. So when she can't cite a paper or experiment-- & she usually can, if she brings up the topic-- she can cite a person, the actual human being she talked to about the information. She gets a lot of points just for that, for due diligence. Can you believe this is the first book of hers I've read? For all that I took forensics classes in college-- maybe because I did?-- I've avoided Stiff so far. Maybe I'll actually consider reading that, since I enjoyed this. About this? I feel like the "bang" is in the scatological; the book has gotten a lot of attention about her coverage of space toilets. That chapter is buried in the back, antepenultimate, but it is riveting, sort of like a car crash. There are just such a load of cultural taboos, & outer space just doesn't give a damn about your quaint notions of culture (or, ultimately, even Culture). I think she first had me when she off-handedly references that the real reason the cosmonauts had a pistol in their gear was because a capsule had once been attacked by hungry wolves (68). Oh outer space, oh Russian space program! Swoon. There is a bunch of talk about spacesuits, specifically about the David Clark Company, which reminded me of the book Spacesuits (250). Which soon segued into a discussion of a man who survived an SR-71 disintegrating around him at Mach 3.2 (257). Roach's strong suits are the anecdotes-- the footnote of how Muslims pray to Mecca in space, that sort of thing (292). There is also the fact that she's a sport. She'll drink her own purified urine for the sake of the story (311). That is hardcore. Colour me convinced. There is a part at the close which summarized my opinions on the space program better than my own rambling musing otherwise might. She brings up Ben Franklin's viewing of a manned balloon mission, after which he's asked what use it could possibly have. Franklin, that wit, replied "[w]hat is the use of a newborn child?" Apt, Benjamin, on point as usual. Or as Roach puts it: "Yes, the money could be better spent on Earth. But would it? Since when has money saved by government redlining been spent on education & cancer research? It is always squandered. Let's squander some on Mars."
Tags: books, haiku, packing for mars, roach

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