Fly me to the Moon.

Apollomoonlanding

Between July 16, 1969 and December 7, 1972, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) managed to land six missions on the Moon.  Apollo 13 was, of course, famously aborted when an on-board explosion crippled the vehicle and the astronauts relied on the lunar module as a lifeboat for their return.  With the successful completion of the Apollo 17 mission, manned exploration of the Moon came to an end, but 41 years later authors are still chronicling the missions, speculating about the future of man’s conquest of the moon and writing alternate history based on speculation about lunar missions.

I was born just shortly before the last Apollo mission, so missed the excitement involved with lunar exploration.  As a child I witnessed the Space Shuttle program from inception to eventual retirement and have always held the exploration of space in great regard.  Lately, lunar missions (either real or speculative) have been on my mind, so today’s post is dedicated to three books regarding the Moon, one historical and two speculative.

Rocket Men-Craig NelsonRocketMen

Source: Bought copy

Publisher: Viking Press

Publication Date: June 30, 2009

First on the list is Rocket Men by Craig Nelson, a biography of the United States space program, culminating in a description of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon.  From the closing days of the Second World War, Nelson traces the history of manned space flight to NASA’s defining achievement of a man on the Moon.  It’s a fascinating look at the race between the United States and the Soviet Union, one in which the Soviet Union took an early lead and the United States focused their efforts to catch and surpass their cold war foes, eventually culminating in the Apollo program.  I’m only about half way through but find myself captivated by his account of the formation of NASA and their counterparts in the Soviet Union.  I feel confident in recommending Nelson’s biography of the program (after all, I already know how it ends) for anyone who has an interest  in the subject.  Looking around on the internet, Nelson has been criticized for a few technical errors in his account, but, like most of the populace, I’m not a rocket scientist and a few quibbles do not detract from a wonderful account of the early days of space-flight.

Back to the Moon-Travis S. Taylor and Les Johnson

Backtothemoon

Source: Bought copy

Publisher: Baen Books

Publication Date: December 27, 2011

Back to the Moon is a nice piece of speculative fiction by Les Johnson and Travis Taylor, who also wrote a neat novel (with John Ringo) about the invasion of Earth by a multitude of Von Neumann machines in the 2008 novel, Von Neumann’s War. Back to the Moon tells the a story of the near future in which the United States has finally refocused the mission of NASA on returning to the Moon.  Using a modified vision of the Constellation Program, the United States has once again embarked on a manned moon mission, but they have competition from the private sector in the form of a Virgin Galactic inspired space-plane/lunar orbiter by the name of Dreamscape.  Gary Childers, president of Space Excursions, is an entrepreneur in the mould of Richard Branson and also interested in bringing the experience of space flight and lunar excursions to the common man (well, those who can afford the fee).  Space Excursions is also interested in beating NASA to the Moon, although they aren’t prepared for a landing.  Meanwhile, China has become the successor of the defunct Soviet Union and is also striving to beat the Americans back to the Moon.

When Childer’s Dreamscape vehicle manages to orbit the Moon in advance of NASA’s efforts, the pilot and civilian crew are astonished to receive a distress signal from a crew of Chinese Taikonauts.  They’ve beaten the Americans to the Moon using stolen technology (ironically, from both NASA and Space Excursions) but flubbed the landing.  Once discovered, it becomes a race against time for NASA to launch a recovery mission before the Chinese succumb to their circumstances.

Now I suppose naysayers could nitpick this novel by calling it a “rah-rah” America first bit of fluff, but I found it a fun, pulpy read.  Taylor knows his stuff, after all, he is an actual rocket scientist, and while I would never describe his work as “literary” in the classical sense, he tells a compelling story in an accessible manner.

Adrift on the Sea of Rains-Ian Sales

Adriftontheseaofrains

Source: Bought copy (Kindle)

Publisher: Whippleshield Books

Publication Date: April, 2012

Adrift on the Sea of Rains, is the first in a quartet of proposed novels by U.K. novelist Ian Sales and can be characterized as both speculative fiction and alternate history.  It concerns a group of astronauts who become stranded on a lunar base after a nuclear exchange by the Soviet Union and United States.  Their only hope for rescue is a salvaged Nazi Wunderwaffe, a “torsion-field” generator that can allow them passage through alternate universes, in hope of finding one where the Earth has not been destroyed.  Complicating their situation is the problem of how to get home in the event they find an Earth to return to.

Now in all honesty, I haven’t read this book yet.  It’s on my intent to read list, but having perused the first chapter, I have little doubt that it’s going to be a compelling, although possibly dismal, novel.  Ian Sales appears to have taken a more literary road with regard to his writing style and it shows. His characters are maudlin (granted, you would be too if you’d witnessed the destruction of the Earth and faced a slow death on a desolate rock) and somewhat nihilistic. He’s also managed to win the 2012 BSFA (British Science Fiction Award) for short fiction.

I realize I’m not doing justice to his novella in this brief description, but want to inform you of a talent that has recently come upon my alternate history radar.  I hope to give you a more detailed report once able to spend some time with what appears to be an emerging talent.

 

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Monster Hunter Vendetta-Larry Correia

“When Monsters have nightmares, they’re dreaming about us.”  MHI Company Handbook

When we last met with Owen Zavasta Pitt, he was still reeling from the discovery that the world as he knew it was not the world as it is.  Monsters are real, the government has a black ops division of the F.B.I. that deals with them, and after a nasty run in with his manager at work (who was also a recent convert to lycanthropy), Pitt discovers that the life of an accountant may not be for him.   Monster Hunter-yes; middle management drone-no.

Fast forward a year, and we find Owen in a state of relative contentment.  He’s managed to save the World at least once, met (and courted) the girl of his dreams, and does a job that he loves for a salary that makes life quite comfortable.  Everything should be gravy, right?

Well, not so much.

You see, during the course of saving the world from the evil forces of another dimension, Owen attracted the attention of an elder God.  Apparently, destroying the artifact that would allow it to enter our dimension and slaying a multitude of its acolytes merits attention, as did the tactical nuclear weapon delivered into its posterior, courtesy of the U. S. government.  Owen’s not to blame for that, but someone’s got to take the fall, and the Old One (picture Lovecraft’s Cthulu) has decided Owen shall be the one.  Ironic that a bounty hunter should have his own bounty. 

Owen is blissfully unaware of  either the nuke or the bounty, contentedly hunting down chupacabras  and keeping the Mexican Riviera safe for both the locals and drunken Spring break kids.  So, it comes as a surprise to him when he gets a knock on the door, and then a subsequent knock on the head, from a mysterious Englishman, a shadowman of sorts, who remains incorporeal in the shade, but packs a real punch in the light of day.  Nor does it help that he’s brought a truckload of Zombies with him and released them on the resort’s party-goers.

Fast forward a couple of hours and poor Owen is stuck in a Mexican prison accused of multiple murder and disavowed by his own government.  If that’s not enough, while there, he gets a visit from his in-laws.  At the best of times that can be a pain in the neck, but when your in-laws are also Vampires of the nastiest sort, metaphor and reality can become mixed up.  Lucky for him though, they subscribe to the adage that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and have come to Owen with a proposition. 

The Englishman is a necromancer, and being Undead themselves, they don’t really want to become enthralled to him, hence, a truce and an alliance.  However, Owen has a problem being allied with the Undead, subscribing to the less known adage that, “the enemy of my enemy is sometimes also my enemy,” so that idea is a no go. 

You really don’t want to say “no” to Owen’s mother in law.  You. Really. Don’t.

Okay, Evil necromancer on one side, Evil Undead on the other.  Should be enough to deal with, right?

Aha, let’s not forget about the United States government.

Yep, that’s right, that same government that ticked off the Elder God.  Specifically, the Monster Control Bureau, a subsidiary of the Department of Justice and royal pain in the ass under the leadership of one Agent Myers, himself a former MHI alumni (with a grudge).  They’ve been following the movements of the shadowman and his cult organization, “The Sanctified Church of the Temporary Mortal Condition,” and now want to use Owen as bait to draw out their leader.  With that, the stage is set for a rollicking story full of non-stop action as Owen and his compatriots try to thwart the plans of the Death Cult, deal with a government agency that would rather see them disbanded, and as a byproduct of stopping the shadowman, keep him alive. 

 There are a lot of things to love in a Correia novel.  His writing is both witty and so fast paced that you don’t want to put the book down for any reason while you’re reading it, and feel a sense of dissatisfaction when you get to the end and realize it’s over.  His take on the supernatural is both quirky and refreshing, taking accepted mythology and turning it on its head.  In the first novel, we’re introduced to the Trailer Park Elves; this time around, it’s a gang of garden Gnomes.  And I do mean, “Gang.”  (If those THUG LIFE tats don’t tip it off, the sawed off shotguns and turf wars will.)  Fans of his first novel also get several questions answered, such as:

  • What’s the deal with Agent Franks? (and really, shame on me for not figuring it out earlier)
  • Why the animosity between Agent Myers and Earl Harbinger, and what does it have to do with one Martin Hood?
  • What’s the reason for Owen’s dad training him from birth to be a survivalist?
  • Who is Mr. Trash Bags, anyway?

Honestly, the Monster Hunter series reminds me a lot of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, with Owen playing a role very similar to Harry Dresden, the difference being that while Owen is a bounty hunter, Harry is a detective.   Both series are thoroughly enjoyable and a great addition to the genre.  It’s going to kill me to wait until July of this year for the release of the third book of the series, Monster Hunter AlphaIn the meantime, if you’d like to keep abreast of Larry’s writing projects (and other interesting stuff), he maintains a blog at Monster Hunter Nation that you can check out.

(p.s. Want to read about the Trailer Park Elve’s?  Larry’s got a nice little story about them over at Baen Books)