Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review - New Space Frontiers: Venturing into Earth Orbit and Beyond

By Piers Bizony

Published by Zenith Press

When I’m working on new projects, when I’m looking for ideas for my writing, I often turn to all kinds of sources for inspiration, from TV shows to books to movies to the internet. It was great, then, to not only get my hands on a book that’s filled to the brim with some incredibly inspirational images covering the early days of spaceflight to the future of manned and unmanned exploration, but also containing a lot of small and enlightening facts that even I, a follower of space programs worldwide, didn’t realise.

‘Get ready to experience the excitement of adventure with New Space Frontiers. Through gorgeous photography and engaging writing, noted space and science author Piers Bizony speculates beyond just today's hardware and explores what might be possible for the next generation.’

Chapter 1, ‘Escape From Planet Earth, covers the hardware we are and can be using to get vehicles into low Earth orbit. It details different ways to get into and back from orbit, from the existing vehicles to ones in preparation, and the images on show are excellent, especially one visually stunning photograph of a Soyuz night recovery mission.

Chapter 2, ‘Almost Space Flight’, gives us a look at the sub-orbital vehicles in development and, even though it does sometimes read like a promotional brochure for the firms taking part in the research, there are, once again, some great images on show.

Chapter 3, ‘Islands In The Sky’, entices us with the possibility of orbital habitations, space stations where humans could live, work and even raise families. From the small cramped ISS to the huge visions of wheeled cities in space – peppered with images from science fiction as well as the visions of conceptual artists – it’s inspirational stuff.

Chapter 4, ‘Destination Moon’, talks about future journeys to our closest celestial body and even establishing a base or colony there. There are some great images of Moonbases, again from science fiction as well as actual concept renderings, and the next generation Moon vehicles are incredibly fascinating.

Chapter 5, ‘Interplanetary Adventures’, throws us beyond Earth orbit and talks about exploring the other planets of our solar system and the challenges such a thing creates. Again, there’s a wealth of wonderful images in this chapter that inspire and make your mind whirl with the possibilities and the logistics of it all.

Finally, Chapter 6, ‘Across The Gulf Of Stars’, takes us even further, beyond our solar system and to the nearest stars via telescopes, nuclear-powered robot probes and even possible manned missions to the potential worlds that surround us. Much of this is purely speculative, of course, although much of the science is hard and, once again, the wonderful images make it all very possible.

Piers Bizony gives us an excellent journey through the next actual and possible steps of space exploration and gives us both the practical and fantastical. The reality of existing space programs and the technology they use blends with the conceptual and then the almost unbelievable, so when reading this you feel like everything is reachable and the stars are closer than you think.

There are a few issues; there are some errors in the type and the layout breaks up the text so it sometimes feels that sentences are left hanging and incomplete, only to be picked up on a page or two later. This is a little jarring and when the text is filling your head with ideas, to have yourself yanked out of the narrative flow is disorientating and ruins the impact slightly.

The images are gorgeous. The full colour glossy pages gives us some amazingly detailed photographs, paintings and renderings and I found myself wishing the pages were a little larger so that I could see more detail. This brings me on to another issue I had with the book and that’s the landscape presentation; I’m not a fan as I find books like that a little clumsy in my hands, but that’s a personal thing and does not detract from the book at all.

New Space Frontiers is a great book and it’s filled with some amazing images that you will no doubt find inspirational on many levels. Piers Bizony’s writing is functional and he explains things well and, typos and layout aside, it’s a good read.

If you want to learn more about the near future of space exploration, then I can recommend this tome quite easily. It’s a fascinating look at the past, present and future of our journey into space.