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After listening to Chris David Impey’s book, “Beyond: Our Future in Space”, traveling to other worlds seems distant and practically un-achievable. Impey cleverly begins his story about space travel as though the first human who permanently leaves earth is born in the 21st century. Impey’s novelist beginning is revisited twice, but the true subject of “Beyond: Our Future in Space” is the physics, astronomy, and observational cosmology of the present day.
One presumes Impey’s purpose is to encourage the possibility of reaching the stars but by the end little optimism remains with the listener. The daunting tasks of overcoming gravity, surviving an inhospitable environment, and leaving the only home humans have ever known proffers a gob of pessimism. Some minor relief is offered with a comparison of human migration across the continents in earth’s history but one questions the analogy. With that correlation, Impey speculates that history’s adventurers on earth have something in common with future adventurers in space.
In support of Impey’s speculation: In ancient history, who would have thought human beings would sail for a new world when many thought sailing from land meant you would fall off the edge of earth? Maybe that is where space exploration is today. Impey’s fictional character arrives at an exoplanet with her team. She and her team are at the end and beginning of “Beyond: Our Future in Space”. Now that is optimism.
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Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
I am a big fan of Chris Impey's work and brilliance, but I was disappointed by the fact that this book is fairly pedantic, with low horizons.
It's pitched as an insider's look at futurist speculation about our prospects for space exploration. In practice, it's more of a TED talk for why we should invest in current space science.
I'm a huge supporter of space science, so I am sympathetic to this impulse, but I'm left wondering who Impey and the publishers imagine as their audience.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
For a young student or layperson mostly new to these topics, it's a pretty good survey of the present and near-ish future. However, works of popular science are generally read by well-informed amateurs and professionals from related fields -- i.e., people who are already fairly conversant in the topic.
That's the demographic I fit, and if that is you as well, then most of this book consists of history, science, and technology that you've probably learned about more than once from other sources.
There is also a rather tedious amount of detail on this decade's business leaders in the space industry, which mostly reads like a series of "Who's Who" bios + business plans. That's the section most like a TED talk and most exasperating.
Only the last 3 chapters out of 11 (a bit under 2 hours) really get into speculation about the future. That material was much more interesting, but felt totally inadequate given how long I waited for it.
I certainly don't begrudge a choice to write an "Intro to Space Exploration, Then and Now," but that's not how this book has been portrayed in its promos, NPR interviews, etc -- the focus has almost exclusively been on the "juicy" stuff at the end, which only comprises a couple podcasts worth of material.
Would you listen to another book narrated by Julie McKay?
Additionally, Julie McKay's narration was somewhat exasperating and further reinforced the sense of being subjected to a TED talk.
She is clearly quite skilled and professional so this may just be a discrepancy in my aesthetic, but she read the book with frequent use of two particular intonations that I found frustrating. First, she often adopted a tone of exaggerated wonderment, as if to say, "It might sound crazy today -- but hey, it could happen. You just don't know." Second, she also frequently adopted a chiding tone, as if repeating a cliche scold: "If you fail to plan -- well. That's a plan to fail."
It would be unfair and simplistic to say that's all her narration consisted of, but for me, all the forced profundity eclipsed the otherwise very competent and appealing aspects of her voice and delivery. And that mix of faux wonderment + smug chiding is exactly the kind of patronizing delivery endemic to the delusional nonsense preached by the cult of TED.
That said, this sort of issue may well have been a production / direction choice. I haven't heard other works by McKay, but I wouldn't hesitate to buy one -- I think it was just performative choices specific to this book that I didn't care for.
Do you think Beyond needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
As for a follow-up book, I see no particular point unless Impey were willing to write an entire book expanding on the futurism of the last few chapters. A popular-science review of the sort of scholarship and speculation being produced by organizations like "100 Year Starship" is what I was really expecting and hoping for. But that's not so much a follow-up as an alternate book.
Any additional comments?
In summary: Non-essential listening, but recommended for young listeners and newcomers. Recommended with reservations for listeners versed in this topic.
That said, Chris Impey's work is definitely worth exploring in other volumes. I haven't heard other works read by Julie McKay, but I'm certain her other work elsewhere is also excellent and worthwhile.
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