Apollo VI – XVII

ApolloThis book is primarily a photographic record of the resumption of  manned space missions after the tragic Apollo I fire in which three astronauts lost their lives.

The program started again with Apollo VII, taking a crew of three into earth orbit in the new Apollo command module.
Then taking a huge leap of faith, Apollo 8 followed, taking man away from earth for the first time, travelling to, and orbiting, the moon before returning to earth.

The crew gave themselves only a 50-50 chance of success.  Considering the alternative, a 50% chance of failure and what that would mean…  I doubt any mission with such a risk factor would, or could, be considered today.

Those two missions, particularly Apollo 8, helped to fast track the US race to the moon and set the foundation for six successful moon missions and the aborted Apollo 13 attempt.

Photos in the book illustrate images of the moon, the earth from the moon, and the space craft and astronauts involved in the Apollo program. They were initially taken for scientific, technical and navigational purposes: helping to identify possible future landing sites, observing the condition of spacecraft and equipment, and recording lunar geology.
If you recall moon photos with a grid of small crosses all over the images, they are marks added by the photographic equipment to allow the calculation of distances and object sizes on the lunar surface.

Brief details are given of each mission crew and their basic achievements during those missions.
There is also a section about the photographic hardware and film stocks used, and an overview of the ongoing training Astronauts were given. Experts were also on hand in mission control to give on the spot instructions should a challenging photographic opportunity arise. An example of one of those exchanges and the resulting photo is included in the book.

One of the facts I found interesting is that many photos taken on the moon have never been released or viewed. Not because of any conspiracy trying to hide photographic details, but because the crew forgot to pack the film into the lunar ascent module prior to leaving the lunar surface. Therefore the undeveloped film remains there on the moon.

 

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Now, about that wall…

An interesting point made in Naomi Klein’s book No Is Not Enough (see previous  post).noisnotenough

A 2017 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that Mexico’s poverty rate has risen since the 1994 implementation of NAFTA, with 20 million additional people now living in poverty – a major factor pushing Mexican migration to the United States.

Reading Slowdown

I have three books under the heading “Reading Now” on my current “Reading List” page:

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
No Is Not Enough, Naomi Klein

sidney chambers.jpgThe James Runcie book has been there for several months. It’s a book of short stories and so far I’ve only read the first and wasn’t engaged enough to want to rush on to the next one. I leave it on my list because I’ll get a round to the next story eventually.

I got the book because I heard an interview with the author who is the son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. The stories feature a C of E minister as the main character, who finds himself investigating suspicious deaths. The books were adapted into a TV series Grantchester,  which apparently takes a lot of liberties with the main character. The author mentioned in the interview, something along the lines that a real priest would have been thrown out of the church if he’d acted the way of the televised version.

Green MarsGreen Mars is the sequel to Red Mars, and continues the story of colonists on Mars.

In the series so far there have been some allusions to early America, leading up to the war of Independence; with the colonists growing to feel exploited by their home land (home planet) and developing a growing passion for an independent, self sufficient  new home, free of the exploitation of a distant colonial power.

I started this one several days ago, but have been distracted too much by other (non-reading) things to get far into the book yet. Maybe I shouldn’t have picked this one up straight after reading the first three volumes of the Dune series. Something a little less bulky may have been a better reading option than a 550+ page book midway through another sizable trilogy

noisnotenoughI started on Naomi Klein’s  No Is Not Enough because of some of those (political) distractions. I can only shake my head in disbelief at what has been going on in Australian politics, and I spent far too much time trying to keep up with the last few sitting days of parliament.  The cost of that has been my usual lunch-hour reading time.

Klein’s book shines a light on a lot of what is behind that current political situation from a North American viewpoint. Problems that aren’t restricted one particular nation, but are evident throughout the “western” world.

This book draws together the issues she’s written about in earlier books in greater detail. No Is Not Enough shows how all of those issues have become focused into a single point in the person and Presidency of Donald Trump.

However rather than merely add a negative voice of despair and opposition, Klein wants to look at positive answers to turn around the political and cultural systems that led to Trump’s political rise.

None of these books have maintained my interest enough to make me want to keep reading, so my progress through them has been slow, and my attention has been drifting towards other books. I suspect I’ll be finishing another book or two before I get to the end of any of these three. I’m already approaching the end of one about the manned Apollo missions of the late 60s – early 70s and have tentatively started another about the retrieval of the wreckage of the space shuttle Columbia after it broke up on re-entry in February 2003 (so long ago, how time flies!)

sts 107

 

Children of Dune

CODI’d initially called my Dune Messiah post “They Lived Happily Ever After. Until…”

I’ll mention my alternative title for this post later.

Dune Messiah depicts the times and events after the “fairytale ending” of Dune where the protagonist had finally overcome the obstacles he faced.
After that apparent victory, reality starts to intrude and the promise of ongoing stability is shown to be a vain expectation.

Where Dune traced the downfall and restoration of the House of Atriedes, Dune Messiah showed the consequences of taking more power than what was originally lost.

With more power comes more responsibility and increasing dangers. New Emperor Paul Muad’Dibh has to face threats to his unborn heirs as other powers conspire to control the succession to the Imperial throne. Paul finds the only available solution requires great personal sacrifice.

Children of Dune picks up the story several years later after Paul’s sacrifice. His sister Alia has been made Regent until the twin heirs, Leto and Ghanima reach adulthood, but whose interests is she really representing?

Other surviving major characters from the previous two books return in Children of Dune, but all seem to get caught up in parts of different conspiracies; with plans within plans all of which lead to uncertain goals. I don’t think I’m revealing any “spoilers” if I say that no one seems to achieve the outcome they desired.

Above I said I’d reveal my alternative title for this post:

“I Created a World So I’m Going to Use It.”

After building a convincing, complex setting for Dune, including its landscape, ecology, technology, politics, religion, commerce and mythology, I feel that Herbert didn’t want  to cast all of that work aside – but wanted to make as much use as possible of his created universe; even if he didn’t quite have the same strength of story to combine with it.

The Dune series started with a book I loved so much in my teens that I immediately reread it. Going back to the book 40 years later I can understand why. I can also see why I never took to the sequels. Both have enjoyable moments and occasional hints of intrigue,  but as a whole they don’t work for me.

Dune had a definite, structured, compelling narrative that led to a purposeful conclusion. The sequels, perhaps moreso Children of Dune, seem more like part of an ongoing, unending saga with characters I decreasingly care about.

There are three more Frank Herbert penned books in the series. I’ll take a break and read other things before I think of starting on them.

And I think I’ll avoid the many prequels and sequels written by Herbert’s son, Brian.

 

Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristocratic forms. No government in history has been able to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, government tends more and more to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class – whether that class be hereditary royalty, oligarchs of financial empires, or entrenched bureaucracy.

– Politics as Repeat Phenomenon: Bene Gesserit Training Manual.

 

Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert

I can see why, despite my love of the book Dune, my teenage-self wasn’t able to warm to its sequel Dune Messiah.

dune messiah.jpg

The overall achievements of Paul Atriedes (Muad’Dib) in Dune now seem to have questionable merit, being driven into a position where the things most important to him are overwhelmed by consequences of leadership that he can’t control; such as the feared Jihad in his name.

In one section of the book, Paul talks about leaders in the distant past who were responsible for the deaths of millions.  He compares this to the numbers killed under (despite?) his leadership.

“There’s another emperor I want you to note in passing – a Hitler. He killed more than six million. Pretty good for those days.”

“Killed…by his legions?” Stilgar asked.

“Yes.”

“Not very impressive statistics, m’Lord.”

“Very good, Stil … Statistics:  at a conservative estimate, I’ve killed sixty-one billion, sterilized ninety planets, completely demoralized five hundred others. I’ve wiped out the followers of forty religions…”

It’s a part of the book that made me feel very uneasy. While I assume it intends to lay out the scale of the atrocities committed in Paul’s name,  it also potentially minimises Hitler’s culpibility, as well as the scale of the atrocities for which he was responsible.

Paul’s problems aren’t resticted to the lack of control he has over his legions of followers and their jihad.

A secretive group of influential people meet to conspire against Paul, but the actual aim of the conspiracy (apart from Paul’s downfall) isn’t clear. Each of the group seems to have their own agenda, all of which appear to be at odds with the aims of the  others. The plan that unfolds potentially benefits only one of those conspirators.

Paul has a vision pointing to his own demise; and being forewarned gives the potential of being forearmed. Can he avert that fate?

One of the more direct personal costs he faces is the threat his position causes towards those he loves. Can he guarantee a secure future for his family and ensure there’s an Atreides heir to his Imperial throne?

Dune TrilogyCompared to the other parts of Herbert’s Dune series, Dune Messiah is a very short book, and seems more like a bridge to link the first and third parts than a novel in its own right. This time I’ve been reading the books in one volume collection, and in that context I think Dune Messiah makes more sense, and is more satisfying than when I first attempted it as a stand alone novel 40 years ago.

If there is a redeeming theme within this book itself, as a separate part of the overall story, it’s the depiction of the dangers arising when religion gains, and becomes, a primarily political power.

The horrific results of that can be seen throughout human history.

Dune by Frank Herbert

A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct.

– from the “Manual of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan.

How do I begin with my thoughts on Dune?

dune

A Science Fiction novel mixing a kind of medieval feudalism with advanced technologies, written in the 1960s, and yet seemingly cogniscent of current 21st century issues.

Politics. Religion. Ecological sciences. Religious wars. Conservation. Environmentalism. Exploitative economics…

“The historical systems of mutual pillage and extortion stops here… You cannot go on forever stealing what you need without regard to those who come after.”

Some of the main protagonists/antagonists within the novel are:

The House of Atreides is headed by Duke Leto who has been commissioned by the Emperor to govern the planet Arrakis, source of the empire’s most valuable commodity, the spice melange.
Leto knows the appointment is a trap, meant to cause his downfall, but it is a commission he can’t refuse. His son and heir, Paul becomes the central figure in the course events of to come.

Baron Vladimir Harkonnen has ambitions for the increased prominence of his own family that will require the destruction of the House Atreides He has particular ambitions for his nephew and heir Feyd-Rautha, a nasty piece of work who loves the thrill of gladiatorial combat – as long as the odds are nefariously manipulated to his favour.

The Bene Gesseret sisterhood are a  nun-like order who for centuries have surreptitiously controlled family lines by selective breeding, and have introduced religious teachings and myths into the lore of chosen ethnic groups, with the aim of producing and making way for the Kwisatz Haderach, a male messianic figure through whom they plan to increase their order’s power.

The Fremen are an underestimated, mysterious, fierce and resilient desert race on the planet Arrakis who know the secret of the spice and its production, and have adapted their ways to survive with minimal water.

I first read Dune in 1977. It is perfectly paced and structured, well plotted with strong relatable characters.
I picked it up whenever I could, always eager to get back to the story, not wasting a moment of my spare time on anything else.
When I reached the end, I immediately started it again. The only time I’ve ever done that.

42 years later I read it for a third time, and can see why I enjoyed the book to that degree in my teens.

Unlike so much science fiction, this story hasn’t dated. At times in the intervening years, events in the news stirred my memories of the book.
For example, it was in Dune that I first came across the term jihad, a word that has gained wide familiarity during the 21st century. Herbert’s use of it leans more on historical accounts of  real desert peoples, who were a clear inspiration for some elements of the desert people who play a pivotal role in this book, but when the word was used in the context of recent politics (the “war on terror”), I recalled its relevance in Dune.

Paul Atreides, later Paul Muad’Dib, has prescient dreams of armies conducting jihad in his name. As other dreams prove to be accurate premonitions, can he prevent the violence he foresees being done by his future followers?

I recall my teenage self longing to play Paul Artreides in a film version of the story: despite the fact I was no actor and had no chance of getting close to any film makers able to bring the book to the screen. And despite having no physical similarity to Paul .
The character seemed so real to me. I could identify with him to an extent that perhaps only a boy in his late teens, desiring adventure and meaning, could.
That is clearly an aspect of the book that doesn’t have the same effect when I read as a 60-ish year old, but my enjoyment of the book hasn’t diminished because of that.