Book Review: The Rocket Company, by Patrick J.G. Stiennon and David M. Hoerr
Content warnings: For the parents whose children are prodigies, be warned that the section on space bathrooms contains bathroom words. That is literally it.
I put “book” review in the title, because the word “fiction” in reference to this work must be always surrounded by quotation marks, as it is technically, if not actually, accurate.
The Rocket Company is a “fictional” but highly detailed depiction of a theoretical business producing and selling reusable rockets. By highly detailed I mean this book makes Tom Clancy look vague. A representative quote:
When burned stoichiometrically with almost any hydrocarbon or other fuel, [hydrogen peroxide] provides even better performance, with an Isp only somewhat less than that of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide.
The framing “story” insomuch as it can be called one, is a science reporter (highly) detailing the life and successes of AM&M, the titular Rocket Company. As the book goes into every detail between regulatory concerns (which are somewhat unconvincingly solved), the physical layout of the factory (two distinctly separated sections for the rockets’ two stages), and the way company credit cards are issued (one to each engineer, who within his credit limit has full purchasing authority) it would be impossible for the book not to be “fiction” without using the word “would” in every other sentence. As the laws of this kind of “fiction” decree, almost nothing goes wrong, and the company’s only major problems occur safely in the epilogue (it recovers).
I can’t call it excessive detail, because the intended audience for this in the first place would already be fascinated by the potential specific impulse of hydrogen peroxide when burned stoichiometrically with hydrocarbons. Still, the one or two missteps (such the Benedictine Moon Monks who do not seem to initially plan to grow grapes for wine on the Moon) have the unfortunate effect of casting the rest into a slightly dimmer light. There is also a slight oddity in that some of the details are the results of “fictional” testing, which by definition has no basis in actual testing.
All said, if you can survive the nonexistence plot and the extreme existence of the detail deluge, you will doubtlessly pick up such new information, such as the design of a not-technically-airtight spacesuit, or how to convert an SUV to lunar use. The inner space fan cannot help but wistfully imagine the bright future of a world where rockets are steadily no stranger than 747s. Ideal? Yes, but without ideals of the future the future is never fought for.
Verdict: not a bird, but a detailed anatomical discussion of the avian of your choice.
I have always been inspired by the story of Fredrick Douglass, a slave who escaped slavery to become a renowned orator and author. His is not the story of a man who was second-rate, shooed into the spotlight only for his relative accomplishments compared to his past. What use would that be? No, he was not merely any random speaker, but Fredrick Douglass, a name that survives to this day in history books, no matter how often it is skimmed over.
A shameless plug for someone else.
I have seen, and admittedly indulged in that fan activity I will call the Fact Checking Game. It goes like this: First, you take some work of fiction, particularly a popular one, and you find some fascinating idea or claim it has. Then you deconstruct it with real world logic, checking all the facts and invariably coming up with an unrealistic or at least implausible conclusion. At this point, bemoaning that the creator did not think of this may commence. As a sequel, you can find some plausible counterpoint, and argue with the proponents of the former conclusion until the cows come home.
This is not, in itself, a bad thing.