Thursday, January 06, 2011

A pair of book reviews: The Spaceship Handbook and The Saucer Fleet

The Spaceship Handbook and The Saucer Fleet are complimentary works by Jack Hagerty and Jon Rogers and are both published through the ARA PressThe Spaceship Handbook provides information on theoretical, fictional, and real (but not developed) spacecraft and is an essential reference for spaceship modelers and general sci-fi spaceship fans.  The Saucer Fleet features detailed information on famous flying saucers depicted on the big screen, television and print.   Both works provide historical accounts, detailed drawings, plot summaries and the like.  Some of this information is available on Jon's site, Rogers Rocketships.

The Spaceship Handbook

This book provides almost 5 lbs of information on theoretical, fictional, and real (but not developed) spacecraft that is sure to please rocketeers, space enthusiasts, and amateur sci-fi historians alike. It documents 75 spacecraft and provides detailed drawings, historical backgrounds, plot summaries (for purely fictional craft), and mission backgrounds (for potentially real craft). Its hardbound, 8 1/2" x 11" x 1.25” cover houses 534 pages and over 500 graphics. You can see sample pages, drawings, and a complete outline here on ARA Press’s site.

The presentation of each spacecraft starts with a historical background. Where there are multiple craft from one source, this includes a section on the designer, and separate sections for each craft. These include photos, diagrams, artwork, and detailed, dimensioned drawings. The dimensioned drawings are basically the same format as those presented in Rockets of the World, by Peter Always. There is a short ‘Quickspec’ for each, providing the type of vehicle, the year, the medium in which it was first documented, the designer, and the overall dimensions. The authors also provide brief modelers notes, which provide hints, suggestions and references to previous models. These are not plans (no reference to body tubes, nose cones, or balsa), and the main aide to the builder are the drawings. Finally, where the authors have opinions and/or want to present some related material, they include an epilog.

The book is organized into three major sections and two appendices. The first section, entitled “The Theoreticians”, covers works by early rocket scientists. The second section, “The Entertainers”, moves from scientists who dreamed of spaceflight, to people whose goal it was to bring that dream to the rest of us. This is the largest of the sections. The third and final section, “The Real Stuff”, presents modern conceptual vehicles. As with the first section, this is limited to vehicles that never made it into hardware. The book also includes two appendices. Appendix A is entitled “The Atomic Powered Spaceship: Yesterday’s Dream, Spaceflight’s Future?” I’ll describe this more below. Appendix B, “Model Rocketry: Plans and Personalities”, includes a tribute to G. Harry Stine and plans for four rockets.

“The Theoreticians”
This section provides detailed discussions of spacecraft by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Hermann Oberth, Eugen Sänger, Chesley Bonestell/Willy Ley, and Von Braun. Although the book provides a great deal of historical information, it does not represent a comprehensive history since the book, by design, only covers theoretical rockets and spaceships. Although this section is dominated by Von Braun, it only covers his theoretical works - you won’t find a V2 in there. As it turns out, Von Braun did a good deal of work for television shows produced by Walt Disney. Although developed for the early entertainment industry, these were backed up by some level of actual engineering thought. They thus fit nicely in this section, while providing a perfect transition to the next…

“The Entertainers”
This lengthy section includes subjects from the 1900’s through 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The media represented includes printed sources (comics, pulp fiction, and novels), radio, TV, and the big screen. The author says they stopped there because information on many of the popular spaceships since then (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) is already well documented in the modeling communities. The number of spaceships covered defies listing in this review and I refer the reader to the outline contained in the URL presented above. Some of the more familiar entries include Friede (from Die Frau Au Mond), Buck Rogers, the TinTin rocket, Gerry Andersons’ Thunderbirds, ships from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Josie’s Spaceship (from Josie and the Pussycats), and the Myst Island Rocket from the video game. There are even several entries by one G. Harry Stine, who also was also a sci-fi author! The one place this book let me down was that it didn’t have plans for the Fireball XL-5, which is one of my favorite subjects. This omission was due to publishing deadlines and there is teaser about a future Volume 2.

“The Real Stuff”
This section is dedicated to spacecraft from the late 1950’s, 1960’s and 1990’s that never were realized in hardware. These include the X-20, NASA 6 F-1, Project Pluto, Manned Orbiting Laboratory, Lockheed-Martin’s VentureStar, Kistler’s K-1, Kelly’s Astroliner, Pioneer’s Pathfinder, and the Rotary Rocket Roton. One thing to note is that in earlier sections, the primary designer, author, or producer could be identified. By the 1950’s, the work of rocket science was now dominated by the government and/or private companies with “armies of technical people”. I would have liked to seen this section be a bit thicker. I hope that Volume 2 will include a section on the X-Prize contestants – at least those who don’t eventually make it into space.

Appendix A, entitled “The Atomic Powered Spaceship: Yesterday’s Dream, Spaceflight’s Future?” is a paper on interplanetary space travel. Although the title sounds somewhat specific, this covers a wide range of topics and presents the results of a bit of number crunching buy the author. This paper includes: challenges in manned interplanetary space flight; a tutorial on how rockets work; the human factors of space flight; a methodology for comparing engine/propulsion options; a subsequent analysis of a wide variety of engines, from chemical to matter/anti-matter; the potential destinations within our solar system; and a description of what it will take to get to those destinations. Most of this paper is not very detailed or highly technical and should be of interest to those of our hobby.

Appendix B. The Tribute to G. Harry is part biography and part a personal memoir by the author. The plans vary in detail, but should be sufficient for a scratch builder to replicate the four craft: Luna from Destination Moon, Thunderbirds 1 and 3, and the X-20 Dyna Soar/Titan IIIE. These plans were taken from 3rd parties and the proper credit is given.

I am amazed at the quality and amount of material covered in this book. The book exceeded my expectations and even if I don’t build a single model from this book, it will provide continuous inspiration for my future modeling activities. I would have liked to see the Fireball XL-5 and more ‘real’ spacecraft described, so I offer this a suggestion for a future Volume 2.

I want to thank Jack Hagerty of ARA Press for the signed copy that he so generously donated to the EMRR NASROC and MonsterROC photo contest. I hear his stock is running short so you should hurry if you want a copy. I doubt if many owners will be wanting to give theirs up. Maybe if enough people contact him he’ll consider reprinting it.

The Saucer Fleet

The Saucer Fleet is the latest release from Jack Hagerty and Jon Rogers of Spaceship Handbook fame. This 330 page hard-cover book features detailed information on famous flying saucers depicted on the big screen, television and print, including:

* The Day the Earth Stood Still
* War of the Worlds
* This Island Earth
* Forbidden Planet
* Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
* Lost in Space
* The Invaders
* plus some others.

The book can be viewed as an adjunct to The Spaceship Handbook, which conspicuously omitted saucers. In his intro, Jack notes that these saucers don't exactly fit there, as they haven't contributed to the history of the spacecraft. But then, neither do items like the Josie’s Spaceship (from Josie and the Pussycats), which was featured in The Handbook. I for one think that they do have their place, even if only in my imagination, since the real world versions haven't panned out (for example, see my post on the Pye Wacket). Be that as it may, I think saucers are cool and am happy Jack and Jon gave us this book. (BTW, I liked Josie’s Spaceship.)

The presentation is similar to that in The Handbook, including: a background section that sets the historical context; a summary of the story; a description of the subject vehicle including a detailed, dimensioned drawings; background on where the authors got their data; and, finally, an epilogue with the author's comments. The whole thing is packed with photos. New to this work, many of the drawings also provide interior details. There are some modeler's notes, but these are pretty much limited to the kits that have been produced.

In his forward, Dr. Phil "Bad Astronomer" Plait says the book is a biography of these shows. It is that and more. To present that biography, the authors first delve into the history and sociology behind the UFO craze, which continues to this day. The saucers in the book were motivated by that phenomenon and undoubtedly did their part to fuel it on. I actually found this to be one of the more interesting aspects of the book. Note that this book is about flying saucers (known entities created by our imaginations) and not UFO's (unknown entities that may really exist, but whose origin is in dispute).

The historical and story summaries were also interesting. One of the cool things was to see how these classics influenced later sci-fi works. There is even an occasional discussion about the real science behind the fictitious technology. I now know what a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram is. And how much energy would be released if the strong force holding your atoms together was abruptly released. Cool, huh? It was also really neat to get a recap of features like I love like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Lost is Space. I'd like to see them again now that I have read the book.

While the saucer descriptions and diagrams were the main thing I originally wanted from the book, they actually were a small part of the whole. There is not much material available on the saucers and what there is is usually inconsistent. The authors performed a lot of photogrammetry and often had to resort to supposition, and extrapolation. It's clear they really did their homework to dig out details about these ships. The results are the most detailed plans available on these saucers. (Actually, that statement may have some supposition on my part too.)

The 'archeological' reports and and epilogues were of mixed interest to me. In general, the detailed analysis of the the interiors of these spacecraft were a bit much. The main benefit of this detail is twofold. First, detailed sci-fi modelers will understand what they are modeling second, scale modelers in general will understand how develop plans from photographic sources. The epilogues also went into more detail on the movies influence, both in terms of the story lines as well as the physical props.

I found the book interesting, but mainly not in ways I had expected. I think that it will appeal mostly to sci-fi buffs and fans of the subject shows. The drawings will be useful to sci-fi modelers but many can be used for flying models as well. However, since ours fly upward instead of sideways, the non-symmetrical ones would be problematic. But if you want scale points for your saucer, the book will be very useful.

While I really liked the read, this will have less influence on my building the The Spaceship Handbook and the latter is a better buy for the sport rocketeer.  I hope this review says enough to allow prospective readers to determine if this this book is for them.

I want to extend my sincere thanks to Jack for sponsoring the "Rocket Family" photo contest, Nick for honchoing it and of course those who thought my Fireball XL5 family was worthy.