Why You Can’t Catch a Rocket to Mars, by Prof Lyndon Neal Smith PhD: #BookReview.

275 pages
Science & Scientists Humour/Automatic Control/Sherlock Holmes Mysteries

Subtitled: Some Personal Reflections on Science and Society.

Whether a reader can empathise with the writer of a book essentially driven by personal ambition, hopes, or dreams, depends on how that reader feels about those aims. I confess I’m definitely with the author here. Given the chance of a return flight to Mars, I’d jump at it! After all, having written a sci-fi trilogy set there, I’d love to experience the world in person.
Prof. Smith, an engineer by profession, has a deep understanding of the science and mechanics involved in getting transport off Earth and across millions of miles of hostile space to another planet. He also understands the need for such an enterprise (forgive the pun, but he’s also an avid fan of Star Trek!)
The book is divided into four parts, each subdivided into sections, and starts by examining current science and technology. Part 2 looks at potential and definite threats to his aims, and at possible responses. Part 3 deals with future developments in science and technology. And part 4 contains his concluding remarks.
Remarkable is an apposite description of this sometimes very personal assessment of why science and technology have so far taken humanity only as far as our own moon.
There are a couple of areas only, among a multitude, where I found mild reason to disagree. One was his concern with what he considers ‘the current obsession with political correctness’, which he feels forms an unnecessary barrier to administrative progress in some areas. While understanding his frustrations, I also feel his stance appears to be exactly in line with that expected of a white, male, heterosexual from the West. It’s noticeable that women form a tiny percentage of his scientific and technical world, in spite of their remarkable contributions. My second area of minor disagreement involves his attitude to modern literature, especially sci-fi. As the author of several stories engaging with future worlds, I found his dismissal on grounds of ‘Romance and Dystopia’ a little off the mark. Many writers of such fiction understand the need to include romance in sci-fi as a way of helping readers relate to otherwise male-centric action. Also, there’s an element of social science, an area he rather easily dismisses, that actively helps readers empathise with the players in such stories. With regard to dystopian outcomes, I say many sci-fi writers are so concerned with avoidable catastrophe in the modern world, we see it as our responsibility to let people know the possible consequences of our failure to address our social responsibilities to the planet we inhabit.
However, these are minor concerns given the wide-ranging and in-depth coverage of the major issues tackled by the book.
Political dithering caused by ill-educated and improperly advised would-be leaders, concentration on the fast buck by industry supremos at the expense of rare minerals, childish games designed to set people at odds over inconsequential issues rather than unite them in action to save the natural world, and a ham-strung, inefficient, self-serving and ultra-cautious academic system that fails to encourage and fund real and needed new research are all guilty of damage to our future prospects.
Prof. Smith has studied history, science, technology and mechanics on his route through life. His well-presented arguments relating to what the scientific world believes and/or fails to consider are worthy subjects for discussion.
This book mixes humour with erudition, knowledge with informed speculation, and reaches conclusions with which I fully agree. It’s a fascinating, engaging, and illuminating piece of work.
As an aside, the link to Sherlock Holmes given in the genre list up top is simply a reference to the author’s admiration of the sleuth and his creator.


[Any review is a personal opinion. No reviewer can represent the view of anyone else. The best we can manage is an honest reaction to any given book.]

8 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Catch a Rocket to Mars, by Prof Lyndon Neal Smith PhD: #BookReview.

  1. As a woman of a certain age with a year left until retirement, and having worked in two male dominated fields (one still is – aviation; the other much less so now), I understand all too well about gender discrimination. I try to separate those attitudes from the work these people do, but in the end, I always find that difficult to fully achieve, given the total influence. Cheers.

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    1. I suspect a large amount of prejudice and discrimination is entirely unconscious, Lynette. Often, when it’s pointed out, people actually start to think about it and some even mend their ways!

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        1. It’s difficult to teach empathy, but that’s what is generally needed to remove prejudice. And if children are raised in an atmosphere of fear and hatred towards any group it can be difficult to wean them away from it. Most prejudice stems from ignorance and fear of something different. With regard to the discrimination against women, of course, the Abrahamic myth of the Eve story has done tremendous harm over the millennia, and the bias has seeped into the very language we use so that attitudes are developed often entirely unconscious of their origin. High time the story was fully recognised as the controlling misogynist device it was designed as, eh?

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          1. It’s interesting to see the genesis of some of these myths. There seems to be a growing mythology around Princess Diana, for instance. I think that she was often the author of her own misfortune, but there seems to be a sort of prohibition against treating her like a normal person who had the full slate of human characteristics, both good and bad. I’ve wondered what the opinions about her will be when there’s no one left who actually knew her. Will she become a sort of saint?

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            1. I suspect your assessment of the possibility of sainthood for Diana encapsulates the manner in which most saints were created – selection of the ‘good’ reports and removal of the ‘bad’ reports. Truth is so easily lost over the passing of time.

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