Category: Space

Mini review: “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline (audiobook edition)

This has instantly become one of my favourite books – I loved every minute of this twenty-first century sci-fi celebration of 1980’s book, film and music culture.

It’s 2044 and the real world has gone to hell, so most people spend their time in a virtual reality universe called the OASIS. When the original founder / coder of the OASIS dies he leaves behind a challenge – find an easter-egg he has programmed into the virtual world by completing a number of (increasingly nerdy) tasks and win the founder’s fortune and control of the OASIS itself.

Wil Wheaton does an excellent, basically flawless narration and I would recommend the audiobook version.

There are only a couple of reservations – some people may find the geekiness overload just too much to bear and at 15 hours it is quite a time investment.

But not me – I really liked it and if it sounds like your thing, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Now to watch the movie to see how much they rip out the guts of the story…

Mini review: “Leviathan Wakes” by James S. A. Corey (audiobook edition)

I read this after seeing the first couple of seasons of the TV series The Expanse.

It’s a really good book – a solid 4 out of 5 stars – and I would recommend it to any sci-fi fan. The narrator does a solid enough job of reading the story, although nothing revolutionary.

The trouble is that the TV series is good and follows the book closely – for once I don’t think that you necessarily get more from reading the book than watching the show, and in the time it would take you to read this book and it’s first sequel (Caliban’s War) you could watch pretty much all four seasons of the TV show.

I’d do that…

Film review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Film review: Apollo 11 (IMAX)

Every once in a while a film comes along that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen, with the sharpest picture and sound that fills the room. Apollo 11 is one of those films.

The new way it takes you behind the scenes of the 1969 moon landing left me almost breathless at times. It is utterly enthralling.

The film’s website explains:

From director Todd Douglas Miller (Dinosaur 13) comes a cinematic event fifty years in the making. Crafted from a newly discovered trove of 65mm footage, and more than 11,000 hours of uncatalogued audio recordings, Apollo 11 takes us straight to the heart of NASA’s most celebrated mission—the one that first put men on the moon, and forever made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin into household names. Immersed in the perspectives of the astronauts, the team in Mission Control, and the millions of spectators on the ground, we vividly experience those momentous days and hours in 1969 when humankind took a giant leap into the future.

Bear in mind that previously the moon landings looked like this:

This is restored footage from 2009 released by NASA

If you get the chance to see the film in IMAX I urge you to do so. It allows you to get a sense of scale, of power, energy, tension, wonder.

• Apollo 11 in Real-time

• Spare Cycles: Looking back at the moon and forward to Mars (2009)

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

• Spare Cycles: Film review: The Right Stuff

• Spare Cycles: Film review: In The Shadow Of The Moon

• BBC Radio 4: The Infinite Monkey Cage –  Astronaut Special

Film review: In The Shadow Of The Moon


This year is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landings and there are some excellent programmes and films around at the moment.

This documentary features the surviving astronauts of the US space missions to the moon (at least, at the time of its release 12 years ago) telling stories about their experiences. It is interesting stuff, told with a good dash of humour and some great archive NASA footage.

Well recommended.

• Spare Cycles: Mini review: “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

• Spare Cycles:  Film review: The Right Stuff

• BBC Radio 4: The Infinite Monkey Cage –  Astronaut Special

Film review: Captain Marvel

I’ve managed to catch this at the cinema before it leaves the big screen – I was surprised to still find showings after a few months on release – but I guess there are still people like me who wanted to catch up after seeing Avengers: Endgame.

In my review of Avengers: Endgame I said:

The character Captain Marvel played a significant part in this film and I was disappointed that I hadn’t been able to see her own film before Endgame came out. Not knowing Captain Marvel’s background story did not affect my enjoyment of Endgame but it would have been better to have seen it beforehand. Bear in mind that the Captain Marvel film came out less than 2 months before Endgame and was not getting stellar reviews so I did not rush to see it (opportunity is also a factor). Contrast that to the release of Black Panther, which was also released only a couple of months before Infinity War, where the reviews were excellent and I made sure that I saw it in the cinema.

A lack of buzz around the film meant that I overlooked it. I also thought that it was really late in the MCU series to introduce a major character.

However, after a bit of a muddled start, I really enjoyed the film. For staunch MCU fans there is a lot to recommend the film – it is as much a film about Nick Fury as Captain Marvel and answers a number of questions that I didn’t realise I had, such as how Fury lost his eye and how the Avengers got their name.

If you haven’t seen it – and especially if you haven’t seen Endgame yet – it is well worth checking out (it’s always best to see the series in order of release and, as ever, stick around for the credits). Is it up there with your “Iron Man”, “Infinity War” or “Black Panther”? No. Does it feature in the second rung of very solid episodes like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”? Yes indeed.

Film review: The Right Stuff

This is the film version of Tom Wolfe’s brilliant book of the same name that I read a while back.  For a film that is now over 30 years old it looks remarkably good.

I really like how it is true in many ways to the book but also has it’s own personality. This is due, in part, to a brilliant (young!) cast and a sometimes morbid sense of humour. I think the film is actually better than the book at keeping the stories of the prospective astronauts (John Glenn et al) and the test pilots (Chuck Yeager) in parallel.

The film clocks in at over 3 hours but for me it flew by (…) and I enjoyed every minute.

• Spare Cycles:  Mini review: “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

• The Guardian:  Tom Wolfe obituary

• The Guardian:  Sam Shepard obituary

• BBC Radio 4: The Infinite Monkey Cage (BBC Radio 4) – Astronaut Special

Mini review: “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe


This is the story of the early (American) pioneers of supersonic flight (breaking the sound barrier) and the space race. And it is astounding.

Early on the book tries to nail what it was in the personalities of the men – test pilots from the Navy and Air Force – who risked their lives to go faster or higher than the others, to prove to the world that they were one of the special few at the top of their game. They had the skills, the ego, the guts… the right stuff.

As the book progresses it changes from expressing the concepts and ideas as to what constitutes the Right Stuff to a very character-driven history, and it definitely gets better as it goes along.  The first few chapters are written very much in the Tom Wolfe style – with lots of exclamation! – and quite a lot of repetition.  The repetition used for stylistic effect works well.  The repetition to ram an idea down your throat, not so much.

But then the story starts to blossom, the forcefulness of the writing style fades into the background and you get enveloped in the feel of the events.  It is like you are being given privileged access to a special time and place; you are invited to participate in the thrill of being on the cutting edge.  You are getting insight into achievements that will change history and the way that people look at the world.

The narrative focuses very much on the people involved but undeniably the two stars are ace pilot Chuck Yeager and the astronaut John Glenn.  It was amazing how little I knew about the rest of the people, in particular the other 6 astronauts chosen to take part in the early space missions.  I kept myself away from Wikipedia so that their stories were new to me, but these are names that have faded in the collective memory. How?

By the end of the book I was enthralled, and when I finished I had to spend a little time just thinking about the scale of the achievements involved and the sheer joyous ride I had been on.  I’m sure there are several excellent and more conventional histories of the space race, but Tom Wolfe has pulled off something very special here.  He has managed to bring out the emotion and the pure magic of the events.