First American Into Space by Robert Silverberg (1961, Monarch Books)
In 1961, Monarch Books chose a then-young science fiction author with some nonfiction credits behind him to write a short (142 pages) book about the new and exciting field of space flight.
Using the minor influence from his publisher and his own bona fides as a recognizable name within the science fiction community (which had considerable crossover among those working on the new Project Mercury) he was able to conduct interviews of the effort to launch a man into space.
Silverberg focuses heavily upon Alan Shepard, the first American to escape Earth’s atmosphere, telling the story of the Mercury mission using him as the protagonist; Silverberg is a narrative storyteller, and the construction fits him naturally. He also details the stories of others in the project, however, names intimately familiar to American history buffs like John Glenn and Gus Grissom.
People already familiar with the Tom Wolfe book The Right Stuff have seen much of this before, in greater detail; but some of the material was not covered in that book, with the result of the Silverberg work effectively seeming like a supplemental piece to the far more famous later book.
Ultimately, it’s a fairly light book, which contains almost no direct excerpts from the interviews used for its construction and thus severely limits its value as a historical research piece. But it’s a pleasant reminder of a time when America was pushing ahead toward new horizons, and it’s a chance to remember a story which has been effectively overshadowed by the moon shot.
Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf (1981, St. Martins Press)
If you’ve seen the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, you know the most of the characters from this, the book which served as the movie’s inspiration. That’s about all you know, though.
In this book, Valiant is a true hard-nosed gumshoe of a private eye, and yet his characterization remains closest to the movie version. Roger, for example, has his own edges and actual secrets to hide. He’s also dead.
The rabbit made a version of himself out of temporary material – the same things toons use to make word balloons and the extra eyes that pop out of their heads, etc… – just before he was killed. It’s that temporary version of Roger who wants Valiant to determine who killed him, and he has a limited time, because Roger doesn’t know how long he’ll be around before vaporizing.
It’s not only a fun read, it’s a solid mystery and it’s also a fascinating example of how ideas are changed for movies. Many of the scenes in this book would not be allowed in a G or even a PG film. It’s a book for adults, whose core characters were lifted, modified, and dropped into an all-ages show.
It’s also got a new, beautiful edition out from Centipede Press, one of the best specialty presses producing books today… and it’s almost gone, with only two of the unsigned copies remaining. Perfect Christmas gift, for those with a fan of odd mysteries on their shopping list.