Reviewed by: John J. Vester
Title: SpaceX: Starship to Mars – The First 20 Years
Author: Erik Seedhouse
NSS Amazon link for this book
Date: May 2022
Retail Price: $33.96/$32.31
Prolific author, Erik Seedhouse has issued another book (this must be about number 33 by now) on a hot aerospace topic. SpaceX fans will snap it up as they cheer Elon along on his quest for Mars. The book is so packed with detailed information, it reads like a reference work. It’s easy to see why Seedhouse is a regular with Swiss publisher Springer Nature, publisher of great scientific texts and tomes, along with many books like Seedhouse’s under its Springer-Praxis imprint.
True to its efforts to not harm the environment, most or all Springer’s books are available only as print on demand, so be prepared not to find it in stock at many online outlets.
The front papers of the book include an “About the Author” feature which must reflect Seedhouse’s entire CV. It’s impressive, and impressively detailed, giving a foretaste of the book itself.
The book under review is marked as the “Second Edition,” the original edition being dated 2013 (see NSS review), which, in the fast changing aerospace world, might as well have been in the past century.
There are volumes of information between the covers of this book. A wealth of facts, tables and illustrations provide the reader with more than he or she may have bargained for. I quickly felt like I was trying to drink from a fire hose. While critiquing the writing style of a dictionary entry or encyclopedia article may be pointless, a reader can hope for more from a human author intending to communicate his subject.
For example, the title promises that the book is about SpaceX’s Mars plans, and Starship. However, the short chapter on Starship is second to last in the book. It is preceded by the book’s longest chapter detailing, in excruciating detail, the risks inherent in going to Mars.
Prior to these two chapters, the book is an unfiltered, detailed recap of SpaceX’s history. If you want to know who won what NASA funding, for how much, under what acronymic program, and when, it’s all there. You have to wonder how much of what could have been left behind was brought forward from the first edition.
Dissatisfaction with this book as anything more than a repository of facts, stems from the fact that it feels like the author has only transcribed his source material. This feeling comes from the use of highly technical, medical terminology in Chapter 8—terms which are seldom and inconsistently explained. It felt like reading an advanced medical text. Other failings are obvious mistakes, like referring to “…cells like DNA.” The book is not helped by a disorganized, lecture-like approach and a certain lack of narrative flow.
It doesn’t feel like all this information was shaped by a human telling a story. There is no indication that the author himself interacted in any way with his subject. “Author’s Notes,” a common feature in non-fictional books, is noticeably absent in this one.
Seedhouse is obviously an accomplished, talented, active, successful fellow. In his “Acknowledgements” he thanks several reviewers and others who helped bring the book together. At the word and sentence level they did their job. At the paragraph and chapter level the book is disjointed.
As for the main subject? Musk’s plan to establish a human colony on Mars is mentioned, but little or no new information comes through. Lack of focus renders a potentially interesting book a disappointment.
© 2022 John J. Vester
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