In 1949, when I was 15, I was enthralled by my copy of The Conquest of Space, with sober text by German-born Willy Ley and spectacular color paintings by Chesley Bonestell, even then the dean of astronomical art. No one knew it wouldn’t be until 1961 when the first human entered (near) space, Yuri Gagarin’s 89 minute arc. Since the 1970s several countries have launced probes to explore our solar system, from the sun and moon to Neptune (lonely, distant Pluto is not protrayed).
Although a quite different sort of book, Michael Benson’s Beyond: Visions of the Interplanetary Probes (Abrams, 2003) is in many respects a comparable-albeit factual-survey of our solar system. This 11.5″ square, 319 page volume contains about 300 color and b&w photos of the amazingly varied solar system planets and their moons, some of them gatefolds (multiple fold-out pages). Many photos are mosaics of linked photos. If you browse websites such as those of NASA, you may have seen some of these images, but never with the breathtaking immediacy and detail of these reproductions, each clearly identified. There’s enough text, including a foreward by long-time SF writer/seer Arthur C. Clarke, to put it all in perspective. With two probes already in orbit around Mars and four more Mars missions launched in late 2003, this spectacular survey should interest many readers of all ages.
–Neil Barron, Gale’s What Do I Read Next? [hardcover guide to popular fiction aimed at public libraries], Volume 1, 2004