The Vacation Guide to the Solar System: An excellent introduction

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The Vacation Guide to the Solar System by Olivia Koski and Jana GrcevichThe Vacation Guide to the Solar System by Olivia Koski & Jana Grcevich

Vacation Guide to the Solar System: Science for the Savvy Space Traveler! Kindle Edition by Olivia Koski (Author), Jana Grcevich (Author)The Vacation Guide to the Solar System is an engagingly informative non-fiction tour of our nearest planets in a unique format by Olivia Koski and Jana Grcevich, though one better suited (or perhaps, space-suited) for younger readers or those with only a cursory knowledge of the planets and moons.

Koski and Grcevich present their information just as the title implies, as a Fodors/AAA-guide to each of the planets as well as several of their respective moons. Each planet/moon system gets its own chapter, which opens with a single page of quick facts, such as diameter, mass, gravity, average temperature, distance from Earth, etc. The text part is divided up into several segments: Weather and Climate, When to Go, Getting There, When You Arrive, Getting Around, What to See, Activities, What’s Nearby. After the official eight planets, Pluto gets a chapter that also includes in its What’s Nearby section several Kuiper Belt objects.

The Vacation Guide to the Solar System is a light look at the solar system, but that doesn’t mean it falls down on the informative aspect, as the science is solid and up-to-date (though I was a little surprised there was no mention of New Horizons in the Pluto section) and laid out in clear, easy-to-follow fashion. The various Getting There segments, for instance, don’t just simply cover how long it would take, but also discuss slingshot paths, gravity assists, and Hohmann transfer orbits, as well as various means of propulsion, such as ion, chemical, and nuclear. The authors also do a nice job of using the “fun” aspects to explain the scientific elements, such as when they employ skydiving as a vehicle to discuss the makeup of a planet’s atmosphere, along with its pressure and gravity. Other activities include biking, surfing, and ultimate Frisbee (the first time I’ve seen ultimate referenced in a science book I believe; as a player I was highly appreciative!).

One aspect that I think separates it from many books, and one that might be especially pleasing to younger readers or those new to the concepts, is how frequently the authors reference concrete sensory details that, in my experience, are often left out of other such works, such as how Venus’ sky is “bathed in a perpetual apricot hue” as compared to how “When night falls [on Mercury] an amber-yellowish glow encases the sky like sodium-vapor lights in a parking lot.” Or how sound is perceived differently, as on Venus, where “in the thick, soupy atmosphere, everything sounds much deeper than usual, rich in bass” while on Jupiter “the thunder is unrecognizable — not a low rumble, but an eerie screech, shifted in pitch by the abundant hydrogen and helium.” There were a good number of these nice sorts of tiny details, little touches that made me not care much at all that I already knew a good amount of the material. I also enjoyed the references to specific “sights,” such as particular craters, valleys, and the like.

Some may quibble at the occasional flights of fancy — the floating cities of Venus, for instance, but personally I thought they enhanced the inspirational aspect of the book and they make up a tiny fraction of the text. It’s true some of the activities get repetitive by about two-thirds of the way in, but again, this was a minor issue.

A major plus to the book, on the other hand, are the absolutely wonderful posters that are liberally sprinkled throughout, done in the travel poster mode by artist Steve Thomas. If these people aren’t creating prints of these and selling them online, they’re crazy. Or maybe a coffee table book version.

If you have a young person in your life who is interested in space, or if you want to inspire an interest in space, or know an adult with some basic knowledge of our solar system and a healthy sense of curiosity, then The Vacation Guide to the Solar System is really a perfect choice as a gift and one I’d highly recommend. If you’re already relatively well-versed in the planets, then the book is probably not for you as a purchase, but I’d still recommend picking it up as a library book for the few tidbits you might not know and for those gorgeous posters.

Publication date: June 6, 2017. Packed with real science and fueled by imagination, a beautifully illustrated guide to traveling in our solar system Imagine taking a hike along the windswept red plains of Mars to dig for signs of life, or touring one of Jupiter’s sixty-four moons where you can photograph its swirling storms. For a shorter trip on a tight budget, the Moon is quite majestic and very quiet if you can make it during the off-season. With four-color illustrations and packed with real-world science, The Vacation Guide to the Solar System is the must-have planning guide for the curious space adventurer, covering all of the essentials for your next voyage, how to get there, and what to do when you arrive. Written by an astronomer who presents at the Hayden Planetarium and one of the creators of the Guerilla Science collective, this tongue-in-cheek reference guide is an imaginative exploration into the “What if” of space travel, sharing fascinating facts about space, the planets in our solar system, and even some moons!

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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One comment

  1. I know some little ones who, when they’re older, will love this book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Bill!

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