I grew up a space kid, thrilled by rockets, astronauts, cosmonauts, the Great Out There. The memory is strong, vivid—and entirely wrong. When the Eagle landed it was p. Here are five books—fiction and nonfiction—that recapture that wonder of that memory. I have to talk about this classic novel. Written by Robert A. Heinlein and published in , three years before the moon landing, it feels like a sibling of the Apollo project. It stands like a monolith over every moon story since. There had been moon bases in fiction before, but they were anemic, sterile: bubbles of white Westerners engaged in research.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress gave us a whole world that was noisy, crowded, smelly, colorful, diverse, and chaotic. It was alive. The politics are interesting only to a year-old and riddled with American exceptionalism, the women characters are barely there, and the professor character—the inevitable Heinlein pontificating windbag—should be thrown out the airlock in chapter three. Yet I love it. My dad owned a Ford Explorer when I was just learning to drive. Maybe older than that. The exact year hardly matters. I remember it breaking down a number of times.
The passenger side window leaked when it rained. The airbag light was always on, convincing me that it was going to explode out of the steering wheel at any moment.
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There are so many different vehicles flooding the market these days that it would be impossible to closely follow the evolution of each one. This serious play to make a luxury statement is especially evident the moment you climb aboard. When did the Explorer go from a little frumpy to really fancy? Rugged and economical has been utterly replaced with nearly every luxury trick in the book. Baseball mitts. Panelled libraries. Hazel eyes and chestnut hair and quick-to-tan skin. This color preference was controversial among the followers of pink and yellow, almost disqualifying because of poop, which only gave Andrew more enthusiasm for the shade.
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Firewood and bourbon. A cabin in the woods. Other people were browsing as well, most in intimate pairs, circling the various models. Some had their hands buried in pockets, perhaps fearing that their touch might imply a binding agreement. Others were bolder: opening and shutting doors, sitting behind the wheel, checking the storage capacity. Willa fell into this camp. Within minutes her hand prints were everywhere, and Andrew envisioned himself trailing her with a chamois cloth and returning things to their primal polish. Nothing to see here. And then a certain emptiness filled the space—or hollowed the space where the image had been, leaving behind a delayed silence.
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Recently he had found himself wading into Wikipedia, usually after waking up in the middle of the night, whereupon he would try to simulate a soothing conversation via hyperlink. He was standing behind them, inconspicuous yet committed, as though wearing suburban camouflage. He seemed a veteran of something difficult, his sensitivities hard-earned. And here it was. The moment. The negotiation before the negotiation, their small talk hardening into chrome and steel. Andrew braced himself for the impact of buying and selling, of putting cold, hard shape to time.
Sweat started to gather along his hairline. A drop coasting down his spine. How easily he could turn into water, drown in his own insecurities. The man turned to Andrew as though they were co-conspirators in this charming plot. He introduced himself—Brian something—which forced the other side of the exchange, Willa giving her name with a wave. Now they were three: Andrew and Willa and Brian. Brian was in his late fifties, early sixties.
Car salesman seemed a second career; Andrew imagined him once working outdoors. Comfortable in the elements. This Brian probably had grown children who could flee on their own in case of emergency—maybe when the Cascadia subduction zone finally fulfills its predicted catastrophe. Andrew wished he had never read that article.
But no. Everyone in Portland had talked about the Really Big One, with its estimates of local apocalypse.
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Earthquake and tsunami. Liquefaction and inundation. All the horror running just below their feet.
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The terminal math of those odds and percentages. How do you know when to run? And this was two years ago, when the world seemed more solid. And then a quick explanation of the merits of the boxer engine: the fuel mileage, the surprising power. As Brian talked, Andrew feigned paying attention, like so much of his listening nowadays.
Words seemed cored of meaning. He should probably have brought along a friend. Maybe Ingrid or Ron. Someone to guide him through this exchange. Focus him. Do more than just nod and nod again. They walked down Ankeny Street, toward the main Wentworth Subaru lot.
As they walked, Brian made it clear that these were just the vehicles that were in stock—always vehicles, Andrew noted, never cars—and he could always get other vehicles from other dealers within the I-5 corridor. The air itself seemed exhausted by these swings. Brian carried a briefcase, which gave him a covert vibe. Construction was happening all over this part of Portland, the industrial becoming more residential by the month.
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