Review | The Vinyl Frontier

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record by Jonathan Scott

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In 1977, NASA approved a team led by Carl Sagan to create a message representing Earth and humanity that would travel into deep space on the Voyager probe.  The message would contain a playlist of music, sounds, and pictures; essentially it would be a mixtape introduction to Earth for any extraterrestrials that may discover the probe at some point in time.

“When a group of scientists, artists and writers gathered in Ithaca, New York, to begin work on the Voyager Golden Record, they were attempting to capture the soul of humanity in 90 minutes of music.” *

One of the first decisions to be made was how the message would be delivered as it needed to be preserved for a long period of time in the harsh elements of space.  A record would allow a great deal of information to be preserved in a compact space and the groove could carry not just sound but also encoded photographs.

Next, there needed to be some basic criteria for selecting music and images.  An important early decision was to avoid politics and religion (which would confuse extraterrestrials) and to skip artwork entirely; the music would be the art and the photographs would be the facts.  Concerned that images of war and violence could be seen as a threat, the group decided to leave this part of history out of an introduction to extraterrestrials and instead promote Earth as seen “on a good day”.

The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record is a fascinating look at the group who created the record with insight into the music and photographs that were selected.  The author conducted interviews with those directly involved in selecting the content on the Golden Record and compiled many facts from the testimony of the Voyager team found in Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record, written in 1978, just months after the probe launch.

There is some “info-dumping” with scientific explanations that are at times overwhelming and/or confusing for readers with little-to-no background in the field (*ahem* that would be me!), Scott does an excellent job of discussing the facts in an entertaining and conversational way.

While The Vinyl Frontier focuses primarily on the music, it also gives readers a brief look into NASA’s opinion of the record and its message (and the one thing they didn’t want to send to ETs that could offend the American people… *spoiler alert: it was the female anatomy*) and what the U.S. government added at the last minute (*spoiler alert: it was a list of names of officials …because ETs will totally understand and appreciate four pages of names!*)

The Voyagers 1 and 2 both contain a copy of the Golden Record; a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk with an aluminum cover electroplated in uranium-238, which has a half life of almost 4.5 billions years.
I like to imagine extraterrestials finding the record sometime in the next billion years, understanding the mathematical instructions to play it, and hearing Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode for the first time in deep space.

Both Voyagers served us well, gathering data from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Nepture throughout the 1980’s.  Now, they’re cruising in deep space, carrying a message that may someday be heard by intelligent life we cannot even begin to fathom.

“Both spacecraft are still beaming back information about their surrounding through the Deep Space Network. We are still receiving readings from these amazing machines, almost half a century after their launch, with instruments aboard enabling technicians and astronomers on Earth to study magnetic fields, investigate low-energy charged particles, cosmic rays, plasma, and plasmas waves. Both Voyagers are expected to keep at least one of their functioning instruments going into the mid-2020s.” *

If you’d like to see a list of all the images, music, sounds, and greetings on The Golden Record, along with photographs of its manufacturing, visit the link here.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Sigma and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review. The Vinyl Frontier: The Story of the Voyager Golden Record is scheduled for release on May 21, 2019.

*Quotes included are from a digital advance reader’s copy and are subject to change upon final publication.

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Review | Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

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“History is a merciless judge. It lays bare our tragic blunders and foolish missteps and exposes our most intimate secrets, wielding the power of hindsight like an arrogant detective who seems to know the end of the mystery from the outset.”

This book has been showing up on every recommended list I’ve looked at this year and has gotten a lot of love on my favorite bookish app, Litsy.
I knew next to nothing about the Osage murders because it was something skipped over in history class and for that very reason, I wanted to read Killers of the Flower Moon.

In the 1920’s, the Osage Indian Nation were the richest people per capita in the entire world thanks to the oil running under their land.  Men from all walks of life came to lease land and drill for oil; making and breaking fortunes in the blink of an eye.

While the Osage were the rightful heirs to this fortune, the U.S. government decided many were not competent enough to handle their own finances and they were assigned white guardians.  The Osage had to receive approval from their guardian to withdraw any of their own money and had to account for every dime they spent.  It was despicable and humiliating.
These laws also caused local businesses to price gouge the Osage people for every item and service imaginable.

Each member of the Osage on the tribal roll received a headright; a share in the tribe’s mineral trust.  For this reason, many white people scrambled to become part of their families in hopes of inheriting a headright or to become a guardian so they could simply steal from them.

Killers of the Flower Moon tells the story of several members of the Osage tribe who died under mysterious circumstances or were blatantly murdered.  David Grann, a writer at The New Yorker, does an exceptional job of researching and reporting on the sensational murders and how the case essentially created the Federal Bureau of Investigation that we know today.

This is really a shocking true crime novel that details the rampant racism and greed that led to countless murders – there is truthfully no way of ever knowing the exact number – and deception so great even the FBI barely grazed the surface of a massive conspiracy against the Osage.

While many reviews have criticized Grann for his matter of fact reporting, I appreciated that he delivered the information without including his own personal opinions or beliefs.  The details presented are shocking and horrifying enough:  the government wanted to control every aspect of the Osage nation down to how they spent their money, and a vast majority of the country still treated Native Americans as if they were wild animals rather than human beings.
The actions of those involved in either systematically eliminating or cheating members of the Osage nation proved who the wild animals to fear really were.

This information has been available since the 1920s and yet we’re just now getting a clear picture of how deep the conspiracy against the Osage actually goes thanks to Grann’s investigation.

If you’re a fan of true crime, mystery, and lesser known history I highly recommend picking up a copy of Killers of the Flower Moon.

Review | Josephine Baker’s Last Dance

Josephine Baker’s Last Dance by Sherry Jones

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I must say I didn’t know very much about Josephine Baker.  It wasn’t until I read the short children’s picture book biography in the Little People, Big Dreams series to my daughter that I learned she wasn’t just an entertainer but a woman who fought for Civil Rights equality and joined the French Resistance to destroy Hitler during World War II.

The short children’s biography was so brief and yet I was fascinated!  When I found Josephine Baker’s Last Dance on NetGalley earlier this year, I absolutely had to request it.

This book brings to life Baker’s most monumental moments, beginning in childhood when her mother hired her out as a servant to white people in St. Louis.  She suffered abuse not only at the hands of the people she served but also her own mother and step-father.

With an unstable home life, Josephine found herself living and sleeping with men when she was still a child.  Her love of music inspires her to perform and she begins touring with all black revues as a dancer.  She eventually makes her way to Paris, where she finds that segregation does not exist.

Josephine’s career explodes; she becomes the first black woman to dance nude on the Paris stage and the first to lead a movie and star in an opera.  Along the way she falls in love often and has a fierce sexual appetite, taking lovers in most cities she tours.

When Hitler gains control in Germany, Josephine will not forget the Nazis who scared her in Berlin and vows to bring them down.  She’s given the opportunity a few years later when she’s recruited in to the French Resistance; collecting important information from the government officials who occupy her night clubs and hope to seduce her.

Disgusted with segregation in America, Josephine refused to return to her home country to many years.  When she does return on tour, she is shocked to find nothing has changed and eventually chooses to dedicate her life to fighting prejudice.

Josephine Baker’s life was a whirlwind — there are so many daring and thrilling things she did in her life from a troubled teen searching for affection she didn’t receive at home, to flirtatious showgirl, to government spy, to Civil Rights activist!

The amount of fame Baker had in Europe was astonishing.  She was the sweetheart of Paris who could do no wrong for a time and I can only compare it to the stardom of modern day pop stars like Britney Spears in the early 2000’s.

Powerfully written, at times brazen and always unapologetically truthful like the woman herself, Sherry Jones has documented both the triumphs and tragedies of Josephine Baker, the bold woman who was ahead of her time in every way.

Thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.  Josephine Baker’s Last Dance is scheduled for release on December 4, 2018.

 

Review | Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge

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Mary’s Monster is a strange but beautiful graphic novel biography written in verse.  The black and white illustrations are as haunting as the life of Mary Shelley herself.

Mary is barely sixteen when she falls in love with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  She runs away with the married (but supposedly separated) man and gives birth to a daughter who dies just days later.  During this time, Shelley’s wife also gives birth to a child, and he begins an affair with Mary’s step-sister Claire.

Drama much?

Mary believes in free love but is jealous and hurt by Shelley’s additional relationships.  They’ve been shunned by society for their unconventional lifestyle and while Percy Shelley is a talented poet, his work is overlooked and he is often mocked and ridiculed.

Mary, Percy, their newborn son, and Claire travel to Lake Geneva where they stay with the popular poet Lord Byron.  While he’s known for scandalous behavior, he is held in high regard for his work.  He agrees with the free love lifestyle and gets along well with his guests.
On a rainy night, the group begin to tell scary stories and a challenge is made by Byron for each guest to create a ghost story.

After listening to macabre discussions of animated corpses of animals and creating life, Mary has nightmares that set in motion the world’s most enduring horror story:  Frankenstein.

Around this time, more drama begins.
Mary’s step-sister Claire has fallen in love with Lord Byron and is now pregnant with his child.  Byron rejects Claire and decides he will take the baby once it’s born.  There is nothing Mary or Claire can do to stop this since women have not even basic rights.

While awaiting the birth of Claire’s child, Mary is also once again pregnant.  She receives a letter from her sister Fanny who has fallen into depression since the family name has been ruined by the actions of Mary and Claire.
Fanny commits suicide by opium overdose and their father tells everyone she has gone to visit friends abroad to save face.
Soon after, Shelley’s wife Harriet is found dead in the Thames River, considered a suicide.  Rumors fly that she was pregnant with Shelley’s baby.
Mary blames herself for both the death of her sister and her lover’s wife.

Through all the scandal and drama, Mary continues to write Frankenstein.  She has been rejected by her family, persecuted by society, abandoned in her time of need multiple times by the man she loves, and she uses all the hurt and anger to create a creature that will captivate readers for hundreds of years.

Frankenstein is published anonymously in 1818 and is condemned by reviewers for the atheistic views of the unknown author.
Percy Shelley’s new poem is ignored by critics and he is instead targeted once again for his lifestyle and accused of driving his wife to suicide.

They flee London under heavy scrutiny and soon lose their son and second daughter to malaria.
The couple settle in Italy and eventually have another son and both begin to write once again.
Percy Shelley is haunted by his demons and disillusioned with his writing.  After sailing off into a storm, his body is found washed ashore ten days later.

At the age of twenty four, Mary Shelley has lost three babies and is now a widow.  Estranged from her last relative, Claire, she returns to England with her son where she finds Frankenstein has been adapted into a play.  Lord Byron publishes letters that prove Mary wrote the novel and she is somewhat redeemed in society though she chooses to have a small circle of friends away from gossip.

This is the bizarre true story of the life of Mary Shelley:  full of scandal, abusive relationships, and passion that makes for a whole lot of drama.  While most people during her lifetime were interested in her shocking lifestyle and the gossip it stirred up, today people are intrigued by the events that led to her enduring classic novel Frankenstein and her defiance of the period’s restrictions on women.  She challenged ethical beliefs, the laws of nature, and women’s rights in both her writing and the life she led.  It’s safe to say Mary Shelley was far ahead of her time.

This was a quick and interesting read written in verse and full of illustrations.  I love that the author gave an accurate historical account of the life of Mary Shelley through poetry relying on emotion while also interpreting how the profound events shaped her creative masterpiece.

The graphic novel biography genre is relatively new but I’m already a fan of this unique style!