My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Slingshot: Building the Largest Machine in Human History is a hard science fiction novel based on a design concept developed by Keith Lofstrom in the 1980s. The story is about the construction and first trial of a launch loop, a machine designed to launch spacecraft at a much lower cost than the rockets in use today. The idea is fascinating and the description in this book is thorough and highly technical. Here's a sample:
As Slingshot continued to bootstrap itself skyward, teams on Baker and Jarvis performed virtually identical actions. Initially, they loosely passed the skytower cable through the anchoring loops in the sockets. As the rail moved up, they fed cable from a huge reel located on a barge in the harbor, keeping it loose, without tension. Simultaneously, they attached the lift-cable suspensor to the skytower cable every five hundred meters with aramid-based polymer rings. Both the lift and boost cable passed through meter-long tubes connected to each ring that were lined with neodymium magnets. These tubes restrained the cables without friction...
Although the technical descriptions in Slingshot are intricate, the relationships between the characters do not have that level of careful detail, lots of physical intimacy, but little emotional intimacy. There is one “relationship” that is explored in depth, but it's not between two living characters. It is between Margo, the chief engineer, and her mental image of Amelia Earhart, whose plane had gone missing in the same part of the world where the Slingshot project was taking place. Her feelings for her hero are intense.
Another issue I had with the story was the opposition to the launch loop. Any project of this magnitude is going to have problems. The pros and cons should be explored equally. In his novel, Williscroft created Green Force, an extremist group of naïve people who conduct violent opposition to the project and are easily dissuaded from their goals. As the story goes on, the reason for this weak opposition is revealed, but the book is left without any science based explanation of the cons.
Slingshot introduced me to an idea that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration. I loved reading about it and enjoyed the concept enough to check out the Wikipedia page for the launch loop ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Launch_... ). Slingshot is a perfect book for people who like reading about new technical ideas. I believe fans of shows such as National Geographic's Mars will enjoy this read.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, Hopatcong Vision Quest, and Under a Warped Cross
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