Sunday, 18 December 2016

Book Ramble: Coda: A Visit to the National Air and Space Museum

Trust that rabble-rouser Ian Sales to add a fifth entry to a series that he was referring to as a quartet from the moment the first book was published.  And trust him, as well, to make that fifth part stick out like a sore thumb from its four predecessors: a short story rather than a novella, and one that start out as a work of autobiography before - well, becoming something quite different.  Or maybe not.  Look, it's not the easiest of works to explain, okay?  And I haven't even mentioned the appendices...

The truth is that, despite what its author has been heard to claim and even what the cover says, A Visit to the Air and Space Museum isn't really the fifth book in the Apollo Quartet at all.  The clue's right there in the title: look, it's even the biggest word.  This is a coda, and an enticing one at that, an epilogue that finds yet another way to upend a series that had already gone to some bafflingly convoluted and self-referential places.  There's always been a level of in-jokery ticking away beneath the Quartet, but it's never been more visible than here.  And it helps that the in-jokes in question are both satisfyingly strange and rather funny - albeit funny in the specific way that a Zen kōan is, rather than, say, the way a good episode of Futurama is.

But if that implies that the book doesn't altogether stand alone then - well, no, it doesn't altogether.  I mean, A Visit to the Air and Space Museum has no shortage of its own merits: it's a satisfying short in its own right and I certainly wouldn't discourage the reader who's only picked at the series from taking a look.  However, this definitely isn't the place to start.  And even if you've already dipped into the Quartet, it isn't essential in the way that, say, All That Outer Space Allows is.  (Which it really is; if you haven't read All That Outer Space Allows, please make all reasonable efforts to do so.)

But as what it claims to be, A Visit to the Air and Space Museum does a fine job of deepening and enriching the series it concludes.  When the Apollo Quartet finally gets released in a collected edition - and seriously, why aren't publishers clamoring to make this happen? - this coda will find it's perfect place and function, I think.  Then again, that's hardly a reason not to give it a look in the meantime.  Especially since - oh, right! - you can download it for free.

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