Vacation Guide to the Solar System

Image of Vacation Guide to the Solar System: Science for the Savvy Space Traveler!
Release Date: 
June 5, 2017
Penguin Books
Reviewed by: 

What a fun book the Intergalactic Travel Bureau has brought us! Known more for popup events at festivals to connect people with science in new ways, this time they've taken the real science they share and extrapolated it into how people might actually vacation on other worlds in the near future. Vacation Guide to the Solar System is as thorough as any real-life travel guide, to the point where it could easily be updated every ten years to show the latest advances in our knowledge, until it actually is a real travel guide.

Very close to up-to-the-moment knowledge combines with wry wit and charming imagery to give us a tour of every planet and several non-planet stops from Mercury out to the Kuiper Belt where Pluto and the other dwarf planets like it exist. They show us the terrain, the places of historical significance, natural wonders of each planet, and tell us about any number of interesting things a person could do on each world, from exploring craters to skydiving through gas giants to crossing planet-sized glaciers. They even give warnings about the dangers of each place.

Each planet gets its own chapter and so feels like it's given enough attention to make its case. Each chapter starts with a retro-style travel poster and an at-a-glance rundown of things like the planet's mass, how heavy you'd be on it, what sort of air and weather it has, and how long it takes to get there—and to send a text message home when you do. It makes the pictures we all know of the planets seem more real, and maybe even reachable in a reasonable nearness to now.

Vacation Guide walks the line between actual provable knowledge and whimsical scifi extrapolation very well, and really highlights how different each world in our own little solar system is, not just the planets, but also the more interesting moons, dwarf planets, the rings of Saturn, the Asteroid Belt, and other such stops along the way. The cleverest part is that all of it is through the point of view of people looking for novel vacations, so it naturally takes impersonal facts and makes them very human. Makes them vital and visceral and much more real than text book details. It's an inspiring book because of that.

At the end, the authors even go so far as to talk about how to effectively and most easily return to Earth after these long and life-changing trips—the ones to the outer solar system can take decades—and gives our home planet a little of the same outsiders’ point of view as hypothetical travelers return with fresh eyes.

If this isn't how recreational space travel turns out in the real world, I hope it's actually even better, because otherwise it'll be very disappointing after reading this!