On a recent episode of a podcast I regularly listen to, the hosts got into a fevered debate about whether anyone had ever had sex in space. All I could do was roll my eyes; obviously, they hadn’t read the 2010 classic Packing For Mars, in which perpetual delight source Mary Roach researches that exact question with a determination and curiosity that’s as admirable as it is gigglingly puerile. Along with Jon Ronson, Roach is the current master of a certain kind of open-minded investigative non-fiction, taking the idle questions that float through our minds every day—”What happens when I donate my body to science?” “Did Elvis really die on the toilet?” “What’s the grossest thing about having to poop in space?”—and attacking them with glee. (“Sometimes it gets used as a crash-test dummy,” “Pretty much,” and “It involves plastic bags, antibacterial gel, and the natural process that turns human waste into gas,” respectively, by the way.) And while her other books, like Stiff, Bonk, and Gulp, are all great, none of them can beat Packing, which is a must-read for anyone with even the slightest curiosity about space, the weird things it does to the human body, and all of the amazing efforts scientists, engineers, and astronauts have devoted to overcoming them over the years. [William Hughes]
Illustrator Bill Presing has put together a booklet of temporary tattoos featuring working women, or as he defines them, “the new pin-up,” “who does her own experiments, flies through space, and chops her own trees.” As someone who has long considered a pin-up tattoo, but is always far too chicken-shit to get one, these are perfect for me. This portfolio includes 48 tattoos from six different sheets that include firefighters, fighter pilots, boxers, foresters, scientists, and astronauts and their assorted accessories. As the promotional explanation puts it, Presing’s work adds a “feminist twist to the classic pin-ups,” and shows off “the beauty of hard working women.” They also seem like something that would be really fun at birthday parties regardless of the attendees’ ages. [Becca James]
The most recent work published by Blankets and Habibi creator Craig Thompson is specifically aimed toward younger readers, a fact lost to me until well after I finished reading it. The tone of the Space Dumplins collection is certainly lighter than his previous work, but it’s such a propulsive, visually intricate adventure, it never feels relegated to any particular age group. In keeping with creating appeal for younger audiences, Dumplins is also Thompson’s first full-color book. He has always maintained a very approachable style, but Dave Stewart’s colors open up his work even further by softening Thompson’s expressive brushstrokes in service of emphasizing strong outlines and shapes. Combined with the book’s heavy, glossy pages, Space Dumplins is a very tactile and inviting package.
The story concerns a young girl named Violet who lives in a grubby spaceship trailer park. In a galaxy plagued by random attacks from massive space whales, marginalized families like Violet’s are vulnerable, while wealthy citizens live in the relative safety of fortified space stations. When Violet’s dad disappears after agreeing to a dangerous mission that he hopes will improve his family’s fortune, Violet and two of her buds jet off to find him. The story is gee-whiz exploration, but Thompson being Thompson, Space Dumplins still manages to incorporate numerology, predestination, crippling religious visions and allegory, and conversations about class entitlement. Sometimes a story about unknowable space whales isn’t just a story about unknowable space whales. [Nick Wanserski]