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Reaching heights, plumbing depths

Monday, November 18, 2013
By Robin Shukla

Choices couldn’t be more divergent than what we have today. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield is a happy book by a real astronaut about achieving the seemingly impossible in life, and it could well change the way we perceive ourselves in the Universe. Red Rain by R.L. Stine is from the horror genre and details the havoc wreaked on a town by a pair of orphaned twins who turn out to be terribly evil, deceiving everybody with innocent eyes and expressions.

Is a healthy scepticism better than optimism? 
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield is one of the most enjoyable reads in a long time and directly lets you know that a lot in life is extremely possible if you can just get around to doing it.

Hadfield was a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot who had decided to become an astronaut after he saw the Apollo moon landing on television, in a neighbour’s crowded cottage. He was only nine-years-old at that time. From then on, he studied hard, worked assiduously and gained qualifications that would enable him to attain his dream, whenever the right opportunities came along. And they did.  However, those anticipating the regular kind of pep-talk, the motivational manipulation that’s overly optimistic to the point of being almost unreal, just because the author is an astronaut, will find themselves a couple of constellations away. 

Colonel Hadfield is a down-to-earth astronaut when it comes to sorting his own mind out: It’s puzzling to me that so many self-help gurus urge people to visualise victory, and stop there. Some even insist that if you wish for good things long enough and hard enough, you’ll get them – and, conversely, that if you focus on the negative, you actually invite bad things to happen. Why make yourself miserable worrying? Why waste time getting ready for disasters that may never happen?

Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive. Likewise, coming up with a plan of action isn’t a waste of time if it gives you peace of mind. While it’s true that you may wind up being ready for something that never happens, if the stakes are at all high, it’s worth it…Anticipating the problem would be the best way to avoid it.

You don’t have to walk around, perpetually braced for disaster, convinced the sky is about to fall. But it sure is a good idea to have some kind of plan for dealing with unpleasant possibilities. For me, that’s become a reflexive form of mental discipline not just at work but throughout my life...But I’m not a nervous or pessimistic person. My optimism and confidence come not from feeling I’m luckier than other mortals, and they sure don’t come from visualising victory. They’re the result of a lifetime spent visualising defeat and figuring out how to prevent it.

Like most astronauts, I’m pretty sure that I can deal with what life throws at me because I’ve thought about what to do if things go wrong, as well as right. That’s the power of negative thinking.

That said, we must inform that Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions, was Commander of the International Space Station, the artificial satellite that orbits the Earth and has been home to experimenting scientists and astronauts and cosmonauts from time to time. Remember the Russian Mir and the US Skylab stations?  Hadfield has spent about 4,000 hours in space, some of which was spent breaking into a space station using a Swiss Army knife, had a crisis while clinging to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft, and has been the first Canadian to walk in space. Hadfield has, in fact, flown around 70 different types of aircraft, and a less talked about fact is that in a CF 18 Hornet jet fighter, Hadfield intercepted a Soviet Tupolev Tu 95 long-range bomber in the Canadian Arctic.

What this book promises is a close look at the lives of astronauts, which also affords to take a close look at our own planet from their eyes, and realise what a beautiful treasure we have entrusted to us by nature and how we need to do our best to keep it habitable for the coming generations. There are so many things on a astronaut’s check list and there are many instances where they have gone about righting wrong or dangerous situations like they were the most natural and okay things to happen. Quick reflex made usable with advanced and intricate knowledge of countless more things than us regular earthlings can even muster to count. Here is a book that can make you understand space travel, expand your canvas and help you reach for the stars.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
by Chris Hadfield 
Pan Macmillan

When the dead walk
Red Rain by R.L. Stine is a horror story written for adults and everybody else by a writer of Young Adult fiction! The review of the book above, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, looks up to the heavens and down again at the Earth, to delight in all the lofty ambitions and ideals that can be achieved if one just gets down to taking some steps seriously.  

This book looks far down, and dredges the stuff that we normally know comes from nether land aka hell. So you have Lea Sutter, a travel writer who has her own well read popular blog, going across to an island, eerily named Cape Le Chat Noir (chat noir is how the French refer to a black cat). Her trip coincides with a super hurricane also visiting the island, and due credit must be given to the author for detailing the devastation very lucidly. It is also mentioned for the record, that a similarly monstrous hurricane had all but flattened the island, killing off many in 1935.

In spite of hell about to break loose, Lea is invited to see a strange ritual of some shamanish high priest type offering a potion a bunch of men who puke, pass out and die. The dead men are then resurrected by the shaman, much to the fright and the fascination of those present. It is also reported that after the monster storm of 1935, the island was rebuilt by the survivors with the help of the walking dead - the resurrected victims who had perished in the hurricane!

In the mists, and blood red rain, Lea encounters a pair of 11 year-old twins, immaculately gentle with large dolorous eyes, and weak in structure, they immediately touch a chord in her heart, so much so that she goes ahead and adopts them. She takes them to her home in Long Island, South Carolina where the process of their integration with her family starts. Not much help from her young kids, a son and daughter, and also the husband, who has a bad feeling about the twins. And rightly so, the two turn out to be regular rogues, and reward his suspicions by getting him into some real nasty messes. That hubby has written a very controversial book on child care only compromises him further. As the story unravels, the two turn out to be boys from hell – there are murders and the taking over of children in mind and body. While one rogue can hypnotise his victims, the other can set them on fire by sending of a powerful zap from his reddened eyes. And everybody is in trouble. Lea was their first victim and they made her bring them across!               

Red Rain
by R.L. Stine
Simon and Schuster

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