The story begins with me travelling in the outback of Australia, heading off to see the experimental launch of a scramjet at Woomera in South Australia. We visit China, where rockets were invented, India, where they came to the attention of the British, Fort McHenry where the British used them against the Americans, Sacramento, where I interviewed retired rocket chemists at Aerojet, Gallipoli, and quite a few other places as well.
Rockets had a chequered career, most of the military hated them, but they won World War II by giving Allied forces the edge against battleships, submarines, fortified coastlines and tanks. Later, rockets won the unfought Battle of Berlin when the Soviets blockaded it, and later still, the space race and the missile race left the US as the only remaining superpower with an intact economy. Rockets chewed up large amounts of German resources that might otherwise have gone to nuclear weapons.
I look also at the social effects of technology, one of my key interests, and how it generally takes 50 years for a technology to fully mature. When it does, it has usually turned out to be something very different from what people expected at the start. The Internet, for example, was to let geeks communicate, and to provide communications secure from nuclear war — through the Web, it has turned into much more, and who would have expected people to publicise their books there?
The book was all I hoped for. Mind you, once a book is written, a writer will settle for anything, just about: there is a special joy in getting the actual book and turning the pages.
The book after that, on poisons, is through the fourth draft, and will be out in 2004. My earlier book, Bittersweet, is now available around the world.
To see some of the stuff that will be in the book, visit an article I wrote on Hyshot for the people at ABC Online's The Slab.
An excerpt from the book will appear in the Spectrum section of the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday July 12, and an essay on rockets will appear in Australia's best science magazine, Australasian Science in August.
The home page of this set is here.