July 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. For those space aficionados who were around to experience it, the name of Norman Mailer will forever be associated with the Apollo programme because of his 1970 book A Fire on the Moon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). Mailer was already a well-known writer who commanded large advances and whose name was printed 20 times larger than the cover title.
Thanks to Taschen’s high production values, this new book is a far cry from the entirely unillustrated volume from 1970, being a sumptuous full colour, 27 x 33cm hardback with fold-outs. Sacrilege though it would be, one almost feels compelled to scalpel out the full-page photos and frame them! All the classic NASA archive shots are here: the flight-suited astronauts leaning on a massive globe of the Moon; the families - dressed in the 70’s pallet of yellows and browns - grouped around the same globe; and, of course, Aldrin standing on the lunar surface with Armstrong and the lunar module reflected in his visor. Appropriately, there is also a double-page spread of the only still of Armstrong on the surface, which features him working in the shadow of the Lunar Module.
The writing complements the artistry of the images. In A Fire on the Moon, Mailer pioneered the ‘human narrative’ approach for space history, including technical details where necessary but eschewing the pedantic, ‘trainspotter’ presentation of most space writers of the time. In Moonfire, the text of which is excerpted from the original book, the literary approach seems slightly old-fashioned, but maintains the author’s boyish fascination for rockets that were “the height of a football field set on end”.
His description of a pre-launch press conference really puts the reader in the room: “The astronauts walked with the easy saunter of athletes”; Aldrin “talked like a hardworking drill”; Armstrong was “apparently in communion with some string in the universe others did not think to play”. This is classic Mailer.
Although a cover review calls it “one of the most stunning coffee-table books ever published”, it is so much more than that! Well worth a look… and a read.