The Premise: in an effort to escape the legacy of his politically derided father, Jakub undertakes a mission into space to investigate a strange dust cloud covering Venus. But the glory of being an astronaut is undercut by the impact his mission and newfound fame have on his marriage, as well as his sanity.
After penetrating the cloud, I was to gather samples with the help of Ferda, the most sophisticated piece of Space engineering to ever come from Central Europe, and study them inside my custom designed lab on the way back to Earth. This was the reason the Space Program of the Czech Republic had recruited me, a tenured professor of astrophysics and accomplished researcher of space dust at Univerzita Karlova. They had trained me for spaceflight, basic aerospace engineering, and suppression of nausea in zero gravity. They asked if I would take the mission even if there was a chance of no return. I accepted.
Thoughts: I’m not sure I even have the vocabulary to explain how wonderful Spaceman of Bohemia is. It’s dense and complex, particularly at the beginning, when significant amounts of background detail are almost dazzling. As if a plot about an experienced astronaut from the Czech Republic isn’t different and engaging enough, there’s a backdrop of complicated political drama too, with Jakub’s late father having played an unpopular role in a hated regime. In flashbacks, the narrative shows us the ways in which this affected Jakub both as a child and an adult. The combination of imaginative sci-fi with politics and family tragedy is irresistible; I was utterly enthralled by the story from start to finish.
The parts of the story set during Jakub’s ill-fated space mission are reminiscent of the film Moon, which I really liked; being alone in such an unimaginably unfamiliar environment has understandable effects on Jakub’s psyche, and his own questionable grip on reality means the reader can never be sure how ‘true’ his account of events is. I’ve seen Spaceman of Bohemia compared to The Martian too, which I can’t comment on as I haven’t read or watched it (I started the book but it appeared to be all about potatoes, so I parked it on the ‘maybe another time’ shelf). My feeling is that Spaceman of Bohemia is entirely its own thing: so original and stunning that it’s almost unbelievable.
In Conclusion: guess what? I loved this book. Have I mentioned that? It’s so different to most of what I read, so complex and sophisticated, such an enthralling narrative with absorbing characters. It’s going to the top of my list of best books about space.