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The Unfixed Stars Paperback – 16 Jul 2010
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'I absolutely loved this novel, which is based on real events . . . Byers evokes the character of Clyde - a difficult, simple man - with great warmth and wit. Another dimension to the story is the wonderful Felix DuPrie, the rich industrialist who comes West to find dinosaurs and, if possible, God. Think of the great open spaces of a John Steinbeck novel. Think of the gin-and-jazz era of Scott Fitzgerald sent through the prism of a fine modern imagination. The result adds up to a great saga of ideas. --Readers Digest
'An interesting and enjoyable take on the talk of the young man who found one of the Solar System's most famous inhabitants.' --BBC Focus Magazine
'The novel explores the disparities of Depression-era America, pits the rundown Lowell Observatory in Kansas against Harvard and adds in some interesting plots.' -- Choice magazine
'The Unfixed Stars is ambitious in its scope, but to read it is to entrust yourself to a writer in seemingly complete control . . . Byers strikes a gentle, generous tone in his narration, subtly inflecting it with their perspectives and idioms, and allowing each of his protagonists to arrive at moments of satisfaction, or optimism, or closure.' --Times Literary Supplement
'It is a rich mix of characters, and Byers handles them assuredly. He has the rare ability to make a multistranded story seem utterly coherent and seamless. Their tales are suffused with a lovely sense of the period . . . Above all there is a poetry in Byers's prose that is utterly mesmerising . . . This is a breathtaking, triumphant book . . . IIf a passing alien were to be curious about the hopes, dreams and fears of the species who launched the probe, The Unfixed Stars would be a good place to start.' -- The Times
'Byers writes with great style, bringing to life the flapper era of 1930s America . . . This novel proves a fascinating read however, providing a glimpse into a truly explosive time in history.' -- Liverpool Daily Post via Press association
'A myriad cast of delicately and sensitively drawn characters . . . The Unfixed Stars is not only about planets and space; it is about how human beings revolve around one another, acting and reacting according to other people's orbits - and, as the Earth needs the sun, we all need light and warmth in our lives.' --Daily Mail
'A myriad cast of delicately and sensitively drawn characters...The Unfixed Stars is not only about planets and space; it is about how human beings revolve around one another, acting and reacting according to other people's orbits - and, as the Earth needs the sun, we all need light and warmth in our lives.' --Daily Mail
'Byers writes with great style, bringing to life the flapper era of 1930s America...This novel proves a fascinating read however, providing a glimpse into a truly explosive time in history.' --Press Association
'The Unfixed Stars is ambitious in its scope, but to read it is to entrust yourself to a writer in seemingly complete control...Byers strikes a gentle, generous tone in his narration, subtly inflecting it with their perspectives and idioms, and allowing each of his protagonists to arrive at moments of satisfaction, or optimism, or closure.' --Times Literary Supplement
'It is a rich mix of characters, and Byers handles them assuredly. He has the rare ability to make a multistranded story seem utterly coherent and seamless. Their tales are suffused with a lovely sense of the period...Above all there is a poetry in Byers's prose that is utterly mesmerising...This is a breathtaking, triumphant book...If a passing alien were to be curious about the hopes, dreams and fears of the species who launched the probe, The Unfixed Stars would be a good place to start.' --The Times
'A particularly moving story'
A novel inspired by the true story of the farmboy Clyde Tombaugh and his discovery of the ninth planet, set in the last, vibrant, gin-soaked months of the flapper era. It's 1928 and Clyde Tombaugh, the boy who will discover Pluto, is out in the farmyard grinding the lens for his own telescope under the immense Kansas sky. A thousand miles away in Flagstaff, Arizona, the staff of Lowell Observatory are preparing to resume the long-interrupted search for Planet X. Meanwhile, the rich heir to a chemical fortune has decided to come west to hunt for dinosaurs and for God. And in Cambridge, a beautiful Mary is slipping into insanity while her heavyweight-champion boyfriend looks on certain he is about to lose her and determined to keep her at any cost. Following Tombaughs unlikely path, The Unfixed Stars touches on madness, mathematics, music, astrophysics, heavyweight boxing, dinosaur hunting, shipwrecks and what happens when the greatest romance of your life becomes the source of your lifes greatest sorrow.See all Product description
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Harvard boy Alan "Jim" Barber, bitter at losing the brilliant but flighty Florence to the drunken playboy Dick Morrow but still naming a comet after her. The deeply troubled but beautiful Mary, convinced she had a tusk complete with it's own "rider" on her head but still turned the head of every man including the devoted ex-boxer Edward Howe. The fabulously wealthy Felix du Prie who turns to dinosaur (fossil) hunting almost on a whim, his stand-offish mother always in tow but not helping his cause, especially on the boat.... All these characters and more, gradually gravitate towards Arizona where farm-boy cum telescope maker Clyde "Kansas" Tombaugh painstakingly photographs the night sky in the hunt for the elusive Planet X. The self-orchestrated death of one of the characters towards the end was a genuinely moving scene.
You don't need to be geeky to enjoy this as the author skilfully slips the scientific parts into the story in such a way that it is never a difficult read and makes astronomy seem almost exciting with it's challenges and rivalry. Where it rambles, it is a good ramble along a scenic path as Byers has an effortless but charming and often witty way with words. The Unfixed Stars has a semi-epical feel to it with a flavour of The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath, particularly in the latter stages when the crash of `29 occurs and fortunes dried up quicker than the farmlands. He captures the era perfectly, with America booming and rich eccentrics like du Prie making their personal voyages of discovery before the hard times hit. It reminded me of Giles Foden's Turbulence and like that book was an excellent insight into the pre-computerised science of not-so recent times but with the human element playing the bigger and more satisfying part.
Don't be put off by the cheesey Gone with the Wind style cover, this is a very original, interesting and entertaining book and whilst it flirts with the spectre of randomness at times it is by far the best I've read this year.
Whilst the people in the observatory are looking for the theorised 'Planet X', a very rich heir is trying to find some meaning and purpose in his life and has started to dig for dinosaur skeletons. This in itself makes a nice contrast, some looking to the heavens and others to the ground for some sort of purpose. As well as this you have people's relationships, how they interact with one another, and how they feel about themselves, which also touches on obsession and madness.
If you are looking for just a quck read about Clyde Tombaugh and the finding of Pluto then you should really look somewhere else. If on the other hand you are looking for something a bit slower paced and more introspective, then this could well be the book for you.
This is a re-imagining of Tombaugh's life, from a frustrating beginning on his parent's Kansas farm where he ground his own mirrors and made scientific breakthroughs in his father's cattle shed and his desperation to escape and study at university.
The discovery of Pluto takes a backseat to the characters, the great and good of the university, Tombaugh's friends and colleagues, his family, the girlfriends and wives, the breakdown of one character, the marriage of another, but the science runs through the whole, a thread that binds it all together but never gets in the way of the story.
Very readable. Long but not over-long and always enjoyable.
I read the book because I like astronomy and am interested in the history of science. On that front the book was pretty much a waste of time, given that it takes forever to get to the point and there are three other stories competing for space in the narrative.
Some of the other strands are interesting and I suppose the link between the stories of people searching for something in the sky and other seeking evidence of the ancient past by looking for dinosaur bones in the sand and then the strands on real mental illness and the dangers of obsession could all been seen as terribly symbolic and clever. Or a bit contrived.
The book is well-written but has some interesting stylistic tics including lengthy dialogue often written in a local dialect and large chunks written from the perspective of an all-seeing narrator in the present tense, which I found a bit wearing.
If you like period novels or if you like the minutiae of relationships and the stresses and strains on them, then you may enjoy this book. And it does have some very evocative descriptions of place and period.
Personally I found it slow, contrived and, well, smug, but it would be boring if everyone liked the same thing.
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Michael Byers has written a wonderful book in The Unfixed Stars.Read more