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Arts and Culture

Book explores the cosmos through audio journals

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A new book follows a young boy as he tries to understand his family's legacy, communicate with aliens, and launch a rocket into space.

The book, See You in the Cosmos, is written by Detroit native Jack Cheng and follows Alex Petroski on a roadtrip across the country who records his adventures on an iPod.

Ben: Talk to me about the central idea of Into the Cosmos and the way it’s written as a series of audio journals and where that idea came from.

Jack: I was actually at home at my parents house. I have a younger brother and I was hanging out in his room snooping around on his bookshelf. He had a copy of Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot. It Recalled the time a few years before when I was listening to the radio show Radiolab. There’s an episode in which Sagan’s widow, Ann Druyan, was talking about how the two of them fell in love while they were putting together sounds for the Voyager golden record. I put the book back on the shelf, went to bed that night, the next morning when I woke up I had this idea for a story in my head about this boy trying to launch a rocket and his ipod into space. That’s how the idea to do it as recordings came about.

Ben: Describe briefly the idea of the golden record that wen onto the voyager.

Jack: So the Voyager I and II spacecraft they were bound for, their mission was to go to the outer planets and photograph these outer planets and kind of do these missions and tests. Their trajectory meant that at the very end of iti they would just keep going out of our solar system. So the idea of it was to put this golden record that would be a collection of sounds and they even encoded photographs of things from earth. The idea was that if extraterrestrial beings in other parts of our universe should come across this space craft or these records one day they would have a sense for what life on earth was like.

Ben: Set up for people what happens with Alex’s father.

Jack: Alex begins the story where he’s going to this rocket festival in New Mexico to launch this rocket. But then while he is there he discovers there is this person in Las Vegas who has the name and birthday of his father. He thinks that his father might still be alive so he goes with the help of Zed and Steve to see if his father really is alive and he ends up encountering this girl named Terra who is his half sister that he didn’t know his father had.

Ben: How well did you know your father? You were talking about going on the Greyhound bus and traveling this route. Was this a similar trip for you in trying to understand who this person was?

Jack: When I went on that road trip and was going to do that Greyhound bus ride what sparked that is he had found this journal that he had kept. The first weeks he had come to the states. It was describing that bus ride. It was all in Chinese and my Chinese is not that great so he sent it to me and I would plug it into Google Translate and work on translating it.

There were things like the first hamburger he ever had or they had a stop in Las Vegas where they had these claw machines next to the bus station. He had never seen anything like that before and was watching someone else put quarters to use the claw machines. That was described in his journal. So it’s party trying to understand what that was like for him.

Ben: Is there a portion of this you want to read for us?

Jack: Does it rain where you are? Is it raining as you're listening to this message? That would be really weird. Maybe it never rains where you are but it’s always cloudy because you’re a gas planet and you guys look like balloons with really long noses and instead of walking you float through the clouds.

Or maybe you’re like bright beams of light and someone looks at your planet from space it looks the way earth looks at night with all those glowing cities except instead of street lights or buildings glowing it’s just your people.

Or maybe you’re like mirrors and when you stand in front of someone you see a reflection of their reflection of your reflection of their reflection all the way to infinity. Benji’s mom has a round mirror in their bathroom that she uses for makeup and when I’m there I like to point that mirror at the mirror on the wall so it goes to infinity.

It’s not raining that hard but the tent makes it sounds so..

A lot more..

It’s so..

*light snoring*

*rain intensifying*

*rain easing*

*rain stopping*