Mitchell Begelman
Turn Right at Orion: Travels Through the Cosmos

Not your typical science fiction; that's for sure. This is one of the more unique books I've read. Begelman takes a subject that if presented in a traditional format may be rather dull to some readers and turns the typical science book dialogue on its head to really draw the reader in and experience his discussion first (OK, second) hand.

Rather than just describe black holes, galaxy centers, nebula, famous neutron stars, the Magellanic Clouds, star nurseries, and other "exotic" phenomena of the Universe, Begelman builds a space craft and takes us there for a close look/experience. The style is innovative and hopefully will be used by others. There is probably better written, more imaginative, and engrossing science fiction out there, but the science in such fiction is usually stretched beyond what we know, and the "facts" used are actually pure speculation. While the "plot" and spacecraft are fictitious in Turn Right at Orion, the science isn't. Therefore, the main character's curiosities are a bit deranged when compared with those of science fiction authors. Readers need to realize this and then forgive him for being greatly curious about getting a close up look at things he already knows about but then not being interested enough to drop in on Earth 100,000 years in the future (even though he flies nearby) to tell us what it is like.

I'm not sure exactly why, and other readers may disagree, but if you divided the book into roughly three equal sections, I found the first and last sections to be much more engrossing than the middle section. So if you enjoy the beginning, but you get to the middle portion of the book and have problems continuing, persevere and you may be glad you did.

A point that Begelman really drives home is the fluid nature of our Universe.

One cannot regard Orion as a "place" to visit, any more than one can regard "North America" as the destination for a two-week vacation. Suddenly, I saw my trip not as a sequence of visits to curiositites, each with its set of mechanisms--those of gravity, motion, and equilibrium--but as an exploration of process. (p. 132)
My journey had evidently shifted, from one of discovering how things are to one of perceiving how they change and evolve. (p. 184)
I recommend Turn Right at Orion to those with some familiarity with astronomy and at least a bit of interest in science fiction. You'll find yourself breaking out the binoculars or telescope on a warm summer evening or early morning to peer at M87, the Crab Nebula, or Betelgeuse in a way that you hadn't quite experienced before. I pulled out my copy of Skywatching more times while reading Turn Right at Orion than I have for any other book for pictures (as seen through telescopes of course), and then I'd head out back for a real view through my binocular aided eyes. Begelman has created some wonderful stuff to spark the imagination, excite the senses, and inform the curious.

(Although not written in a similar manner, if you enjoy the information provided in Turn Right at Orion I think you will also like Worlds Without End: The Exploration of Planets Known and Unknown.)

from the publisher:
This ingenious book is the account of an epic astronomical journey, a tale told by an early-twenty-first-century human sailor among the stars. The account is discovered, as an alien "translator's note" reveals, sixty million years in earth's future--the product of one man's amazing, revelatory, and occasionally perilous space odyssey. Astrophysicist Mitchell Begelman takes the reader to far-distant shores, across a vast ocean of time, in a narrative that zips along at just below light speed. We travel to the center of the Milky Way, witness the births and deaths of stars, almost perish in the crushing forces at the perimeter of a black hole--and all the while Begelman explains in clear and vibrant prose the way things work in the cosmos. A powerful imaginative work that is thoroughly grounded both in history and in the latest in astrophysical thinking and observation, Turn Right at Orion is serious science that reads like fiction.

Mitchell Begelman is Professor of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and Fellow of the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is the author of many research papers on astrophysics and the co-author--with Sir Martin Rees--of a popular book on black holes, Gravity's Fatal Attraction, winner of the 1996 American Institute of Physics Writing Award. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.