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Book News: Arthur C. Clarke's DNA Headed For A New Space Odyssey

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • When NASA launches its first solar sail mission into deep space, it'll be carrying DNA from some of the late, legendary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke's hair. Most famous as the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Clarke was also an explorer, and in 1956, he discovered the underwater ruins of the Koneswaram temple in Sri Lanka while scuba diving. NASA's mission is called The Sunjammer Project after Clarke's 1964 short story about outer-space solar sail racing. NASA describes a solar sail craft as "a huge, ultra-thin sail unfurling in space, using the pressure of sunlight to provide propellant-free transport, hovering and exploration capabilities." NASA says it hopes to launch the sail "as early as 2014."
  • The body of Dr. James Martin, author of The Wired Society: A Challenge for Tomorrow, was found Monday floating off of Agar's Island, the island he owned in Bermuda, authorities told Bernews, a Bermuda news outlet. Police said that although the investigation is ongoing, "there does not appear to be any suspicious circumstances." Martin wrote more than 100 books but was best known for The Wired Society, which was published in 1977 and it is seen as an early prediction of the Internet. He is also the largest-ever donor to Oxford University, whose eponymous Martin School released a statement saying that the author was an "inspiration to millions — an extraordinary intellect, with wide-ranging interests, boundless energy and an unwavering commitment to addressing the greatest challenges facing humanity."
  • The Random House imprint Hogarth is commissioning authors such as Jeanette Winterson and Anne Tyler to write "prose retellings" of Shakespeare plays. Winterson, who chose The Winter's Tale, wrote in the press release: "All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter's Tale in many disguises for many years." She told The Guardian that "the Shakespeare purists miss the point about his exuberant ragbag of borrowings thrown into the alchemical furnace of his mind and lifted out transformed. He sums up the creative process, which is not concerned with originality of source but originality of re-making." The project is expected to launch in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.
  • Ben Urwand, author of the forthcoming book The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, told The New York Times that in the 1930s, "Hollywood is not just collaborating with Nazi Germany. It's also collaborating with Adolf Hitler, the person and human being." Although the Nazi influence on Hollywood has been well-documented, Urwand suggests previous historians have underestimated Hitler's reach. Among other discoveries, Urwand found a letter from the German arm of 20th Century Fox asking for Hitler to give feedback on American films and signed "Heil Hitler!" (The Fuhrer apparently hated Tarzan, but liked Laurel and Hardy.)
  • The City of Devi author Manil Suri describes growing up gay in India for Granta: "While launching my new novel at the Kolkata Book Festival this year, I was warned that Calcutta was a very conservative city. 'Whatever you do, don't read out any of the gay scenes. Especially not the gay sex scenes.' Naturally, that's exactly what I did. The results were disappointing. Nobody shouted, nobody swooned, the city seemed to pull through just fine. ... This was supposed to be my great in-your-face coming-out campaign, which I'd fretted over for months beforehand. Had India suddenly lost its conservativeness, turned enlightened, even hip?"
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