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Book Review: Rock Star: Adventures of a Meteorite Man, by Geoff Notkin

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

20-09-2013 10:41 CDT

Topics: product review

Well, this was wholly unexpected. I didn't know much about the Meteorite Men television series before meeting star Geoff Notkin at a recent convention -- and still haven't watched an episode, not being much in control of channel selection in my household -- but I have thoroughly enjoyed his memoir, Rock Star: Adventures of a Meteorite Man.

The book opens with the kinds of harrowing tales of British public schooling that I've read before from such diverse authors as Oliver Sacks (Uncle Tungsten) and Roald Dahl (Boy). There must be another such memoir forthcoming, from sci fi/fantasy author Neil Gaiman, who was, astonishingly, a classmate of Notkin's, and who contributed an introduction to the book. Anyway, Notkin's own rebellion from the oppression and abuse of British public schools took him into rock music, and for a while he lived the title of his memoir.  But a lifetime fascination with rocks from outer space could not be ignored, and he soon found another calling as a professional hunter of meteorites.

You might think that someone bent on prying hidden and valuable treasures from inaccessible, remote lands would be outlawish, pirate-like, opportunistic, Machiavellian, greedy, misanthropic. None of these words describes Notkin, who seems to make friends everywhere he goes, and loves and respects everyone he meets, with only rare exceptions.

More than once, while reading Rock Star, I've thought that the landowners and other meteorite hunters that Notkin encounters can't possibly be as friendly as he describes. But I've met him -- when he gave me a copy of this book, and signed it "for Emily, a great science writer, with best wishes" -- and his is such an ebullient and open personality that I think it likely that he just creates that friendliness wherever he goes. It would be a hard person indeed who couldn't resist his charm. It's a guileless charm that's rooted in an open and unguarded wonder at our place in the vastness of the cosmos. Late in the book, he writes about a filming expedition in Chile:

...the blackest of nights descended upon us and by 9 p.m. the temperature had plummeted to 24 degrees below freezing. Standing beside a roaring fire on the stone floor of an ancient cottage in the middle of the immense Atacama Desert, I looked at the huddled figures around me and had an epiphany: all of these people were here, and all of this time, effort, and money had been expended because of a dream I had as a child.

Rock Star is a life's journey full of joy, wonder, and fun, and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it.


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Supernaut: 09/20/2013 02:35 CDT

Thanks, sounds like a great book! Also, you have "...hunters that Notkin encounters can't possibly be as friendly has he describes.", but you probably meant to write "...hunters that Notkin encounters can't possibly be as friendly as he describes."

David Frankis: 09/20/2013 04:59 CDT

Small point: in Britain 'public school' means almost the opposite of what it does in America. Public schools here are independent of government, usually set up as charitable foundations. I couldn't find a direct reference for Notkin, but according to Wikipedia, Gaiman was educated at Whitgift School, which is indeed a public school in this sense. I wouldn't bother mentioning it, but I wouldn't want Americans to erroneously associate 'harrowing tales' with 'publicly funded education' on the basis of Notkin's experience - there's enough misinformation out there without adding to it.

Emily Lakdawalla: 09/20/2013 06:00 CDT

Supernaut: I fixed the error! David: yes, I'm aware of the distinction (thanks to Sacks and Dahl's books and to Monty Python) but it's true some readers may not be.

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