In this book untitled “From The Potato to Star Trek and Beyond: Memoirs of a Rocket Scientist”, Chester L. Richards presents his memoir. Former aerospace engineer, Richards offers us a collection of stories, spanning from Wild West trails tales of his ancestors to the Second World War and his experiences in the aerospace industry.
The genre chosen for this book is a memoir, a genre often confused with biography and autobiography. The differences are that a memoir is typically more subjective than a biography, and focuses on one or some periods of the author’s life. It is also imbued with the author’s feelings, emotions, reactions, thoughts, opinions, and memories, hence the name “memoir”.
Each chapter is like a short story: Richards tells the reader one event or one aspect of his life. In addition, the stories are not in chronological order. It can be confusing at first, but it also makes the rhythm interesting and non-linear. You don’t always need to have read the preceding chapter to understand and enjoy a story!
“The Potato” refers to one of Richards’ most vivid memories of his younger years: working at his father’s printing plant as a teenager, handling the dangerous molten lead for linotype machines. Throughout the chapters, we learn more about his childhood and his family.
Born in Georgia, Richards grew up in Southern California with loving parents and a younger sister.
His mother was a registered nurse from a Sicilian immigrant family, settled in Brooklyn. His father was from Seattle, for a time served as an aerial photographer in the Army, then worked in the printing business like his own parents. The author shares fond memories of his parents: intelligent, strong, and witty individuals who helped him grow with love and consideration.
He tells with details, wit, and obvious great love the lives of his father, his mother, their families, and their ancestors. Through stories he gleaned from relatives, the reader is taken on a journey from the Oregon Trail of the Wild West in 19th century America to World War II.
Star Trek and Aerospace Engineering
Richards was interested in planes from a young age, and later in space, physics and aerospace engineering. He was also an avid reader and enjoyed writing. These two passions linked when, as a graduate student at Irvine University, he embarked on a side project with his friend Judy Burns.
The two amateur writers managed to co-write one of the original 1966 Star Trek series’ episodes: The Tholian Web. Reading this chapter, we are swept away to the quick-paced production of one of the most iconic science-fiction franchises in the late 20th century Hollywood.
Later, he made a career out of his first interest and went to work for Ford, NASA, and other organizations as an aerospace engineer and consultant.
His stories about his jobs tell us pivotal moments of his life, all the lessons he learned, and portray with emotion and humor the people he met and got acquainted with.
Other People’s Influence
Indeed, one striking characteristic of this memoir is how important other people’s stories are. We not only learn about Chester L. Richards, but we also learn about his parents, his wife, his university professors, coworkers, river rafting companions, and mentors.
Through stories about his varied passions, we meet a collection of individuals: the mysterious and awe-inducing river-rafting instructor Sam, the kind and creative physics professors Dr. Pandres, and the toxic and manipulative boss Jason.
Last but not least, the author tells us of his own wife, Sarah. We learn about her as an outstanding singer, an archaeology enthusiast, an animal lover, and a charming, dearly loved person.
From The Potato to Star Trek and Beyond: Memoirs of a Rocket Scientist is a highly entertaining and easy to read memoir. The author’s writing style is witty, sometimes close to oral language, and his stories are funny, reflective, and inspiring. Richards’ memoir is a collection of stories from his own life, his experiences, and his ups and downs, but also a heart-warming ode to other people who made him the person he is now. It’s well worth reading!