By Edward Nawotka
DEEP SPACE: Today is the 40th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon. And while NASA seems to have accidentally taped over the original video recordings of the landing (once again igniting rumors that the landing was faked), there were hundreds of writers who chronicled the momentous event. Few, if any, did it better than Norman Mailer in his extraordinary 1970 book, Of a Fire on the Moon. It is one of the few subjects that could fully engage Mailer’s titanic ego and stands, along with Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, as among the very best books about the American Space Age.
Unfortunately, Mailer’s text alone was deemed unworthy of being kept in print…until now. And what’s been done with the book is something Mailer himself would certainly approve: German publisher Taschen has wholly re-imagined Mailer’s original book and published it in a deluxe edition that costs $1,000 per copy and is limited to 1,957 copies in all.
Dubbed Moonfire, the new book takes Mailer’s text (which originally appeared as a three-part series in Life), illustrates it with high-quality photos from the NASA archives, and adds supplementary essays. But instead of a book, it’s more of an artifact: it is packaged in a box featuring a Plexiglas convex window, through which one can see a portrait of astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon, with astronaut Neil Armstrong reflected in his visor, and included in the book is a a framed copy of the photo, printed using high definition Skia printing technique, that is personally signed by Aldrin himself.
But if there is every a book that can be said to boldly go where no book has gone before, this is it and here’s why: a final twelve super-premium editions of the book, numbered 1958-1969, will include a “certified piece of Moon meteorite” (according to Taschen) — one for each of the twelve men who have landed on the moon and the years between the establishment of NASA, July 29, 1958, through the moon landing itself. These, without doubt, are reserved for truly deep-pocketed connoisseurs.
What’s interesting to note is that any publisher could have taken a traditional route to publication, reprinting a new paperback edition to coincide with the anniversary, or if they were being overly pragmatic, limiting any reprint to an ebook release. This might have adequately served the existing, however limited, audience for Mailer reprints. Instead, what Taschen has done, and has indeed done in the past, is to confidently go in the opposite direction, is create a high-priced item that will appeal to a very limited audience. It’s far more exciting than a standard book , thus potentially more easily marketed — and one would assume, the price of meteorites excepted — potentially profitable.
It’s also something that could never be imitated or reproduced quite the same way a purely digital form.
Taschen should not get all the credit for Moonfire. This ambitious project — for it is more than just a book — originated with Mailer’s long-time collaborator Lawrence Schiller, who, in the wake of Mailer’s death in November 2007 has been committed to preserving Mailer’s legacy for the next generation. Schiller helped establish the new Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which took in its first fellows this summer. He launched the Norman Mailer Writing Awards, which will first be presented this October at a benefit gala in New York City. And, perhaps of greatest importance, Schiller has been encouraging publishers to take a second look at Mailer’s works with an eye toward re-issuing or repackaging them as Taschen has done.
When successful, Schiller plans to enlist contemporary writers to pen introductions to the books — Irish novelist Colum McCann wrote the introduction to Moonfire – in order to bring them into a contemporary context.
Again, in his own way, Mailer is playing a role in a challenge to the traditional order of things. While the market seems to demand cheaper and cheaper products, Taschen’s Moonfire is just the opposite.However interesting the book is as an extension of Mailer’s legacy, it is just the latest, and perhaps, best example of a publishing strategy — books packaged as super-premium, luxury products for elites — that may become more and more prevalent.
Of course, this publishing strategy is limited to being consumed by a very small elite and not by a mass audience. But in the case of Moonfire,this too fits: Though man walked on the moon 40 years ago today, and science has long-promised mass space tourism, the very experience of space travel remains accessible to only the very few who can afford it.
ORDER: A copy of Moonfire.
READ: The story behind Mailer’s long-time collaborator Lawrence Schiller’s mission to preserve Mailer’s legacy by repackaging Mailer’s works.
VIEW: An online exhibit of Mailer’s Apollo 11 mementos, courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, where Mailer’s archive resides.