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Texas native’s debut ‘Presidio’ takes readers on a beguiling road trip

Two estranged brothers and an unexpected passenger embark on a road trip through Texas to recover stolen money in Randy Kennedy’s strong debut, “Presidio.”

Troy Falconer first appears in notes he’s writing to explain how and why he frequents motels to steal cars, clothes, and another man’s identity. Two pages later an omniscient narrator describes Troy returning in November 1972 to his hometown in the Texas Panhandle for the first time in over six years. He and his brother, Harlan, have agreed to set aside grudges while trying to track down Harlan’s wife, who ran off with most of the money left him by the brothers’ father. Toggling between this narrative and the notes, Kennedy reveals one rootless man charting a larcenous course through America and one tied to a dot on the map: “I’ve spent my whole life here, Troy. Inside of a ten-mile radius,” Harlan says. When Troy steals a car at a grocery store, the brothers are unaware that an 11-year-old named Martha is sleeping in the back seat. She adds a third narrative, of a father and daughter separated when he is jailed, wrongly, for kidnapping her, while she is placed with an aunt, whose Ford Country Squire station wagon catches Troy’s eye. The feisty girl wants the brothers to take her to El Paso and her father, but they have another target because Harlan says his wife “said something about Presidio once.” Kennedy’s humor can be broad or sly. He reveals early on, for instance, the quest’s overarching absurdity when Troy says he connived with the woman who married Harlan to steal the inheritance. But she lit out on Troy as well.

Kennedy has a fertile imagination he lets drift into many beguiling detours, and the writing sparkles throughout.

(Kennedy will speak and sign copies of his book starting at 7 p.m. Sept. 13 at BookPeople. Free to attend; only books purchased at BookPeople are eligible for signing. Information:

Part nostalgia, part cutting-edge science

“The Smithsonian History of Space Exploration” is a generously illustrated, wonderfully detailed survey by Roger D. Launius, a Smithsonian curator who was also a chief historian of NASA for more than two decades.

The boundless open sky has always lured people to look upward in wonder, and Launius tells the story of the scientists who made dreams of traveling through space a reality. “The story of space exploration was motivated by fantastic dreams, the spirit of discovery, and the thrill of voyaging into the unknown,” he writes. “Properly conducted, space exploration can provide a hopeful future.” From early rocketry to the possibility of interstellar flight, the author explains how it works and what the stakes are, and he does it effectively, without relying on jargon. His clear and concise writing takes readers through scientific and mechanical achievements, as he revels in such details as how pressure suits were designed and what a lunar research station would look like. Astronomers from ancient times through the present have worked to understand the cosmos and achieve space travel, and they have made great strides, including sending a man to the moon and launching satellites to the far reaches of the galaxy. Launius argues that even these accomplishments are just a taste of what is possible, not only in terms of manned space exploration, but also in regard to our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of life — and, perhaps, extraterrestrial intelligence. On every page, stunning photographs provide a visual history of the incredible people and mechanics behind each groundbreaking advance, setting this volume apart from others. Readers of all ages will discover something new every time they revisit these pages.

Part history, part nostalgia, part cutting-edge science, this entertaining book reminds us of the magnitude of space flight — and hints at what’s to come.

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