Several of the profiled figures are pioneers in their respective fields; Dovey’s fascination for matters scientific, and in women working in STEM careers in particular, has informed a couple of the stories, including one about Donna Lawler, a space lawyer responsible for managing the terms of each Optus satellite’s manufacture, launch and operation. Along with her husband, a space law academic – their match must have been made in heaven – she has written about environmental damage caused by satellite launches, as well as moon-mining and space tourism. “There’s a lot of uncertainty … no one really knows what laws should govern commercial ventures in space.”
There’s also Alice Gorman, who blogs under the name Dr Space Junk, and who has managed to combine both her interests: archaeology and astrophysics. She explores what the material culture of the space age – the artefacts left behind on Earth and in outer space – can tell us. There’s plenty to study about in terms of human-made debris in the Earth’s orbit. As Gorman puts it bluntly, the sky is “heavily overpopulated by our own trash”.
Back on Earth, there are those trying to save the planet such as Bill McKibben, the American climate change activist who zealously campaigns against mega-coal mine developments. He describes himself in terms of someone who provokes action as part of a team of personal trainers: “For the next few years, our job is to yell and scream at governments everywhere to get up off the couch.”
Historian and Greenpeace climate campaigner Nik Casule echoes McKibben and emphasises that it’s more than just about the environment.
“Ancient civilisations contain a warning to us. We don’t see the collapse coming until it’s too late, and often those with entrenched power interests actively thwart finding a solution that enables survival.”
Dovey doesn’t just meekly observe; where possible she attends lectures, visits laboratories and handles various tools of her subjects’ trades. For instance, she happily sniffs samples by olfactory artist Jonathon Midgley, whose laboratory has produced a range of strange scents, including a men’s fragrance based on the smell of hops for a craft beer festival and the aroma of a dugong burp for the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium (it ended up being a seaweedy, lettuce scent based on their diet).
There are a number of subjects devoted to literature (Inner Spaces), including bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin prescribing books to cure various ailments (depression, heartache, bereavement) and Graham Anderson, a prodigious collector of first editions. He has accumulated about 3000, mostly novels for home, but has also donated an equal amount to the State Library of Victoria.
From surviving in Antarctic conditions, to developing moon dust mitigation strategies and mapping Australian colonial frontier massacre sites, passion is the commonality between all of Dovey’s iconoclasts: for what they do and for what are yet to achieve.