Journey Beyond Selene: Remarkable Expeditions Past Our Moon and to the Ends of the Solar System, by Jeffrey Kluger (Simon & Schuster, $26). Meet Triton, Titan, Miranda and Ganymede -- moons of other planets in our solar system. There are at least 63 such moons, and in an unheralded program of the U.S. space program, robot spacecraft have been visiting them. "Some of the moons are red," writes Jeffrey Kluger, "some are orange, some are black, some are white. . . . Some are buffed smooth as eggshells; one is as oblong as a great potato." Focusing on the Jet Propulsion Lab and its moonstruck scientists, this book summarizes the strange pictures of little-known lunar worlds that have emerged from the fly-bys. The Selene of the title is what the Greeks called our own local moon, which seems rather a bore compared with, say, Triton, the Neptunian moon that is the the coldest spot in the solar system but also contains "dark carbon geysers occasionally blasting through the ice, as the faint flickers of sunlight that reach Triton heat up subsurface materials and cause them to expand."
Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings, by Gore Vidal; edited by Donald Weise (Cleis, $24.95). Perhaps our most famous professed hedonist, Gore Vidal has been writing wittily and pungently about sex and gender for more than 50 years. This volume collects those pieces, which range from an essay on Eleanor Roosevelt to an interview for a defunct newspaper called Gay Sunshine. Vidal has little use for the morality that exalts men over women, condemns homosexuality and proscribes sex outside of marriage. "Jesus," he writes, "had nothing to say about homosexuality, masturbation or the Equal Rights Amendment, but he did think the absolute world of eunuchs (Matthew 19: 10-12)." And since no encounter with Vidal should end without an outrageous pronouncement, here is what he told the Gay Sunshine interviewers about male sports fans: "I've always maintained that this is the greatest sign of effeminacy in the male, wanting to watch other men play games."
Homelands and Waterways: The American Journey of the Bond Family 1846-1926, by Adele Logan Alexander (Pantheon, $30). Adele Logan Alexander, a professor of history at George Washington University, has written a book that both explores a facet of her family history and examines 80 crucial years of America's past. Writing about her maternal great-grandfather John Robert Bond, Alexander observes that the English-born patriarch, who arrived in the United States during the Civil War, "was not one of those renowned, revered, and sometimes parodied `WASPs' -- white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Rather, as a rarely encountered and therefore hard-to-imagine black Anglo-Saxon Protestant, he inadvertently reconfigured that stereotype." The author assesses the cultural, social and political implications surrounding the appearance of a dark-complexioned British seafarer in 1860s America: "Can a man such as John Robert Bond be granted any cultural legacy before he arrived here? If so, what sort of singular, contradictory, or skewed history would it have to be?" After meritorious service with the Union navy, Alexander reports, Bond found himself "looked upon as decreasingly English, increasingly black."