This is an excerpt from “The Guinea Pig Doctors,” a book by Jon Franklin and John Sutherland about eight doctors who experimented on themselves in pursuit of knowledge. In this chapter John Paul Stapp gets strapped into a rocket sled and hurtles through the desert so he can learn about the effect of G’s on the human body.
Most of the chapter consists of Stapp’s wait in the desert for the right conditions. It’s worth paying attention to how the authors maintain a sense of forward motion through this waiting: They digress for useful background. They flesh out their character’s point of view, motivations, temperament. It’s not until the end of the chapter that Stapp is flying over the ground at crushing speed. This is when the writing slows to a second-by-second narration, with short sentences, one-word bursts, a focusing in on the Gs effects and on Stapp’s reactions to them, which echo what the writers have already established about him. This arc of waiting and hurtling makes for a visceral experience, and it’s achieved through controlled and skillful writing.
Read “The Fastest Man on Earth ,” (PDF) by Jon Franklin and John Sutherland