First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers

First Cosmic Velocity

Zach Powers

By turns grim and whimsical, fatalistic and deeply hopeful, First Cosmic Velocity is a sweeping novel of the heights of mankind’s accomplishments, the depths of its folly, and the people–and canines–with whom we create family.

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A stunningly imaginative novel about the Cold War, the Russian space program, and the amazing fraud that pulled the wool over the eyes of the world.

It's 1964 in the USSR, and unbeknownst even to Premier Khrushchev himself, the Soviet space program is a sham. Well, half a sham. While the program has successfully launched five capsules into space, the Chief Designer and his team have never successfully brought one back to earth. To disguise this, they've used twins. But in a nation built on secrets and propaganda, the biggest lie of all is about to unravel.

Because there are no more twins left.

Combining history and fiction, the real and the mystical, First Cosmic Velocity is the story of Leonid, the last of the twins. Taken in 1950 from a life of poverty in Ukraine to the training grounds in Russia, the Leonids were given one name and one identity, but divergent fates. Now one Leonid has launched to certain death (or so one might think...), and the other is sent on a press tour under the watchful eye of Ignatius, the government agent who knows too much but gives away little. And while Leonid battles his increasing doubts about their deceitful project, the Chief Designer must scramble to perfect a working spacecraft, especially when Khrushchev nominates his high-strung, squirrel-like dog for the first canine mission.

By turns grim and whimsical, fatalistic and deeply hopeful, First Cosmic Velocity is a sweeping novel of the heights of mankind's accomplishments, the depths of its folly, and the people--and canines--with whom we create family.

Advance Galley Reviews

Space is incredibly fascinating and being the first to discover the mysteries it holds is an ambitious endeavor that comes at a steep and secret cost in First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers. In 1964 the Russian space program has the appearance of being successful, but the truth of what goes on behind the scenes would prove it anything but. Able to produce rockets capable of making it into space but not back has presented the program with a problem, one they've been able to manage thus far through using twins as their cosmonauts where they launch one and keep one Earth-side for promotional purposes. Unable to find more twins to perpetuate the deception the program has been cultivating, the Chief Designer is frantic to find a realistic and workable solution to bringing their pilots and capsules back safely while Leonid, the last of the twins, fights against doubts creeping in to his mind as he's paraded on a press tour. An ambitious story that jumps between the haunting childhood of young Ukrainian twin boys and the subterfuge surrounding the space program, it demonstrates the highs and lows that humans are capable of achieving through efficient prose. The narrative evokes a sense of conspiracy and distrust of the government and leadership (which while reading this alongside watching HBO's miniseries Chernobyl makes it even that more memorable), compounded by the atrocious actions depicted in the Leonids' home village. Though I would have liked a bit more context around the space program's development to date in this fictionalized history the story moved well and provided enough information for a general understanding. The digital file I received had an error throughout it that removed the first page from each chapter, removing some of the text and context for various characters and events and halting the narrative's rhythm, but it didn't prevent me from understanding the novel as a whole. Overall, I'd give it a 4 out of 5 stars.


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