First Cosmic Velocity

First Cosmic Velocity

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...

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Title:First Cosmic Velocity
Author:Zach Powers
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First Cosmic Velocity Reviews

  • Jonathan

    A lonely, despairing Soviet delirium.

    5/5

  • Allen Adams

    There’s nothing quite like stumbling upon a great book.

    Yes, we all have our favorite authors and our favorite genres, our favorite styles and favorite publishers, but every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we wind up with something unexpected in our hands. Maybe you read a review blurb, maybe a friend pointed it out to you – doesn’t matter how you got it, just that you got it.

    “First Cosmic Velocity” by Zach Powers is one of those books for me. It is an abs

    There’s nothing quite like stumbling upon a great book.

    Yes, we all have our favorite authors and our favorite genres, our favorite styles and favorite publishers, but every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we wind up with something unexpected in our hands. Maybe you read a review blurb, maybe a friend pointed it out to you – doesn’t matter how you got it, just that you got it.

    “First Cosmic Velocity” by Zach Powers is one of those books for me. It is an absolute gem of a book, a tale of tragedy disguised as triumph. It is a beautifully-crafted work of literary genre writing – part historical fiction, part sci-fi, with hints of family drama and magical realism thrown into the mix as well. It’s a story unlike anything you’ve read, told from a perspective unlike any you’ve experienced.

    The year is 1964. It’s the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union is making headlines all over the globe for the rapid development of its space program. Cosmonauts are launched – five in all – into the inky black of space, each brought back to represent the glory of the USSR.

    But all is not as it seems. There’s a dark secret behind the successes of the Soviet space program, a secret whose revelation would be catastrophic.

    It’s all a lie.

    More specifically, it’s all a half-truth. Because while the Chief Designer (his given name is kept secret) and his team have indeed launched five capsules containing brave cosmonauts into orbit … not one has ever been returned to Earth successfully. So how can this be?

    Twins.

    As part of a long-reaching program, every Soviet cosmonaut has been one of a set of twins. All five sets of twins have spent the majority of their lives living separately in Star City, the Soviet space facility. From each pairing, one was selected to be trained for the job, to become a cosmonaut. The other was trained to play the part of the returned. Over the course of their respective training, the twins assume the same name in an effort to essentially become the same person. One is shot into space, knowing full well that he or she will never return. The other is tasked with embodying the conquering hero, serving as the symbol of Soviet space dominance. A scant handful of people know the truth – everyone else remains completely unaware.

    Leonid is one of the Earthbound twins, the last of the five sets. His brother was launched and left to be claimed by the unfeeling airlessness of orbit; he receives the medals and waves at the parades and makes quips at press conferences.

    But when Kruschev himself makes an appearance and starts making different demands of the Chief Designer, it becomes clear that this delicately-constructed house of cards might well come tumbling down … and no one involved will be safe if that happens.

    Leonid is left to make some hard choices of his own, with only Nadya – a fellow twin whose cosmonaut circumstances are unique even among the rest – as a true companion. Along the way, he constantly remembers his life before Star City, his hardscrabble boyhood in a remote Ukrainian village – the village where he and his brother would have lived and died had they not been scooped up by fate.

    When it comes to the space race, there’s the party line and there’s the truth … but even the truth isn’t everything that it appears to be.

    Everything about “First Cosmic Velocity” works. The concept is outstanding and the execution is exceptional. The attention to detail is phenomenal, allowing for a clear and vivid picture of the behind-the-scenes chaos of the Soviet effort. It's "The Prestige" with cosmonauts. And the characterizations are sharp, capturing the inner turmoil of those struggling with the moral and ethical ramifications of the work being done – and the willingness to push through in the name of scientific achievement and nationalist glory.

    What Powers does so beautifully is immerse the reader in the world that he has created. We view the proceedings though Leonid’s eyes, subjected to both his profound sense of loss and his inability to fully engage with the emotions elicited by that loss. The skewed complexity of all of his relationships – with the Chief Designer, with Nadya and with other cosmonauts in 1964, with his grandmother and the rest of his village in 1950 … and with his brother in both – is laid out with unerring specificity.

    “First Cosmic Velocity” is a remarkable work of what if, a propulsive and powerful and almost-possible alternate take on a time and place about which relatively little is truly known. It captures the passion and paranoia behind the Soviet space effort, offering a bleak and secretive solution that rings all too plausibly. Expect great things from Zach Powers.

  • Rebecca

    I received a free copy of this e-book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

    The idea of the "Phantom Cosmonauts" and the secret flight of Vladimir Ilyushin has always intrigued me. The author puts his own spin on these rumors in First Cosmic Velocity. In this novel, the Soviet Union starts launching cosmonauts before they have the capability to bring them home safely (just like they did with Laika). To keep the rest of the world from knowing that they are deliberate

    I received a free copy of this e-book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

    The idea of the "Phantom Cosmonauts" and the secret flight of Vladimir Ilyushin has always intrigued me. The author puts his own spin on these rumors in First Cosmic Velocity. In this novel, the Soviet Union starts launching cosmonauts before they have the capability to bring them home safely (just like they did with Laika). To keep the rest of the world from knowing that they are deliberately killing cosmonauts, they use twins: one stays on earth for the publicity, while one flies the fatal mission. Each of the characters you meet here seems to be working under their own special type of delusion. I really enjoyed getting into the heads of the various players, both big and small.

    In the novel you get a good feel for just how haphazard the Soviet space program was, at times. The Soviets were believed to be way ahead of the US in the early days of the space race, but that was essentially an illusion. Most of the "firsts" the Soviets achieved were essentially pure dumb luck. The author does a good job of giving you a sense of that in this novel.

    I did have several questions about how exactly this whole grand conspiracy worked, but I'm okay with not all of them being answered.

    Space nerds should not miss this title, and general readers will definitely find it enjoyable.

  • Mike

    It’s the height of the Space Race and in the Soviet Union they’re hiding a secret. The cosmonauts who are returning to earth as heroes aren’t the same people who were sent into outer space.

    Russian Literature meets Capricorn One and, you know what, it works.

  • Rochelle Hickey

    by Zach Powers was an unexpected delight. I’m not sure what I at first expected delving into the 1960’s space race focusing on the Russian launches. The book description made it feel like a quirky twisted science fiction adventure but really it’s a slow burning story about moral dilemma. What are the lengths one would go to succeed? To survive? To be a Soviet hero?

    I love how very few characters through the whole book have an identity for themselves. Names are titles, names

    by Zach Powers was an unexpected delight. I’m not sure what I at first expected delving into the 1960’s space race focusing on the Russian launches. The book description made it feel like a quirky twisted science fiction adventure but really it’s a slow burning story about moral dilemma. What are the lengths one would go to succeed? To survive? To be a Soviet hero?

    I love how very few characters through the whole book have an identity for themselves. Names are titles, names are given, names are shared, names are confused, but everyone is named in the part they play. Twins are no longer two but one, even in flashbacks, as if through training and brainwashing, their names are erased allowing them to become the single hero cosmonaut that the public perceives. The farce becomes reality as the world craves the adventure of space exploration.

    I would highly recommend this uniquely fictional perspective about the Soviet space program. I could not put it down.

    Thank you to

    for giving me an advanced readers copy for my honest and unbiased opinion.

  • Tonstant Weader

    First Cosmic Velocity is a bizarre and wonderful book that tells us the story of the Russian cosmonauts, but not really. Imagine that the scientists could not quite get that reentry thing to work. Knowing what happens to people who fail in Stalin’s Soviet Union, the leaders of the project conceived of an audacious fraud, recruiting identical twins who would grow up to be cosmonauts, one to die in space, the other to tour and talk about what it was like in space after the flight.

    The story focuses

    First Cosmic Velocity is a bizarre and wonderful book that tells us the story of the Russian cosmonauts, but not really. Imagine that the scientists could not quite get that reentry thing to work. Knowing what happens to people who fail in Stalin’s Soviet Union, the leaders of the project conceived of an audacious fraud, recruiting identical twins who would grow up to be cosmonauts, one to die in space, the other to tour and talk about what it was like in space after the flight.

    The story focuses on Leonid whose brother has just been sent into space. Interstitial chapters tell the story of his childhood and how he and his brother came to be part of the project. He is closest to Nadya, the first to “go into space” and the only one who was trained to do so, but her sister was sent in her place.

    During the tour after Leonid’s successful “flight”, Khruschev suggests that his dog go on the next trip along with the beloved Kasha, a dog descended from the dog the Leonids brought from their village. While on tour, Nadya and Leonid set themselves the task of finding “twins” for the dogs.

    I loved First Cosmic Velocity even though I sometimes wondered where it was going. It is just such an original story. What is odd, though, is I can see this as a funny camp movie, but reading it, the tragic sense of life seems uppermost. How I visualize the story and how I feel it while reading it is so disparate, something I cannot explain. I think this is on me, though, not on Zach Powers.

    This book defies classification. There is the satiric takedown of the bureaucratic brutality of Stalinism, such as the man who resents not getting a much-deserved promotion but realizing that the promotion would get him sent to the gulag. There is the complicated relationships of the Chief Designer, the General Designer, and Ignatius, the KGB handler. There is a bit of romance. In a way, it makes me think of the magical realism in how Powers presents truths through the absurd. It carries a lot in its 300 pages.

    First Cosmic Velocity will be released August 6th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.

    First Cosmic Velocity at Penguin Random House

    Zach Powers author site

  • Jeff

    Zach Powers, First Cosmic Velocity (New York: Putman, 2019), 340 pages.

    I’m not sure how to classify f this novel. At times I thought the author had written the first anti-Sci-fi (similar to the anti-western genre of films that began to challenge the classical westerns in the 1960s). At other times, it felt as if I was reading a comedic Cold War spy thriller or an alternative history. But whatever genre one might classify this novel, it was a fun read.

    It’s 1964 and the Soviet space program is a d

    Zach Powers, First Cosmic Velocity (New York: Putman, 2019), 340 pages.

    I’m not sure how to classify f this novel. At times I thought the author had written the first anti-Sci-fi (similar to the anti-western genre of films that began to challenge the classical westerns in the 1960s). At other times, it felt as if I was reading a comedic Cold War spy thriller or an alternative history. But whatever genre one might classify this novel, it was a fun read.

    It’s 1964 and the Soviet space program is a deception. Instead of challenging the United States in the race to the moon, the Soviets haven’t yet had a successful mission. They have placed men and women into space, but have yet to successfully bring them back to earth. The cosmonauts have either burned up on re-entry or in the case of Leonid, are doomed to orbit the earth for the entire book. You’ll have to read it to understand what happens. To make up for the lack of success, the Soviet cosmonaut corps are made up of identical twins, each given the same name. While one sibling conducts a suicide mission, the other receives a hero welcome back home. The secrecy of the program is so guarded that only a few know about it. Even the Soviet premier, Khrushchev, doesn’t know of the deceit. At first, even Ignatius, the KGB-type agent who is always close by, doesn’t appear to know (even though she knows more secrets than most). In a country with lots of deception and secrets, maintaining this secret is of ultimate importance for everyone involved (including the remaining twins) risked execution for treason is exposed.

    This secrecy leads to humorous moments such as when Khrushchev volunteers his dog for the next space mission. Everyone but the Premier hates his ratty dog, and they can’t find another one like it in all Russia. Khrushchev aids secretly suggest they leave the disliked mutt in space (not realizing that might actually happen as the space agency has no way of returning it alive to earth). The space program is frantically attempting to build a successful heat shield that will allow cosmonauts (and dogs) to safely return, while two of the surviving twins (the second Leonid, the brother of the Leonid in space, and Nadya, whose sister was the first cosmonaut, run away.

    The book ping pongs between 1964 and 1950, the year when a famine struck the Ukraine, That’s the year the twins who were both renamed Leonid were taken from their grandma to be used in the space program. As the reader is taken from the present (1964), into the past, we gain inside into bits of history such as the struggle within the various states within the Soviet Union, the impact of the war (World War 2), and the hope of the space program. Powers also brings up the discussion of faith, looking at how the older members of society (such as the twin’s grandmother) practices faith and prayer, and its role (or lack of a role) with the younger generations who have grown up in an atheistic society. In one discussion, it is suggested that a society without gods must create them from their “heroes”

    This is a delightful and unique novel. I recommend it for an enjoyable read. For full disclosure, I was in a writing group with Zach Powers when I first moved to Savannah (and before he left the area). I purchased the book on my own and was under no obligation to write this review.

  • MCZ Reads

    Full review to come later.

  • Michael Burnam-Fink

    Summer 2019 should be a great time to release a novel about the Soviet space program. After all, you have the Apollo anniversary and

    to spark interest. Unfortunately,

    is not that great of a novel. At best, it might appeal to the most basic of slavaboos.

    takes a kind of magic realism approach to the topic. The Soviet space program of 1964 is an elaborate sham. Every capsule has burnt up on reentry. To preserve the illusion, cosmonauts are twins

    Summer 2019 should be a great time to release a novel about the Soviet space program. After all, you have the Apollo anniversary and

    to spark interest. Unfortunately,

    is not that great of a novel. At best, it might appeal to the most basic of slavaboos.

    takes a kind of magic realism approach to the topic. The Soviet space program of 1964 is an elaborate sham. Every capsule has burnt up on reentry. To preserve the illusion, cosmonauts are twins, one sent to space to die and one left alive to maintain the illusion. The story follows one of this twinned cosmonauts, Leonid in 1964, dealing with an upcoming launch, Leonid in 1950 as a child in a famine stricken Ukrainian village, and the Chief Designer in 1964, managing the Potemkim rocket program. The novel has all the tropes of the post-Iowa Writer's Workshop literary novel, a tendency to string words together in a pleasing way that is utterly devoid of

    with characters who suffer from middle-class ennui and post-ironic detachment.

    And it's a shame, because the subject of space, totalitarian societies, and sacrifice is so rife for exploration. Adam Johnson's

    has the same 'American white guy writing about totalitarian communism' problem, but Johnson weaves a thrilling fantasy. J.G. Ballard made the alienation of space his own subject in the "The Dead Astronaut" and "Memories of the Space Age". And Victor Pelevin wrote

    in his masterful

    , which is an authentic and utterly compelling modern classic of Russian literature!

    Read

    instead.

  • Annarella

    it's a well written book but unfortunately I didn't feel involved and the book fell flat.

    Not my cup of tea.

    Many thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for this ARC, all opinions are mine.

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