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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reading List: Ministry of Space

Ellis, Warren, Chris Weston, Laura Martin, and Michael Heisler. Ministry of Space. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2004. ISBN 978-1-58240-423-3.
This comic book—errm—graphic novel—immerses the reader in an alternative history where British forces captured the German rocket team in the closing days of World War II and saw to it that the technology they developed would not fall either American or Soviet hands. Air Commodore John Dashwood, a figure with ambitions and plans which put him in the league with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, persuades Churchill to embark on an ambitious development program to extend the dominion of the British Empire outward into space.

In this timeline, all of the key “firsts” in space are British achievements, and Britain in the 1950s is not the austere and dingy grey of shrinking empire but rather where Wernher von Braun's roadmap for expansion of the human presence into space is being methodically implemented, with the economic benefits flowing into British coffers. By the start of the 21st century, Britain is the master of space, but the uppity Americans are threatening to mount a challenge to British hegemony by revealing dark secrets about the origin of the Ministry of Space unless Britain allows their “Apollo” program to go ahead.

This story works beautifully in the graphic format, and the artwork and colouring are simply luscious. If you don't stop and linger over the detail in the illustrations you'll miss a lot of the experience. The only factual error I noted is that in the scene at Peenemunde an American GI says the V-2's range was only 60 miles while, in fact, it was 200 miles. (But then, this may be deliberate, intended to show how ignorant the Americans were of the technology.) The reader experiences a possible reality not only for Britain, but for the human species had the development of space been a genuine priority like the assertion of sea power in the 19th century instead of an arena for political posturing and pork barrel spending. Exploring this history, you'll encounter a variety of jarring images and concepts which will make you think how small changes in history can have great consequences downstream.

Posted at March 8, 2011 21:37