Sunday, 25 July 2010

Ministry of Space: Science Fiction or Alternative History?

When I was a boy my favourite reading material was THE EAGLE. I particularly liked two things that appeared in this weekly publication - the exploded technical drawings that were on the middle pages ... and the latest episode of DAN DARE – PILOT OF THE FUTURE. The latter appealed to me because it portrayed a version of the World that did not seem too remote from the reality of 1950s Britain. In those days the UK had all sorts of missile and rocket projects on the go, and even though many of them did not seem to work very well, they at least gave us the allusion that we were still one of the 'big boys' ... how wrong we were!

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when I saw a copy of the graphic novel MINISTRY OF SPACE (Titan Books [2004] ISBN: 1 84023 924 7) on the bookshelves of my local bookshop, I bought a copy ... and I am very pleased that I did.

The whole style of the book is very reminiscent of the Dan Dare stories, both in the quality of the illustration and the very real 'feel' of the incidents and equipment that is portrayed. It is very apparent from the notes written by Warren Ellis – the story's author – that he drew his inspiration from the Dan Dare stories created by Frank Hampson and his team of writers and illustrators for THE EAGLE. The people who created MINISTRY OF SPACE – Warren Ellis (Writer), Chris Weston (Artist), Laura Martin (Colorist), and Michael Heisler (Letterer) – have done a magnificent job.

But this is no children's tale. It tells the story of Britain's space programme - an orbital rocket-plane by 1950, the building of an orbital a space-station from 1953 onwards, a Moon landing in 1956, and colonisation of Mars in 1969 ... but it has a very dark side to it as well.

The story is told in two parallel strands; one tells of the development of the Royal Space Force and its success whilst the other tells the story of the man who made it all happen – Sir John Dashwood – and how he financed the whole thing using gold 'liberated' from the Germans. But the gold is tainted because it is the proceeds of the Holocaust, and this secret is about to be exposed by the ‘new boys on the block’ – the Americans.

I like this book because it was not just an entertaining 'read'; it posed a series of morale problems that have more than an element of reality to them. What would have happened if Britain had got hold of all Germany's rocket scientists in 1945? Would Churchill have agreed to us 'tainted' finances to keep the UK as a major World Power if the opportunity had arisen? Would Britain have recovered from her near-bankrupt state and emerged as a economic powerhouse on the back of a successful space programme? Would that success have kept the UK politically and socially stagnant as a result?

I am not sure if this is a science fiction book or an alternative history book. Whichever it is, however, I enjoyed it, and I would certainly recommend it.

2 comments:

  1. Bluebear Jeff,

    I understand that it was originally published in three parts, and then published as a single volumne in 2004.

    It is well worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy.

    All the best,

    Bob

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