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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 h 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.


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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 h 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.

30 review for First Cosmic Velocity

  1. 4 out of 5

    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 Chernobyl to spark interest. Unfortunately, First Cosmic Velocity is not that great of a novel. At best, it might appeal to the most basic of slavaboos. First Cosmic Velocity takes a kind of magic realism approach to the topic. The Soviet space program of 1964 is an elaborate sham. Every caclass="gr-hostedUserImg">First Summer 2019 should be a great time to release a novel about the Soviet space program. After all, you have the Apollo anniversary and Chernobyl to spark interest. Unfortunately, First Cosmic Velocity is not that great of a novel. At best, it might appeal to the most basic of slavaboos. First Cosmic Velocity 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 meaning, 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 The Orphan Master's Son 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 this exact novel but better in his masterful Omon Ra, which is an authentic and utterly compelling modern classic of Russian literature! Read Omon Ra instead.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A lonely, despairing Soviet delirium. 5/5

  3. 4 out of 5

    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 ar 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. (view spoiler)[The author also gives you fictionalized accounts of the Nedelin disaster and the Bondarenko fire. I was quite pleased the author included them in this story. These true but long covered up events only gives more credence to the idea that the Soviet Union would have taken great lengths to cover up failures. (hide spoiler)] 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rochelle Hickey

    First Cosmic Velocity 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 t First Cosmic Velocity 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 Putnam for giving me an advanced readers copy for my honest and unbiased opinion.

  5. 5 out of 5

    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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alex Helm

    This was a very unique and intriguing read

  8. 4 out of 5

    MCZ Reads

    Full review to come later.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie_blu

    I was looking forward to reading this book because of the intriguing premise. However, I was quickly disappointed. From the very beginning, the book was confusing. If I hadn't read the jacket blurb, I wouldn't have had any idea as to what was going on. Unfortunately, that was not my only issue with the story. I found the use of titles instead of names to be grating, the characters uninteresting, the "voice" to be the same for all of the characters, and the plot to be exceedingly slow. I was looking forward to reading this book because of the intriguing premise. However, I was quickly disappointed. From the very beginning, the book was confusing. If I hadn't read the jacket blurb, I wouldn't have had any idea as to what was going on. Unfortunately, that was not my only issue with the story. I found the use of titles instead of names to be grating, the characters uninteresting, the "voice" to be the same for all of the characters, and the plot to be exceedingly slow. The book would have benefitted greatly from more information about Soviet space operations and more fleshed out characters. I really wanted to like the book, but I feel it never came together as an engaging tale with characters that I cared about.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kate Grace

    Zach Powers’ First Cosmic Velocity is an intriguing first novel that reads like postmodern allegory. The book is thoughtful and philosophical, but never entirely ‘human’. In other words, readers live with big concepts - concepts like truth, sacrifice, and discovery - rather than with realistic characters. None of the characters, from the Chief Designer to Nadya to Ignatius, can escape their symbolic function in the world of the text. First Cosmic Velocity is not emotionally satisfying Zach Powers’ First Cosmic Velocity is an intriguing first novel that reads like postmodern allegory. The book is thoughtful and philosophical, but never entirely ‘human’. In other words, readers live with big concepts - concepts like truth, sacrifice, and discovery - rather than with realistic characters. None of the characters, from the Chief Designer to Nadya to Ignatius, can escape their symbolic function in the world of the text. First Cosmic Velocity is not emotionally satisfying, but it is thought-provoking. The book, with its reimagining of the Soviet space program, is a interesting read in light of current events (e.g. ‘fake news’, SpaceX). Thank you to Putnam and Goodreads Giveaways for my advance reading copy!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Allen Adams

    https://www.themaineedge.com/style/sh... 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 g https://www.themaineedge.com/style/sh... 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.

  12. 5 out of 5

    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 Sov 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.

  13. 5 out of 5

    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 s 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 https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpre...

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    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. To read this, and other book reviews, visit my website: http://makinggoodstories.wordpress.com/. 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 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. To read this, and other book reviews, visit my website: http://makinggoodstories.wordpress.com/. 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.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I received an ARC of this title in a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. And while I certainly understand the source of some early reviewers' qualms with the book (such as comments about the characters as symbols rather than human figures), I found the book to be compelling nonetheless. Powers's seamless weaving of fact and fiction was very well done--with recognizable historical events (such as the Bondarenko fire, the Nedelin disaster, hastily painting CCCP on a whi I received an ARC of this title in a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. And while I certainly understand the source of some early reviewers' qualms with the book (such as comments about the characters as symbols rather than human figures), I found the book to be compelling nonetheless. Powers's seamless weaving of fact and fiction was very well done--with recognizable historical events (such as the Bondarenko fire, the Nedelin disaster, hastily painting CCCP on a white space helmet before launch so no one thinks it's an American pilot upon reentry, etc.) marking key scenes alongside fictionalized character-building scenes such as those of Leonid's childhood. This deft blurring of the history/fiction line is what so often, for me, marks a strong postmodern historical novel. During my reading of the novel, I found myself compelled to voraciously research actual historical accounts in order to figure out which details Powers was borrowing and which he was inventing (and how/why he might be inventing them). And this kind of playfulness with the history/fiction line--the very theme of a novel about illusory Soviet space conquests--is what drives strong postmodern historical fiction in the first place. Like others before it, Powers's novel succeeds in allowing readers to question not only what is real/unreal in the novel they hold in their hands, but also to ponder the very reality/illusions they encounter and live with every day. That, to me, is the power of postmodern historical fiction, and Powers has provided another succesful entry in the category.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kaylah Rodriguez

    Phewwww last week was a doozy, but this book was really cool! This was somehow both a lot of fun and really melancholy which I am totally here for. 👌🏻 It’s a sort of alternate history of the Soviet space program with some little hints of magical realism sprinkled in here and there. ✨ In this version of the story the success of the space program is a total sham. They’ve launched plenty of capsules into space but none have had competent enough heat shields and have all burnt up upon reentry. Phewwww last week was a doozy, but this book was really cool! This was somehow both a lot of fun and really melancholy which I am totally here for. 👌🏻 It’s a sort of alternate history of the Soviet space program with some little hints of magical realism sprinkled in here and there. ✨ In this version of the story the success of the space program is a total sham. They’ve launched plenty of capsules into space but none have had competent enough heat shields and have all burnt up upon reentry. 🤭 In order to hide that pesky little detail, all of the cosmonauts that have been sent up are actually twins whose identical siblings have stayed behind to keep up the illusion that each launch was successful. 🤫 I loved what Zach Powers did with this setup. While there was plenty of intrigue and big events that took place, it was not an action packed thriller but rather more of a quiet, slowly unfolding story with lots of introspection and a sense of lonely ennui. The language was really lovely and had me even underlying passages here and there to come back to and think about. 👌🏻All in all a great read and one that stayed with me long after the last sentence. If you haven't read Zach Powers yet, you're missing out.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Phil Keeling

    I loved this book. There’s a melancholy sense of humor at work in this book about identity, national pride, family, and the places we call home, and it struck a chord with me. The story itself is a clever enough idea, but what really stayed with me were the characters. Powers has created a world of complex and truly unique characters: I loved their individual stories, and I loved watching how they engaged with one another as the book unfolded. They’re made all the more fascinating when you watch I loved this book. There’s a melancholy sense of humor at work in this book about identity, national pride, family, and the places we call home, and it struck a chord with me. The story itself is a clever enough idea, but what really stayed with me were the characters. Powers has created a world of complex and truly unique characters: I loved their individual stories, and I loved watching how they engaged with one another as the book unfolded. They’re made all the more fascinating when you watch them interact with real historic figures of the 60’s. This is simultaneously a wonderful piece of speculative fiction and a look back at the strange world of the Soviet Union. Powers encapsulates it all with a level of tragedy and humor that’s damn engaging: it’s a balancing act that most writers wouldn’t be able to even attempt, let alone pull off. This is a terrific book from an author that deserves a serious amount of attention. I’m really looking forward to his next piece.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Allyson

    Coming of age in the 1980s, I was obsessed with the Soviet Union. I read a bit of Tsiolkovski but I concentrated more on the history of the Revolution than the space program. I am by no means a scholar of Soviet or Russian culture, but knowing what little I do, First Cosmic Velocity is a story that seems entirely plausible even as you know it is complete fiction. It is a really fun spinning-out of the idea, what if the Soviet space program was just another bit of intricate propaganda? The way so Coming of age in the 1980s, I was obsessed with the Soviet Union. I read a bit of Tsiolkovski but I concentrated more on the history of the Revolution than the space program. I am by no means a scholar of Soviet or Russian culture, but knowing what little I do, First Cosmic Velocity is a story that seems entirely plausible even as you know it is complete fiction. It is a really fun spinning-out of the idea, what if the Soviet space program was just another bit of intricate propaganda? The way so much happens in the minds of the characters, the way they must live in order to stay sane in a world of fabricated “truth,” and the way author Zach Powers keeps the reader aware of all these intricacies make this book really enjoyable. One thing that I loved was the way the chapters set in 1950 blended with and enriched the narrative set in 1964. This is a good book for anyone interested in the Space Race or Soviet culture.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jill Elizabeth

    I was really intrigued by the concept, although Space Program stories are not usually my cup of tea. Still, with the Penguin program ending, I figured I would give it a try - I had a lot of points left and figured it was worth a shot based on the blurb alone. Unfortunately, I just never found my way with it. I definitely think this was just not the right book for me. It's well-written and the concept is still really great, but the minutiae about space just lost me... That's all me - if you are m I was really intrigued by the concept, although Space Program stories are not usually my cup of tea. Still, with the Penguin program ending, I figured I would give it a try - I had a lot of points left and figured it was worth a shot based on the blurb alone. Unfortunately, I just never found my way with it. I definitely think this was just not the right book for me. It's well-written and the concept is still really great, but the minutiae about space just lost me... That's all me - if you are more interested in space, I suspect you might really enjoy this one. It's just not for me - at least not right now. Thanks to the now-defunct Penguin First to Read program for providing my review copy.

  20. 5 out of 5

    J. Milius

    First Cosmic Velocity finds beauty in the stark loneliness of the Ukrainian and Russian landscapes, in hardship, in the isolating nature of lies, and in the vast infinity of space. The central concept itself is intriguing - a dangerous lie at the heart of the Cold War Soviet space race. But there's hope as well, in mankind's eternal fascination in what lies beyond the next frontier, in personal connections, and - in an unexpected but very welcome surprise - in our relationships with dogs. It's a First Cosmic Velocity finds beauty in the stark loneliness of the Ukrainian and Russian landscapes, in hardship, in the isolating nature of lies, and in the vast infinity of space. The central concept itself is intriguing - a dangerous lie at the heart of the Cold War Soviet space race. But there's hope as well, in mankind's eternal fascination in what lies beyond the next frontier, in personal connections, and - in an unexpected but very welcome surprise - in our relationships with dogs. It's an accessible and fairly quick read, with a knack for doing a lot with a little when it comes to prose. Definitely would recommend. (I received an advance reading copy of First Cosmic Velocity as part of a Goodreads giveaway.)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    The Soviet space program is going swimmingly. Already they've sent five cosmonauts into orbit. Unfortunately, none of them made it back alive. To conceal their inevitable failure, the Chief Designer took identical twins and trained one to fly and die, the other to wave for the cameras upon “their” successful return. Leonid was the last of the twins. Now, while Leonid goes through the motions during his victory march across the USSR, the Chief Designer scrambles to fix the technical difficulties The Soviet space program is going swimmingly. Already they've sent five cosmonauts into orbit. Unfortunately, none of them made it back alive. To conceal their inevitable failure, the Chief Designer took identical twins and trained one to fly and die, the other to wave for the cameras upon “their” successful return. Leonid was the last of the twins. Now, while Leonid goes through the motions during his victory march across the USSR, the Chief Designer scrambles to fix the technical difficulties that doomed the beloved twins he failed. Straddles the mythic and the brutal, much like the epic folktales Leonid's grandmother relates during the flashbacks to his cheerless childhood. Thanks, Netgalley.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sam Ashworth

    I got an ARC of this at AWP, and I am glad I did. This is a lush, rare book and I can't recommend it highly enough. The story gripped me and didn't let go, and even now, months after reading it, there are still images that I can't get out of my head--and don't want to. It's science fiction with an emphasis on fiction, so hard sci-fi fans may get grouchy, but it's clear that the liberties it takes with Soviet history come from a place of deep reverence for the space program, and the cosmonauts wh I got an ARC of this at AWP, and I am glad I did. This is a lush, rare book and I can't recommend it highly enough. The story gripped me and didn't let go, and even now, months after reading it, there are still images that I can't get out of my head--and don't want to. It's science fiction with an emphasis on fiction, so hard sci-fi fans may get grouchy, but it's clear that the liberties it takes with Soviet history come from a place of deep reverence for the space program, and the cosmonauts who risked (and often gave) their lives to it. The history is invented, yet somehow, the invention feels just as accurate as the reality--and if that's not the sign of a great novel, I don't know what is.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jody Sperling

    I felt so immediately grounded in the world of FIRST COSMIC VELOCITY. Powers did an amazing job bringing Russia and the Ukraine into clear focus. His characters populated Star City and Bohdan, and even orbit with comfort and ease. I rarely visualize the settings in novels, but Powers’s place sparked with life, so crisp I could close my eyes and inhabit the locales. I especially enjoyed the flashback chapters in the 1950s. The Leonid boys held special fascination for me. If I had to pinpoint one I felt so immediately grounded in the world of FIRST COSMIC VELOCITY. Powers did an amazing job bringing Russia and the Ukraine into clear focus. His characters populated Star City and Bohdan, and even orbit with comfort and ease. I rarely visualize the settings in novels, but Powers’s place sparked with life, so crisp I could close my eyes and inhabit the locales. I especially enjoyed the flashback chapters in the 1950s. The Leonid boys held special fascination for me. If I had to pinpoint one missed opportunity, I’d say the book could have used a sprinkling more humor, but this is a minor comment for a novel so well drafted.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy Freeman

    Okay, now THIS is a great read. Got my mitts on a galley. Amusing touching, and ceaselessly compelling, First Cosmic Velocity seamlessly weaves together an astonishingly credible alternate history of the Soviet space program. Zach Powers drew me into his world, let me pull up a seat and settle in for the story. Its last line gave me goosebumps (in a good way). Bonus: no dogs were harmed in the making of this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jay Clement

    87-2019. This is a very imaginative novel of the early Russian space program. The author’s conceit here is that Russia secretly chose twins for their first cosmonauts, in case the mission failed and the one sent to space did not survive. In that case, the earthbound twin would replace him/her, and tour the world as an example of Soviet technological superiority. Except for some lengthy passages about one set of twins’ home life and home village history, this was a clever and fun book. Glad to ha 87-2019. This is a very imaginative novel of the early Russian space program. The author’s conceit here is that Russia secretly chose twins for their first cosmonauts, in case the mission failed and the one sent to space did not survive. In that case, the earthbound twin would replace him/her, and tour the world as an example of Soviet technological superiority. Except for some lengthy passages about one set of twins’ home life and home village history, this was a clever and fun book. Glad to have read it!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marco

    An Imaginary Portrait of a Conversation with the Author on the discussion of "First Cosmic Velocity": Author: So start reading. What do you think? Me: You're postulating. This is annoying, I can't take writer manipulations anymore - Author: Just keep reading. Me: Oh, here we go again. More postulating, now on the existence of God- as usual in science books- Author: I'm telling you, you're 3/4ths finished with it - Me: [a few sniffles] Author: See? Sometim An Imaginary Portrait of a Conversation with the Author on the discussion of "First Cosmic Velocity": Author: So start reading. What do you think? Me: You're postulating. This is annoying, I can't take writer manipulations anymore - Author: Just keep reading. Me: Oh, here we go again. More postulating, now on the existence of God- as usual in science books- Author: I'm telling you, you're 3/4ths finished with it - Me: [a few sniffles] Author: See? Sometimes if you see the darkness - you'll see the light in the stars coming through. It's the only way.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Henry Fosdike

    A book that I was very much looking forward to but didn't quite manage to live up to my lofty expectations. The premise in the present (well, 1964)was well executed if a little confusing at times by the ways it referred to the different twins and I'd have preferred names for the actual department heads. The flashbacks to 1950 didn't quite hold my attention in the same way. The story itself was fun and engaging and it's quite unlike anything else I've read in a while. Certainly interesting so if A book that I was very much looking forward to but didn't quite manage to live up to my lofty expectations. The premise in the present (well, 1964)was well executed if a little confusing at times by the ways it referred to the different twins and I'd have preferred names for the actual department heads. The flashbacks to 1950 didn't quite hold my attention in the same way. The story itself was fun and engaging and it's quite unlike anything else I've read in a while. Certainly interesting so if the blurb appeals, definitely give it a go.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nola Redd

    3.5 stars An interesting premise but I didn't find the characters particularly compelling and everything seemed very stereotypically Russian/Communist. It was amusing that they made a joke about how everyone was portrayed as either farmers or astronauts and then, other than the engineers, everyone was. I also thought the entire choice of lack of identity - from the twins having the same names to officers identified by their position rather than names to the confusion between the two aides - 3.5 stars An interesting premise but I didn't find the characters particularly compelling and everything seemed very stereotypically Russian/Communist. It was amusing that they made a joke about how everyone was portrayed as either farmers or astronauts and then, other than the engineers, everyone was. I also thought the entire choice of lack of identity - from the twins having the same names to officers identified by their position rather than names to the confusion between the two aides - to be an interesting but awkward choice. Even the dog suffers from it!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    Who wouldn't want to read a book about murdering Soviet-era twins? I really wanted to enjoy a book about the deliberate murder of Soviet-era twins. The jacket is just screaming, "Look, we're going to kill so many twins in this book, from the Soviet era!". Alas, nothing really happened, and I had to put it down. It was plodding. The people weren't people, not even the twins. Great concept, boring execution.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Lovely. Zach Powers’ writing reminds me of Kevin Wilson: great storytellers with succinct, flowing plots and fabulously flawed but magnetic characters. A wonderful book based on real conspiracy theories about the phantom Russian cosmonauts. A great period story not just about the Russian space race, but the periods of turmoil and post war trauma in the outer villages and small towns, how it affected its citizens.

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