cover image First Cosmic Velocity

First Cosmic Velocity

Zach Powers. Putnam, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-53927-8

Powers’s entertaining and winning debut novel about the 1960s space race launches from an intriguing premise: that the Soviet Union covered up fatal rocket misfires by recruiting groups of twins as cosmonauts—one to pilot the ill-fated space capsule, the other to bask in the glory of a faked hero’s return. Set primarily in Star City, Russia, in 1964, Powers’s story centers around the earthbound experiences of Nadya (whose twin burned up on re-entry years before) and Leonid (whose brother, the last twin, is currently orbiting the earth), through which Powers refracts glimpses of the competitive Soviet space program and its personnel, the sometimes absurd politics of the Khrushchev era, and the process by which a cold-hearted recruiter pried the twin Leonids away from their family in 1950s Ukraine. Powers (Gravity Changes) endows his stoical, driven characters with distinctive personalities and the capacity to reflect philosophically on their charade, as when Leonid says, “Maybe our individual personalities are just the areas in which we failed to copy someone else.” Powers’s deadpan depiction of the ruse that drives his tale and the historical figures duped by it will give readers pause to wonder if it really is that improbable. [em](Aug.) [/em]