Saturday, November 15, 2008

James A Michener's "Space" (novel), Chapter 1: "Four Men"

This post is about the first chapter, titled "Four Men", of this novel. Novel page gives overall background, links to other chapters, & very short chapter overviews.

This chapter is really 4 generally independent stories - each introducing a male character that will presumably play a key role later. All stories are set during the fading days of WWII; in fact, all begin about 24 October 1944. All but one are actually set in one of the war theaters.

Since war stories are described from US perspective, I suspect reaction to them will depend reader's home country.

Thread 1: Stanley Mott.

On 24 October 1944, US & British joint operations are planning major attacks during the night on 2 German towns: British will level Wassenaar, & Americans Peenemünde. Wassenaar is residential town that has a missile launch site, Peenemünde has a missile research facility (though Americans suspect it is a nuclear weapons research facility).

Mott is 26, & a professor of aeronautics at Louisiana State (University?) He is one of the 11 men the US President Roosevelt has sent to European front to make sure 3 specific Germans are not killed in Allies attacks:
  1. General Eugen Breutzl is "the managerial genius. We have reason to believe he's not a Nazi, just a technical wizard who could move our program ahead by generations."
  2. "Count Wernher von Braun, a relatively young man who seems to be the genius of the rocket operation."
  3. "Dieter Kolff, if we have it correct. He's about thirty-five years old, and the reason we must get him is that he may prove to be the real genius of the team. He's their expert on the A-10."

    A-10 is still under development German missile with trans-Atlantic range.
US wants to recruit the three for its own military work!

All three are stationed at Peenemünde, & Mott is trying to impress upon the US commander in charge of the night's attacks that he should leave the researchers' living quarters alone.

As things happen, mistake in the field levels the researchers' living quarters. Breutzl dies. von Braun & Kolff are saved by a miracle as they happened to be off site.

Thread 2: Norman Grant.

This is the story of a US/Japan navel battle, again on 24 October 1944. Japanese are trying to evict Americans from Philippines.

There is just too much US patriotism here for my taste. Norman Grant is the captain of DE Lucas Dean, one of the US defending ships. By the end of the story, he will emerge a US national hero.

Thread 3: John Pope.

John is a 17 year old US prodigy. Great football player, & budding astronomer. Story is basically introducing the guy, his girlfriend Penny Hardesty, his parents, & his environment.

A scene here reminded me of something very familiar in India - a politician walking in at an event he's not welcome, & others having to act polite while the proceeding are shut because of this obnoxious visitor.

Thread 4: Dieter Kolff.

This is (or felt like!) the longest of the 4 threads, told from the point of view of Kolff - the mechanical maverick. This story is set around the German missile research facility in Peenemünde, though it moves around other German towns too. We are introduced to German side of war, & obviously very biased accounts. But I liked it because of its colorfulness, though at times it felt draggy.

Breutzl, the superb manager, will be killed in US air attack. By the end of it, we will be uncertain of the fate of von Braun - the brilliant ideas man. Perhaps killed, perhaps not...

Story ends with the Allies walking into Germany. Kolff, with his girl Liesl, is running to defect to Americans - with the German designs for the transcontinental missile A-10! He will run into Mott, & is to now face US military interrogation.


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