[The rocket] had passed the transonic speed range and was approaching...10,000 m/sec without incident. Suddenly, the flight path began to fluctuate. Observers later reported that she had yawed to the left and that the contrail behind her fiery jet then became wavy. A few seconds later, the vessel broke apart. the aftermost portion blew up in an explosion whose shock wave was audible at the launching site much later. The smaller forepart of the ship continued upwards on a steep ballistic parabola, passed its maximum ordinate, and fell with still increasing velocity into the sea.Is it:
A) A particularly vivid account of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster?
B) A news story about a troubled Soviet launch?
C) Werner von Braun, trying his hand at a science fiction novel in 1949?
If your answer was C, you win! I'm reading von Braun's Project Mars: A Technical Tale and the first part's not all that bad, especially for the time it was written, though not only is all the math, physics and astronomy right -- as was so proudly said of the crop of hard SF writers who came on the scane about then -- he has a tendency to show his work. In detail. On the other hand, while his assumptions can be broad, there's no accusing him of hand-waving.
His brave astronauts have now landed on Mars and the yarn has turned a bit...philosophical. I'm suspending judgement.
If you ever wondered what was behind the stunning Chesely Bonestell paintings showing an expedition to Mars, this is it -- and the book includes several nicely printed color plates of them.
The book gets savage reviews at Amazon. Dr. von Braun's characters are not that bad, being generally what you get when an engineer or pilot writes writes of his peers; non-technical readers often complain they are lacking in angst-filled depth, not understanding that the drama to be found in technical challenges. (George O. Smith's Venus Equilateral yarns, filled with people just like the ones I work with, have often been so criticized -- "cardboard!'' -- even though he was a working electrical engineer and wrote about the kinds of people he was around every day) . The book suffers from having been written in German and translated by a man who was not, as nearly as I can tell, a writer of fiction. All that said, the first part holds up very well if read as an outline for a film script. It remains to be seen if the finish will be as strong.
No link; if you'd like to buy it, go to Tam's and use her Amazon.com window!