PD Smith

I aim for the stars

07 August 2006 | Atomic Age, atomic bomb, Cadbury, cold war, Doomsday Men, Dr Strangelove, H-bomb, Korolev, mad scientist, Von Braun | Post a comment

No more editing for me for a few days. I've reached about half-way through the 500 or so pages of my manuscript. Two reasons for the pause: to prepare my accounts and to do some reviewing. Being forced to confront the reality of how little a freelance writer earns is always painful, so I'll pass over the first fairly rapidly. But the second is more interesting.

Deborah Cadbury's Space Race is a great read. She tells the story of the space race through the lives of the Soviet rocket scientist Sergei Korolev and the ex-Nazi Wernher von Braun.

The material on von Braun may be familiar but it is an extraordinary story that shows the terrible ambiguity of science - its ability to turn dreams into reality and take people into space, but also its destructive potential. For the rockets that were built to take us to the moon were also meant to deliver H-bombs onto New York, London and Moscow.

That ambiguity was apparent at the release of the 1960 biopic about von Braun, I Aim at the Stars. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the number of his missiles that hit us, it flopped in Britain. One review was memorably headlined: "I Aim at the Stars, but Sometimes I Hit London."

As I'll show in Doomsday Men, von Braun was the original model for Dr Strangelove, the ultimate mad scientist of the Cold War. And it's the story of the Atomic Age, told in popular fiction, film and the lives of the scientists, that best reveals how our scientific dreams turn all too easily into nightmares.

You'll have to wait a few more months for Doomsday Men (there's the small matter of the editing to finish yet), but I hope to provide a few tasters of the book in this blog. So watch this space...

[originally on Myspace]

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