Book Review: The Ministry of Space

Mama Fisi
Mama Fisi's picture

The Husband picked up something we call a "baseball mitt gift"--something you buy for someone else, but it's really for your own use.  This particular present is a graphic novel, "The Ministry of Space," by Warren Ellis, Chris Weston, and Laurta Martin, with lettering by Michael Heisler.  It's a gorgeous little alternate history which cleverly uses rotoscoping and CGI modelling to produce extremely realistic cartoon images depicting what might've happened had Britain gotten to Peenemunde before the Americans did.

The story is very intriguing, but somewhat terse and sporadic.  Told in a series of flashbacks, it illustrates how the Ministry of Space was created shortly after the end of World War Two by a highly ambitious but rather unscrupulous Air Commodore John Dashwood.

Dashwood, who fought in the Battle of Britain, becomes enamored of space the first time he flies his Hurricane up above 28,000 feet and sees the curvature of the earth.  From then on he knew that he had to get into space, regardless of the cost, and later talks Churchill into rubber-stamping the Ministry of Space, using mysterious "black budget" funding only Dashwood knows the source of.  The eventual revelation of this source sets up the flashbacks of the story.

Getting their hands on the Peenemunde rocket scientists, then bombing the facility to atoms to prevent the Americans or the Russians from being able to reverse-engineer anything, the ministry sets out to conquer space, with a goal of expanding the British Empire into a realm where the sun really never ever sets.  They could care less about making missiles--their goal is the colonization (and possession) of the moon and Mars.

Dashwood barely survives being the first man to fly into orbit, losing both legs when his experimental spaceplane crashes upon reentry, but this only steels his resolve.  Soon Britain is recycling second-stage boosters into assembling a space station in orbit, from which they launch the ships that subsequently colonize the Moon and Mars.

Britain reaps huge benefits from their space program in the form of free electricity beamed to Earth from solar collectors in orbit, but apparently their society stagnates in 1953 sensibilities, for at the end of the book we realize that the black woman pilot of Dashwood's transport ship has to use a break room designated "for non-white women only."  And yet, her father was in command of the first Mars landing.

The artwork alone is worth the price of admission on this book.  A lot of excellent draughtsmanship went into this book, and the result is absolutely stunning.  The hardware and landscapes, especially, can take your breath away.

The storyline, though, makes the British--or at least, Sir John Dashwood and his cronies--out to be real jerks.  They've got not so much a "can-do" attitude, as a "will do, and damn the bloody torpedoes" attitude, and they don't much care who they have to roll over to achieve their ends.

Highly recommended.