The space race, the first man in space and the first man to set foot on the moon. Events from decades ago that, despite being great accomplishments, have seemingly fallen by the wayside and become somewhat forgotten today. Imagine that at the end of World War II the German scientists, led by Dr. Wernher von Braun, had gone over to the British instead. Imagine that nation, its empire fading into history, using those scientists to extend their empire into space and changed history in the process. That intriguing premise takes proverbial flight in the graphic novel Ministry of Space.
On the writing side is Warren Ellis. Beginning at the end of World War II and stretching across the next fifty-five years, Ellis blends fact and fiction together to bring to life this vision of how humanity's first steps to the stars might have taken place. To do this, Ellis focuses the story very much on one man: Sir John Dashwood, the RAF officer who becomes the founding father of the Ministry. Through him, the reader witnesses the history of the Ministry: its launching of the first artificial satellite, Dashwood becoming the first man in space, the founding of the Royal Space Force, Britain establishing the first space station, the first landings on the Moon and Mars and more. Dashwood also interacts with some notable historical figures along the way including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Dr. Wernher von Braun. Yet as great as all those accomplishments are there's a devastating secret at the heart of it all that could destroy Dashwood and his Ministry which builds as the novel goes along. Ellis also asks an important question: what good are all these accomplishments if everyone can't benefit from them? That question, like the secret at the heart of the Ministry, builds, and then comes crashing home in the final pages. The result is not just a intriguing alternate history of space exploration but a thought-provoking read at the same time.
On the visual side of Ministry Of Space is artist Chris Weston and colorist Lauren Martin. They bring Ellis vision to life by mixing the historical and the retro-futuristic together. The historical can be found mostly in the earlier parts of the novels time-line, especially in the sections from 1945 to 1950 in the first chapter. From then on, the novel becomes a mix of the two elements as our history and the novels history begin to diverge from one another. Throughout the novel the art work as an almost cinematic quality to it that owes much to the classic 1983 film The Right Stuff as can be seen in sequences where Dashwood becomes the first man in space, the panels on page five of chapter two and during the first landing on Mars. As a result, the artwork helps the story move at quite a pace as it travels across time and space.
Yet the biggest flaw of the novel actually lies in that fact. Ellis keeps switching the story back and forth between an elder Dashwood's 2001 journey to a meeting on a space station and the accomplishments of the past. Ellis tries to do this with a character saying something to Dashwood that triggers a memory and then flash back to 2001 and then once again into the past. This plot device doesn't work more often then not and the results can be rather jarring. There are times when it does work, such as the aforementioned panels, but for the most part the transitions prove to be more of a distraction then a help.
Despite the flaw in its ability to move back and forth between time periods, Ministry Of Space makes for an intriguing read nevertheless. Warren Ellis tells a story that gives us an alternate, but perhaps not always better, history of space exploration, while artist Chris Weston and colorist Lauren Martin give that story a cinematic quality, with one foot in the historical and the other foot in the retro-futuristic. The overall result is a thought provoking tale that looks at what might have been and the people who would've taken part in it.
Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.