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The first issue of The Manhattan Projects both disappointed and fascinated me. I was disappointed that Hickman had taken the fiction so far. I had been hoping for something more in line with Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson that could more easily fit in with what actually happened while having some dark secret corners of the Los Alamos facility. That was blown when the Japanese attacked via a teleportation device through which streamed kamikaze robots. Still, Hickman’s strange alternate World War II was very interesting to me, especially his characterization of Oppenheimer. What cinched the deal for me was Albert Einstein’s strange cell. He appeared to be the most dangerous person there.
The solicits promised that this issue (#2) would be about Warner von Braun. I only know who he is because of a Tom Lehrer song about how he may have been a former Nazi, but now that he was working for us, it was OK. This sentiment is explored in this issue, but the issue is really more about Feynman. I think Feynman is one of the better known Manhattan Projects scientist because of his lectures to bring science to the masses and his famous sense of humor. So it was quite interesting to see how Hickman characterizes him. I felt Hickman could get away with more deviations with Oppenheimer because no one but Manhattan Projects nerds know who he was. That’s not to say the solicit was a complete lie because the second half of the book is indeed about getting von Braun to join The Manhattan Projects.
Speaking of Manhattan Projects nerds, Hickman sure knows how to reward them. During a scene in which all of the scientists convene, we see a man in a radiation suit topped with a bowl containing a skull. We are told this is Dr. Daghlian. I had no idea who that was or why he was depicted this way by Hickman. A quick wikipedia search shows that he died during one of the radiation experiments at Los Alamos. So bravo on Hickman’s creativity there.
After two issues, I’m more excited about this alternate history that Hickman has constructed. However, I’m still a bit on the fence about how he’s choosing to tell the story. There isn’t really much of a linear narrative as each issue focus on one character and how they came to work at The Manhattan Projects. Also, the pace at which Hickman is advancing through the war makes me think perhaps this is going to be a very short-lived project – maybe 5 issues or so. Of course, I guess it’s possible that Hickman just wants to get through World War II as quickly as possible so he can get to focus on what happened at Los Alamos after the war as it would be the time period most rife for him to play around with his alternate timeline.
I continue to enjoy the unique art style Nick Pitarra brings to the series – it’s unlike anything else I’m currently reading. I also love Rachelle Rosenburg’s colors. The use of only blues and reds in flashbacks really gives a specific tone to the book.
If, like me, you’re a history buff and enjoy World War II historical fiction then you’ll probably enjoy Hickman’s alternate timeline. Think steampunk, but instead of steam…. insert whatever you’d characterize 40s technology as. I think after the next issue I’ll know for sure where it’s going and whether I’d recommend that you keep reading it.