Let’s cut right to the chase. All Up is such a richly detailed story about the first space race starting in the early 1910s with the initial experiments done in Germany, Russia, and the United States in rocket power and dreams of traveling to Mars. The timeline moves through the 20s, continuing the successes and failures, then the 1930s and 40s with Wernher von Braun and the V2 rocket. And then the Cold War era and the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
What Exactly is ‘All Up’?
In a video Rinzler posted on YouTube, he described All Up as a “historical fiction/thriller about the first space age. It’s my first real novel, and it’s got a beautiful cover. It’s on sale on July 14th. It’s an exciting read. To my knowledge, the only book that covers the first space age from Godard’s early successes with rockets through WWII and the V2 rocket, to the space race, Wernher Von Braun, and his Russian counterpart Sergei Korolev. You can’t write about a lot of stuff in a nonfiction book like UFOs, the secret weapons, and a lot of strange things that happened that I certainly didn’t know about when I started doing the research seven years ago. All Up is about 90% real and verifiable.”
Rinzler went on by saying, “It’s a behind the scenes saga of humankind’s greatest adventure, which we call the first space age.” Rinzler describes one of the themes as “The psychological aspect of the story and the question of who we will be as a species. We’ve evolved from mining for gold to space exploration.”
Part of that psychological aspect is played out between the various American scientists and von Braun. Being an ex-Nazi, Wernher von Braun was not initially well-liked but he was treated with respect because the Americans knew he’d play an important role in beating the Russians into space. Wernher met this standoffish attitude with calm respect. Wernher didn’t see himself as a Nazi. He saw himself as a scientist trying to achieve something that has never been done before. He just happened to be on the wrong side. He is the Galen Erso (see Rogue One) of the space race.
A Story for the Ages
All Up grabs you from page one and does not let go. All 600 + pages are a master class in storytelling. There is so much happening in this story; it would be difficult to summarize here. And honestly, it wouldn’t do the story justice. If you’re only interested in the facts of events, there are other books to read or go browse the internet. But if you want to be enthralled by the story of how it all unfolded, then read, All Up.
All Up is divided into five sections. The first section is pre-WWII (1911-1938), the second section (1939-1945) is by far the longest section, not in years but in events. Here is where I learned, there’s more to All Up than just who gets to the moon first. Some pretty brutally horrific war scenes opened my eyes and made me realize that All Up isn’t just a fun science fiction book. The third section (1946-1948) takes a noticeable turn towards the age of flying saucers and introduces Freemasonry and black magic. In section four (1949-1957), UFOs become more prevalent, and the space race kicks into high gear. Section five (1958-1977) is the second-longest and where the overwhelming emotion of years of tests and failures finally pays off.
History in the Making
Rinzler does a great job building a timeline of events. He sets the stage of what’s to come while presenting the urgency between the Soviets, Germans, and Americans to be the first to develop a space-going rocket. Also, leaving small hints of the woman with brown curls is enough to remind us she’s lurking about. I definitely got Black Widow/Wonder Woman vibes from her.
The story pulls you in because it’s based on the reality of actual historical events. Forming a visual image in your mind of the events is always more accessible when grounded in reality. Rinzler plops you right in the middle of the action, a fly on the wall of history. The race to space is a sort of Forrest Gump finding itself surrounded by famous engineers, inventors, and military personnel as historical events unfold.
Rinzler let the idea for All Up germinate while reading biographies on Von Braun and Korolev. For Rinzler, Korolev was incredibly hard to get a grasp on because books about his life are hard to come by. Rinzler eventually found an English version of a two-volume set based on Korolev, written by his daughter Natasha.
“Most people have no idea what actually happened during the race to space,” Rinzler said. Guys like Bob Gilruth, who ran the Space Task Group and George Mueller, don’t get the same acknowledgment as the astronauts, but if it wasn’t for their brilliant minds, it’s highly likely the moon landing would not have been possible.
Returning to the Moon?
Fifty-one years ago, Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and we haven’t been back since the early 1970s. The United States settled on reusable shuttles to conduct Earth orbits. Headed by Elon Musk, who Rinzler called the modern-day Wernher von Braun, SpaceX is working on rectifying this by building the Starship for trips to the moon and possibly Mars. Testing is currently happening.
I can’t emphasize enough what a magnificent job Rinzler did with putting this story together in a way that flows from start to finish. The amount of research is staggering. Not only is All Up a page-turner of the purest sense, but it is also a learning experience. I found myself continually googling the ensemble cast (there is a pretty substantial dramatis personae at the beginning of the book). I’m reading, I’m googling events, I’m reading, I’m googling secret organizations. You might think with all this googling going on, I’m not following the story. That’s the thing. It adds to the story because now you have context and a visual image.
The heart of the story occurs post-WWII. With the Nazi Reich defeated, the Americans turn their attention to a new enemy, the Soviet Union. The United States implements Operation Paperclip, which essentially invited the top German scientists, including von Braun, to help the United States launch an orbital satellite before the Russians. The Russians were left with the second-tier German scientist but still, not bad.
Wernher von Braun puts it to a vote to take their knowledge to America or the Soviet Union. They want to be on the winning side as they are the only ones to acknowledge that Germany will lose. This must’ve been incredibly difficult to put aside one’s national pride for science and research. Ultimately they vote to take their plans to the United States because they feel they will be treated better and respected. Von Braun knows the Soviets only want revenge against any Germans.
One of the aspects I learned about the space race was how differently the Americans approached it than their Russian counterparts. Whereas the Americans were much more cautious about risking human life, performing tests upon tests, the Russians didn’t value human life the same way; the Russians wanted to be first and they were, despite several accidents with significant losses of life. On the other end of the spectrum, the Americans risked losing funding, while costs were skyrocketing (pun very intended) because of all the testing, slowing down progress. President Kennedy’s “moon speech” in 1962 put pressure on NASA to reach the moon by the end of the decade. At the current pace, that was highly unlikely. Enter George Mueller.
George Mueller, who headed the Apollo Program, coined the term ‘All up'” when referring to the Saturn V rocket testing. The Saturn V testing proceeded at a snail’s pace because stages of the rocket were being tested separately. Things weren’t looking promising for the Apollo Program. Mueller proposed that the Saturn V get tested all at once. Launch it as one unit—all up. The risk was significant, but the science behind the idea convinced von Braun that it could work despite the hesitation from the rest of the engineers. If it did, funding would continue, and the goal of landing a man on the moon by 1969 became possible again.
Science Fiction Became Science Fact
The fact is, we all know the outcome. The Apollo moon landing occurred on Sunday, July 20th, 1969. But that doesn’t matter. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey, and this is where Rinzler excels. Rinzler makes you forget where the story is going, heck, I wasn’t even sure where the story was going to end. But when it came up, I made sure I didn’t read ahead. I put my hand over the words and read line by line. I wanted it to come to me naturally. When I read those famous words spoken by Neil Armstrong, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” a rush went through my body. Wow! They did it!
It was the zenith of humankind up to that moment. I only wish I was alive to see it happening. I can’t imagine how that must’ve felt like as an American amid a controversial war, racial tension, a decade that saw assassinations of President Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. Proud? Mistrustful? Was it a hoax to distract from the Vietnam War? No, and I think saying so detracts from what was accomplished by all Apollo Program members. I can only speculate on whether this unified the country amid the Vietnam War.
Hey, I know them!
All Up is full of emotion. Several beautifully poignant passages sprinkled through the story nearly made me tear up. Without giving all of the details away, most of these coincided with cameos of some famous faces such as Walt Disney, Gene Roddenberry, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, George Lucas (there is a really subtle Star Wars easter egg to watch out for), and the children of Philip Nowlan (the man who created Buck Rogers).
Again I decided not to get into details, but Rinzler took situations (murders/suicides) that were never confirmed and put you in the front row of what could’ve happened in a way that made sense. Adding to that, Rinzler would drop in covert CIA experiments that aren’t common knowledge. It worked so well I thought there’s no way this was a thing, and yet there it is. About a third of the way through the book I stopped taking notes because All Up is that good and deserves to be enjoyed explicitly.
I could go on about how satisfying All Up is, and I’ve already recommended it to family members and coworkers. For anyone interested in early space exploration, the space race, rocketry, thrillers, or is a WWII buff, you cannot pass on All Up. It’s a must-read! The print and Kindle versions are out now. And the audiobook should be out by September due to delays because of COVID-19. Do yourself a favor, go out and buy this book. I guarantee you won’t regret it.