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Infinite Satellite

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T-Minus: The Race to the Moon - Jim Ottaviani, Zander Cannon, Kevin Cannon Summary: This graphic novelization of the space race leading up to the moon landing, told from both the Russian and American space program's viewpoints, is tailor-made for the middle school social studies classroom.

Plot: The author takes the historical timelines of both the USSR and the USA's progress toward a moon landing and lays them out side by side. What a great idea! Too often American audiences are not given both sides of the space race. Sure, we got to the moon first, but the Soviets had the first orbiting satellite, the first living creature in space, the first man in space, the first woman in space... Their advancements topped ours for some time.

Characters: There's little character development in this book. The characters exist to give exposition. The author plays down Cold War tensions. There's nary a mention of the panic Sputnik caused simply by passing over America and saying "beep beep" (or, in this book, "deet deet.") As someone who grew up during the end of the Cold War, I can't imagine that the height of it amounted to, "Oops, the Russians beat us again, gosh darn it." Also, the characters like to make obvious, groan-inducing jokes.

Art: The art is nothing to cause excitement, possibly because we are subjected to so many drawings of meetings and mission control rooms. The astronauts are not the focus here; the timeline and the spacecraft designers take center stage. Instead of panoramas of space, this book includes many cartoon panels of interchangeable characters talking.

Dialogue/Writing: The dialogue is, as I've said, mostly expository. Characters frequently mention facts in an almost non-sequitur manner that can make the reader feel that someone is trying to disguise history as fun. Also, the Russian dialogue can be difficult to read. In an effort to provide a visual cue for the reader when the story swings back to the USSR, the font for the Russians has heavy serifs and uses a Cyrillic letter that resembles a backwards N in place of the letter N. This device is visually distracting and incorrect, as this letter actually makes the sound "ee" in Russian. Perhaps if a greater effort had been made to create characters who did not all look alike, the issue could have been avoided.

Ending: I really liked the ending, which, rather than focusing on the moon landing, had one of the NASA designers skipping out on watching the landing in order to work on designs that would allow American astronauts to rendezvous with Russian cosmonauts. Bridging the two storylines was a great way to wrap up, but one that would have had more emotional impact had the American-Russian tension been more pronounced.

What more did I want?: Better art, more distinguishable characters, less bland dialogue. Overall, though, a fun and detailed read.