Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “First Cosmic Velocity” as Want to Read:
First Cosmic Velocity
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

First Cosmic Velocity

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  90 ratings  ·  36 reviews
A stunningly imaginative novel about the Cold War, the Russian space program, and the amazing fraud that pulled the wool over the eyes of the world.

It's 1964 in the USSR, and unbeknownst even to Premier Khrushchev himself, the Soviet space program is a sham. Well, half a sham. While the program has successfully launched five capsules into space, the Chief Designer and his
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published August 6th 2019 by G.P. Putnam's Sons
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about First Cosmic Velocity, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about First Cosmic Velocity

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  90 ratings  ·  36 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Michael Burnam-Fink
Jul 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2019
Summer 2019 should be a great time to release a novel about the Soviet space program. After all, you have the Apollo anniversary and Chernobyl to spark interest. Unfortunately, First Cosmic Velocity is not that great of a novel. At best, it might appeal to the most basic of slavaboos.

First Cosmic Velocity takes a kind of magic realism approach to the topic. The Soviet space program of 1964 is an elaborate sham. Every capsule has burnt up on reentry. To preserve the illusion, cosmonauts are twins
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc, signed
A lonely, despairing Soviet delirium.

May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I received a free copy of this e-book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

The idea of the "Phantom Cosmonauts" and the secret flight of Vladimir Ilyushin has always intrigued me. The author puts his own spin on these rumors in First Cosmic Velocity. In this novel, the Soviet Union starts launching cosmonauts before they have the capability to bring them home safely (just like they did with Laika). To keep the rest of the world from knowing that they are deliberate
Rochelle Hickey
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers was an unexpected delight. I’m not sure what I at first expected delving into the 1960’s space race focusing on the Russian launches. The book description made it feel like a quirky twisted science fiction adventure but really it’s a slow burning story about moral dilemma. What are the lengths one would go to succeed? To survive? To be a Soviet hero?

I love how very few characters through the whole book have an identity for themselves. Names are titles, names
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it
it's a well written book but unfortunately I didn't feel involved and the book fell flat.
Not my cup of tea.
Many thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
It’s the height of the Space Race and in the Soviet Union they’re hiding a secret. The cosmonauts who are returning to earth as heroes aren’t the same people who were sent into outer space.

Russian Literature meets Capricorn One and, you know what, it works.
MCZ Reads
Jun 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaway-winners
Full review to come later.
Allen Adams
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing

There’s nothing quite like stumbling upon a great book.

Yes, we all have our favorite authors and our favorite genres, our favorite styles and favorite publishers, but every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we wind up with something unexpected in our hands. Maybe you read a review blurb, maybe a friend pointed it out to you – doesn’t matter how you got it, just that you got it.

“First Cosmic Velocity” by Zach Powers is one of those books for me. It is an abs
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Zach Powers, First Cosmic Velocity (New York: Putman, 2019), 340 pages.

I’m not sure how to classify f this novel. At times I thought the author had written the first anti-Sci-fi (similar to the anti-western genre of films that began to challenge the classical westerns in the 1960s). At other times, it felt as if I was reading a comedic Cold War spy thriller or an alternative history. But whatever genre one might classify this novel, it was a fun read.

It’s 1964 and the Soviet space program is a d
Tonstant Weader
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
First Cosmic Velocity is a bizarre and wonderful book that tells us the story of the Russian cosmonauts, but not really. Imagine that the scientists could not quite get that reentry thing to work. Knowing what happens to people who fail in Stalin’s Soviet Union, the leaders of the project conceived of an audacious fraud, recruiting identical twins who would grow up to be cosmonauts, one to die in space, the other to tour and talk about what it was like in space after the flight.

The story focuses
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Space is incredibly fascinating and being the first to discover the mysteries it holds is an ambitious endeavor that comes at a steep and secret cost in First Cosmic Velocity by Zach Powers.

To read this, and other book reviews, visit my website:

In 1964 the Russian space program has the appearance of being successful, but the truth of what goes on behind the scenes would prove it anything but. Able to produce rockets capable of making it into space but not
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I received an ARC of this title in a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

And while I certainly understand the source of some early reviewers' qualms with the book (such as comments about the characters as symbols rather than human figures), I found the book to be compelling nonetheless. Powers's seamless weaving of fact and fiction was very well done--with recognizable historical events (such as the Bondarenko fire, the Nedelin disaster, hastily painting CCCP on a white space hel
Phil Keeling
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. There’s a melancholy sense of humor at work in this book about identity, national pride, family, and the places we call home, and it struck a chord with me. The story itself is a clever enough idea, but what really stayed with me were the characters. Powers has created a world of complex and truly unique characters: I loved their individual stories, and I loved watching how they engaged with one another as the book unfolded. They’re made all the more fascinating when you watch ...more
Jill Elizabeth
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: done-with, gave-up-on
I was really intrigued by the concept, although Space Program stories are not usually my cup of tea. Still, with the Penguin program ending, I figured I would give it a try - I had a lot of points left and figured it was worth a shot based on the blurb alone. Unfortunately, I just never found my way with it. I definitely think this was just not the right book for me. It's well-written and the concept is still really great, but the minutiae about space just lost me... That's all me - if you are m ...more
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sf-fantasy
I was looking forward to reading this book because of the intriguing premise. However, I was quickly disappointed. From the very beginning, the book was confusing. If I hadn't read the jacket blurb, I wouldn't have had any idea as to what was going on. Unfortunately, that was not my only issue with the story. I found the use of titles instead of names to be grating, the characters uninteresting, the "voice" to be the same for all of the characters, and the plot to be exceedingly slow.

The book wo
Aug 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The Soviet space program is going swimmingly. Already they've sent five cosmonauts into orbit. Unfortunately, none of them made it back alive. To conceal their inevitable failure, the Chief Designer took identical twins and trained one to fly and die, the other to wave for the cameras upon “their” successful return. Leonid was the last of the twins. Now, while Leonid goes through the motions during his victory march across the USSR, the Chief Designer scrambles to fix the technical difficulties ...more
J. Milius
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First Cosmic Velocity finds beauty in the stark loneliness of the Ukrainian and Russian landscapes, in hardship, in the isolating nature of lies, and in the vast infinity of space. The central concept itself is intriguing - a dangerous lie at the heart of the Cold War Soviet space race. But there's hope as well, in mankind's eternal fascination in what lies beyond the next frontier, in personal connections, and - in an unexpected but very welcome surprise - in our relationships with dogs. It's a ...more
Sam Ashworth
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I got an ARC of this at AWP, and I am glad I did. This is a lush, rare book and I can't recommend it highly enough. The story gripped me and didn't let go, and even now, months after reading it, there are still images that I can't get out of my head--and don't want to. It's science fiction with an emphasis on fiction, so hard sci-fi fans may get grouchy, but it's clear that the liberties it takes with Soviet history come from a place of deep reverence for the space program, and the cosmonauts wh ...more
Kate Grace
Jul 20, 2019 rated it liked it
Zach Powers’ First Cosmic Velocity is an intriguing first novel that reads like postmodern allegory.

The book is thoughtful and philosophical, but never entirely ‘human’. In other words, readers live with big concepts - concepts like truth, sacrifice, and discovery - rather than with realistic characters.

None of the characters, from the Chief Designer to Nadya to Ignatius, can escape their symbolic function in the world of the text.

First Cosmic Velocity is not emotionally satisfying, but it is
Jody Sperling
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I felt so immediately grounded in the world of FIRST COSMIC VELOCITY. Powers did an amazing job bringing Russia and the Ukraine into clear focus. His characters populated Star City and Bohdan, and even orbit with comfort and ease. I rarely visualize the settings in novels, but Powers’s place sparked with life, so crisp I could close my eyes and inhabit the locales.

I especially enjoyed the flashback chapters in the 1950s. The Leonid boys held special fascination for me.

If I had to pinpoint one
Amy Freeman
Jul 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Okay, now THIS is a great read.

Got my mitts on a galley. Amusing touching, and ceaselessly compelling, First Cosmic Velocity seamlessly weaves together an astonishingly credible alternate history of the Soviet space program. Zach Powers drew me into his world, let me pull up a seat and settle in for the story. Its last line gave me goosebumps (in a good way).

Bonus: no dogs were harmed in the making of this book.
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
An Imaginary Portrait of a Conversation with the Author on the discussion of "First Cosmic Velocity":

Author: So start reading. What do you think?
Me: You're postulating. This is annoying, I can't take writer manipulations anymore -
Author: Just keep reading.
Me: Oh, here we go again. More postulating, now on the existence of God- as usual in science books-
Author: I'm telling you, you're 3/4ths finished with it -
Me: [a few sniffles]
Author: See? Sometimes if you see the darkness - you'll see the ligh
Aug 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Who wouldn't want to read a book about murdering Soviet-era twins? I really wanted to enjoy a book about the deliberate murder of Soviet-era twins. The jacket is just screaming, "Look, we're going to kill so many twins in this book, from the Soviet era!". Alas, nothing really happened, and I had to put it down. It was plodding. The people weren't people, not even the twins. Great concept, boring execution.
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Lovely. Zach Powers’ writing reminds me of Kevin Wilson: great storytellers with succinct, flowing plots and fabulously flawed but magnetic characters. A wonderful book based on real conspiracy theories about the phantom Russian cosmonauts. A great period story not just about the Russian space race, but the periods of turmoil and post war trauma in the outer villages and small towns, how it affected its citizens.
Mallory M Gibson
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
This book was excellent. I had not heard of the Russian space program conspiracy theory before this but the idea intrigued me. Zach Powers did an excellent job of taking that premise and turning it into a great story, one that people really into space/rockets/the-race-to-the-stars can enjoy as well as people who may not know much about those things (such as myself). Characters you will love and sympathize with......just a really well written story and a really enjoyable read!
Sep 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
**I received a free copy of this e-book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Finally finished this book while on vacation, and I found it to be both interesting and unique. We'd just watched Chernobyl too, so I was in the mood for some Soviet-inspired fiction.

It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did, I was pretty hooked on this bizarre fictional tale of Russian cosmonauts and the trickery involved in the Russian space program.

Aug 26, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5**. This book was NOT what I thought. I envisioned an amazing, plot-driven, fast-paced, space race sham blowing up in everyone’s face. Absolutely not the case. Instead, this was a nameless-character, morality-based plot wherein every choice is bad, and no one actually has much of a choice at all.
Jenn Rossmann
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Affectionate satire of the Space Race's absurd urgency (and urgent absurdity): Soviet space program as Heller or Hanif might see it, deepened by its historical resonance and acknowledgment of the costs to many ethnic minorities (eg Ukrainians) of Soviet dominance. Pretty darn funny too.

Such an interesting concept and a great start but I had issues with the execution, especially as the story progressed. Mostly I wish the characters were fleshed out more so they had distinct voices and I could connect with them. The philosophical ramblings were a bit much too.
Ernest Spoon
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Not terribly satisfying. Just OK. I supposed the inspiration is the urban legend of either the CIA, air force of NASA engineers overhearing a Soviet cosmonaut's last words as he died on reentry. Rather melancholy, I suppose as one might imagine Soviet society before the collapse in 1991.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
Zach Powers is a native of Savannah, Georgia, and lives in Arlington, Virginia. His novel, FIRST COSMIC VELOCITY, is now available from Putnam/Penguin, and his debut story collection, GRAVITY CHANGES, won the BOA Short Fiction Prize and was published in 2017. He is the Director of Communications at The Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Get to know him at