Book Review: Rocket’s Red Glare by Cy Stein (Two Stars)


Book Review: Rocket’s Red Glare (A WWII Era Alternative History Novel) by Cy Stein

(Two Stars)

“Sid’s brain ached. As a physicist, it was easy to view daily life as a series of math problems to be solved; everything was potentially doable, wasn’t it? But sometimes, the data had holes. Big holes. Dark holes.”

I don’t normally post reviews for books that rate this poorly. I’m making an exception because I was given an advanced reader copy and asked to review it. Also because there’s the embryo of a really good alternative history story amid the wreckage that is currently Rocket’s Red Glare.

“The thrill of meeting Einstein, coupled with the wonderful half-day spent with Julia, still clung to him like the fragrance of newly blossoming flowers.”

Excellent concept: what if FDR died in the late 1930s and Charles Lindbergh was elected president in 1940? Poor execution: factual errors, poor construction, and abundant grammatical and typographical errors keep destroying the sense of the story. Some readers will love; some will hate. Few will learn about what might have happened because Stein’s characterization of people, motives, and events of the 1940s transparently reflect the author’s opinion of current American politics.

“What is happening in our country now is unfortunate, but what is going on in Eastern Europe is horrific beyond imagining.”

Examples of factual miscues: FDR dies in 1938, but Stein writes that Lindbergh was the next president. No, Vice President John Nance Garner would have succeeded. Stein has Lindbergh taking office in 1940; no, if elected in 1940 he’d take office in 1941. The Sky King radio show originated in 1946. JFK entered the Navy (as an ensign) in October 1941. (These calendar discrepancies are permissible in an alternate universe, but Stein needs to say so.) 424 E. 71st Street cannot back on 402 E. 72nd Street because 424 faces north, therefore backs toward the south, E 70th Street, and by the way is the address of historic Sokol Hall.

Comic book-level writing. Rapidly changing point of view character (“head hopping”) impedes following who thinks, says, and does what. All the scenes with Adolf Hitler (as a Putin stand-in) and most of the Lindbergh and Trump sub-plots have obvious modern political motivation. And detract from the real story.

“The public be damned,” said Gerald L. K. Smith. “I like it! Oh … I hope no one will be will be muzzling me, too.” (p. 143, emphasis added)

The story is still a draft, unfit for publication. Numerous errors of detail, clumsy plot construction, and numerous typos and sloppy writing. Stein often splits paragraphs disconcertingly. Clumsy dialects confuse. Lots of little details wrong, while overloaded the story with street and setting details which distract. Too much explaining, as if he fears the reader will miss his point.

“‘My God, I hate communists, every stinkin’ one of ‘em.’ Purvis’ dislike of communists was a visceral obsession.”

That said, the Sid Peskin main plot shows enormous potential. The mob, Jack Kennedy, Rosenberg, and scientist sub-plots adequately support what is potentially an engaging alternate history. With a lot of work, this could be a best seller.

“Listen, buster. He’s Albert Einstein—the man who discovered the basic laws and principles of the known universe. I think he can handle an FBI phone tap.”