Star Wars. Indiana Jones. Alien. Planet of the Apes. Author J.W. Rinzler has written books on them all. However, for his latest project, he’s tackling a story that’s more famous than all those iconic movies combined: the Space Race.
Rinzler’s latest book is called All Up, a fact-based fiction thriller blending impressive research and creative speculation to tell a story we all know a little of but not all. It’s a hybrid put together using the research skills he learned writing definitive making-of books during his 15 years as an executive editor at Lucasfilm, blended with a little of the company’s imagination.
“I had no real intention of writing until I started working at Lucasfilm,” Rinzler told Gizmodo over the phone this week. “So the whole experience there fostered the idea of writing that’s led from one thing to another. Doing comic books to novels to nonfiction, I’ve been very lucky.”
It wasn’t luck, though, that lead Rinzler to this latest project, it was a lifetime of adoration for space, history, and then the realisation of how wild the creation of all that was.
“People know about the space race in very large strokes,” Rinzler said. “And I thought all the details that went into the V-2 rocket, the cat and mice games between the Secret Service agencies and the German army and the SS and all of that was fascinating and high drama…and actually quite unknown. So I thought it would make a great book.”
On a macro scale, All Up tells the story of the rocket — its conception, invention, weaponization, and ultimately, shooting humans into space. However, the story is tackled from all angles; the Russian, German, and American scientists developing rockets, their importance during World War II, the birth of NASA, and eventually Apollo 11. There are a lot of characters and a lot going on.
Beyond that, what makes All Up so interesting and unique is not that it’s simply recounting history. It takes speculation and evidence about UFOs and aliens and weaves them into the story seamlessly, creating a hybrid of fact and fiction that’s probably more fact than most people realise.
“There is actually quite a bit of evidence of interest — a big interest and big concern — at the very tops of governments about the flying disc phenomenon,” Rinzler said. “Foo Fighters and pilots were spotting weird anomalies. They were very concerned. And that’s not generally addressed in your standard book about the space age. Most of that stuff is written off as just sort of trivial. And so I wanted to give it, I thought, what was probably closer to what they were really thinking at the top. ‘What the heck is going on? And how does this affect our plans for things like D-Day’ or this or that? I thought it’d be fun to get that in there and, as a novel, it doesn’t have to be 100 per cent true.”
Maybe not true, but at least plausible. While there’s no actual proof of any of these things happening, there have been hints.
“There are reports from people, a couple of people, that [Werhern] von Braun said to them, ‘Where do you think we got this?’ Or ‘Where do you think we got that?’ I personally don’t know whether that’s true but often, where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” Rinzler said.
So yes, there are alien-related, largely fabricated subplots, but beyond that most of the book is true. Which meant Rinzler had to include people like Wernher von Braun, a Nazi who came to America after World War II and was instrumental in the development of our space program. He’s a main character and a difficult one for Rinzler to handle simply because, well, he was a Nazi.
“I think there’s no question that he was an amazingly charismatic, visionary human being and somebody who Arthur C. Clarke was proud to know,” Rinzler said. “So clearly he had a very interesting, wonderful side to him. At the same time, he was a guy who accepted an honorary command in the SS and didn’t seem to have much of a moral compass during World War II. I mean, of course, he’s hugely controversial. So I did basically a literary interpretation of him, which I thought fit the facts as I could understand them from the history books.”
Rinzler researched All Up for about a year before writing and worked on it, on and off, for about seven years total before publication. The list of sources on his website is impressive. Often, he’d be reading and discover things so shocking, he knew he had to add them in the book. One such example was the British bombing of Mittelwerk, a German factory building V-2 rockets, and the prison camps where those rockets were built.
“I had heard that the base had been bombed, but as I did more research, I realised that the British mission to bomb the secret German army base where they were building the V-2s, that was one of the biggest missions of the war,” Rinzler said. “And most people didn’t even know it happened. Then also, the prisoner of war slave labour camp to build the V-2s. I knew vaguely about that, but I didn’t know the details. So as I learned the truly horrifying, horrific details that had to go into the book.”
The book also features several prominent literary and historical figures, from John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Joseph Stalin, to Walt Disney, Ray Bradbury, and the aforementioned Arthur C. Clarke. For many of them, Rinzler would use old recordings or writings and try to capture their voice and essence. That process, and everything else along with it, resulted in a hybrid version of history and science fiction the author found more rewarding to write than his non-fiction work.
“At this point, given a choice, I would rather do historical fiction,” Rinzler said “It’s a lot more challenging. It’s actually a lot harder, but it is in the end more fulfilling.”
Before that, he’s got more non-fiction coming. A making-of Aliens book was just released, and he’s working on writing the memoirs of Howard Kazanjian, a prolific, but relatively unknown, producer who worked on the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones films. One Rinzler book we won’t see, though, is his making-of book for The Force Awakens, which was scheduled for release in 2016 before being quietly, and permanently, cancelled. The specific reasons why were never made public but I suggested to Rinzler maybe Disney just didn’t want to pull the curtain back on its big new franchise so soon.
“My book didn’t have anything in it [people] didn’t already know,” Rinzler said. “And I think you’re right. It might have been a case of too much too soon. Like, ‘We just got through doing all this. Do we really want to dredge up all of these difficulties that were part of making the film?’ Which I don’t understand because everybody knew already.”
However, if anyone can find the bridge between what everyone already knew, things we didn’t know, and even a bit we never thought possible, it’s Rinzler. And he does just that in All Up, which is available now.