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Alex Latimer’s Novel The Space Race Launched with Diane Awerbuck

Alex Latimer and Diane Awerbuck

The Space RaceIn 1979 an American Satellite, the Vela Hotel, picked up an unidentified “double flash” off the Prince Edward Islands near Antarctica. Rumour has it that the flash was the result of nuclear testing in a joint operation by South Africa and Israel. There exists very little evidence to support this claim but it is an excellent premise for a novel.

Alex Latimer was inspired to write his novel The Space Race by this Vela Incident, as it later came to be known, and also by the military airfield rather ominously known as Vastrap which the South African Defence Forces used as an underground nuclear test site in the late seventies. In his book, Vastrap serves as the base from where the South African Afrikaner-led government is building nuclear weapons to power a spaceship into outer space with the intent of colonising another planet.

In conversation with Diane Awerbuck at Kalk Bay Books, Latimer explained that the use of Afrikaners colonising another planet is not so much political commentary but that they fitted the bill as a fierce pioneering people whose engineering feats such as the infamous Rooivalk helicopter was among the best in the world. Who else to utilise nuclear power for outer space travel?

Even though we are far from colonising another planet, Latimer says his book is not neccessarily science fiction if you take into account the whole novel plays out on earth.

This is his first forray into a “book for grownups” as he points out, having already written and illustrated several picture books for children. His drawings are somewhat quirky, which translates into his writing, but there is a sadness, “a loneliness”, to the story that belies its humorous nature. “The book deals with loneliness and the dangers of pioneering,” he says. “But the only option for the human race is to pioneer. It’s in us and the pursuit is worthwhile to acknowledge.” In the novel two sisters with an unfortunate background are chosen as the first to be sent to space in the nuclear rocket. The two sisters, disconnected from their family, realise their fate is not the emotional death sentence they originally thought it would be and “it’s not all bad,” says Alex.

The Space Race is funny in the same way a smell in the fridge is “funny”. “The book has it’s humorous moments but also moments of that strange smell in the fridge,” he says. “It’s hard to write honestly about serious issues and not be humorous. It makes it more palatable.”

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