There can only ever be two. They were the Ninety-Eight, now they are the Ninety-Nine, a mother and daughter with a mission to send humans to the stars. With the Germans defeated, Von Braun and his scientists are trapped in Germany. The Ninety-Nine cannot risk his work being lost, so they must save him and deliver him to a country where he can continue. The Tracker has been following them for their entire existence, determined to stop them. What is it that we need saving from?

I’m nineteen and I’m supposed to shoot a German rocket scientist if they can’t get their hands on him before the Russians do. I say shoot. I’m sure they’d be fine with strangle, drown, tickle to death, but men sent me, so I know they had a gun in mind.

Rather than the alternate history I was expecting, A History of What Comes next closely follows the events that led to the space race. All the historical figures do what they were recorded as doing, the only difference is that they are being steered by the Kibsu. War had always been the assumed catalyst for rocketry, but in this version of events, a mother and daughter team, forever reborn, is at the heart of the competition. They help both sides on their way to space, wanting to save humankind from something.

The majority of the story switches between Sarah and Mia as they insinuate themselves into the lives of the people responsible for getting us into space, with occasional diversions to the distant past to visit the Kibsu that came before. I loved the idea that some information had been lost in the past and all that they knew know was a few rules. There can only ever be two and they must β€œsend them to the stars”.

Take them to the stars, before Evil comes and kills them all. My mother’s words. Her mother’s words, and her mother’s, and her mother’s. Our lives boil down to a single sentence, a handful of symbols on an ancient piece of jewelry. I thought it was a gift when Mother said I could wear it. Now that necklace hangs heavy like a manacle.

Mia is essentially a clone of Sarah, and Sarah a clone of her mother, and so on. They are sort of based on a kind of (actually real) fish that only ever produces female offspring. They mate with a male but discard all their DNA.

I like that this tied into me reading Last Night at the Telegraph Club, since this book also featured a Chinese immigrant working at the Jet Propulsion Lab; Qian Xuesen who was later accused of Communism despite all the work he did.

This was one of those books where I enjoyed reading the author’s notes at the end, there were so many snippets of history and real people included, it was nice to have that section to highlight who was real and what inspired some of his choices.

 

I wanted to save a good man, or kill an evil one.

Considering I was hesitant reading yet another WWII alt-history book, I was pleasantly surprised by the direction this took. The direction of history itself! I assumed it was a standalone but I am happy to see there is another one planned, as there is plenty more technological history to be covered.

I’m using this for the Popsugar prompt of “oxymoron in the title” and if you’re stuck on that one, this is a great choice.

 

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