by Jeff Foust
|Laika is not meant as a substitute for a proper scholarly account of the first dog to orbit the Earth. Instead, it’s an entertaining but also educational overview of the life of an unwitting space pioneer.|
Laika is a blend of fact of faction, something readily acknowledged by the author and publisher. Since nothing is known (or could be known) about Laika’s life prior to its capture and delivery to Russian biomedical researchers, that portion of the book is a dramatization, culminating with its capture by a dogcatcher with an Ahab-like obsession regarding the dog. While later sections of the book also include dramatized passages, it’s based more solidly on actual history, and includes people like Sergei Korolev and Oleg Gazenko, a doctor involved with the effort who later regretted the decision to fly Laika: “We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog,” he said over 40 years later, in a postscript included in the book. The author, Nick Abadzis, has clearly done his research, traveling to Moscow to learn more about Laika. He even goes so far to mention in a brief author’s note at the end of the book that he took pains to make the phases of the Moon rendered in various parts of the book astronomically accurate for the given date, although “I may have erred on the side of drama about the times of the moonrises.”
Historical purists may turn up their noses at Laika: real histories, they may argue, are texts with the occasional picture, not oversized comic books with dramatized characters and passages. However, Laika is not meant as a substitute for a proper scholarly account of the first dog to orbit the Earth. Instead, it’s an entertaining but also educational overview of the life of an unwitting space pioneer. Kept in that perspective, Laika is a fine way to introduce some space history to audiences who might never think to read a more conventional book on the subject.