Subtitled J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb

Szilard fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s and began trying to convince others of the possibilities resulting from atomic fission and its resulting energy, both good and bad. Throughout the 40s, he and other scientists worked to find the funding and material, especially uranium, for their experiments in the field, all the while arguing over whether the rules of science and publication of data had changed because of the war.

Fallout has art by Janine Johnston, Steve Lieber, Vince Locke, Bernie Mireault, Jeff Parker, Chris Kemple, and Eddy Newell, with a cover by Jeffrey Jones.

The focus of the book then changes to Oppenheimer’s leadership of the Los Alamos laboratory, where the need for secrecy becomes even more pressing. It’s especially galling on those who escaped from the prison of fascism to be restricted under military oversight. It’s also a stretch for those used to operating on a theoretical basis to worry about how to accurately build such a devastating weapon.

Later, Oppenheimer participates in an inquiry to determine whether he is a security risk. Various incidents that have been reported against him and his response are run in text columns, juxtaposed against the images of his testimony to the panel. His clearance was revoked, preventing the “father of the atomic bomb” from working with the Atomic Energy Commission. Although the incidents took place 50 years ago, the idea of a secret tribunal turning against someone for being too liberal is disturbingly timely.

Fallout captures little-known elements of scientific history in an easy to understand, enlightening fashion. By making the names behind the facts into more three-dimensional people, Ottaviani sheds new light on how war affects science.

The GT Labs website has more information, including preview pages. I previously reviewed Dignifying Science, a biographical anthology about female scientists written by Ottaviani.

6 Responses to “Fallout”

  1. chasdom Says:

    I think this is the most disappointing of Ottaviani’s works. This was his first attempt at GT Labs at a continuous narrative, and it doesn’t succeed at that goal. It’s just too disjointed and Bernie Mireault’s odd framing sequences don’t help the situation.

    The chapters don’t hold up very well on their own, as they refer back to the events of previous chapters. So the book can’t be read the same way as Dignifying Science or Two-Fisted Science. On the other hand, the chapters don’t hold together as a continuous narrative either, jumping between major characters and cherry-picking events that don’t flow together well. The best part of the book, the Oppenheimer hearing at the end, isn’t supported by the themes of the earlier chapters. Similarly, interludes with Einstein are very entertaining, but tend to subvert the themes of the chapters they interrupt.

    In contrast, I highly recommend Suspended in Language by Ottaviani. A single continuous story on the life of Neils Bohr that flows well and builds on its themes effectively. The fact that Suspended in Language has even more science content than Fallout, and yet hangs together better as a narrative, is a tribute to Ottaviani’s advancing skill as a storyteller. The scenes with Einstein and Bohr even reinforce the book’s themes instead of disrupting them!

    Oppenheimer & Co.’s story could have been fascinating too, and it’s a shame Fallout wasn’t up to the task.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for adding your analysis. This certainly is a transitional volume between his first two anthologies and the later long-form works, but “worst of his works” is still pretty good, I think. I’ve got reviews on more of his books still to come, so I hope you’ll continue to comment.

  3. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] There are sample pages at Leland Purvis’ website. The GT Labs website has more information, including preview pages. A physicist reviews Suspended in Language. Jim Ottaviani previously wrote Fallout. […]

  4. kuniform » Blog Archive » Marvel Super-heroes Re-enactment Says:

    […] Basically, reading the trade rags, this guy knew a major new villian was introduced to mess up Batman severely, causing his 1st appearance issue to sky-rocket in value. So, the dealer put up a sign trading all these gullible 8-12 year olds their 1st appearance for crap comics, and then a few months later sold them back those 1st appearances for tons of cash. Why not take them out in an alley and beat them up for their money? It’s about as nice. Anyway, that started me on reading things like Pogo, Krazy Kat, and graphic novels like the Watchmen, the work of Paul Pope and Fallout, a comic history of the creation of the atomic bomb. […]

  5. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] It’s going to be a novella, about 50 pages of story plus the usual background material and endnotes. It explores stage magic, that blend of psychics and psychology, and will be illustrated by Janine Johnston, who did some of the art for Jim’s earlier book Fallout. […]

  6. The Jewish Culture Log of Arts » Blog Archive » 50 Jewish Reasons to Attend Comic-Con International in San Diego Says:

    […] (32) Jim Ottaviani (author of Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love and Fallout : J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the Political Science of the Atomic Bomb) […]




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