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The Oppenheimer Alternative
Notes for the Cover Artist
The Oppenheimer Alternative tells the story of
J. Robert Oppenheimer and the greatest group of
physicists ever assembled: the Manhattan Project, which
created the world's first atomic bombs. Oppie was scientific
director at the Los Alamos Laboratory, and General Leslie R.
Groves was the actual head of the project.
But instead of all those great minds dissipating back into
industry or academia after the end of World War II, in this
novel, Oppie keeps them together to find a way to stave off an
Their research into fusion has revealed that the sun is unstable
and that it will eject its entire outer layer (the photosphere)
around the year 2030, destroying the Earth. In order to save
humanity, they propose an exodus to Mars (which they still
believe to be a canal-covered world with green vegetation) using
the real-life Project Orion atomic-bomb-propelled
After the first atomic explosion, Oppie said, "Now I am become
Death, the destroyer of worlds." This ultimately uplifting novel
is a tale of redemption as those scientists seek to become life,
the saviors of our world.
Although set in the past (1938 to 1967), this is a hard
science-fiction novel as much as it is an
alternate-history novel. The art might suggest
science, physics, and so on.
The main character in the novel is J. Robert
Oppenheimer. Google will provide you with many
black-and-white images of him. Please note that Oppie's
eyes are famously a very arresting light blue; in the novel I
describe them as looking like opals.
Oppenheimer's porkpie hat (wide brimmed, see photos
online not like the porkpie Walter White wore on Breaking
Bad) is considered his signature.
Please don't depict Oppenheimer or anyone else smoking.
If you choose to depict J. Robert Oppenheimer on the
book's cover, may I please ask you not to depict him smoking?
Yes, Oppie was a chain smoker, but I lost my younger brother Alan
Sawyer to lung cancer and find such imagery disturbing (it was
hard enough for me to write all the smoking Oppie does in this
novel). Many thanks!
Besides Oppenheimer, the other main characters (all real
- Wernher von Braun
- Edward Teller
- Albert Einstein
- Leo Szilard
- Richard Feynman
- General Lesley R. Groves
- Enrico Fermi
- Hans Bethe
- John von Neumann
- Haakon Chevalier
- President Harry S Truman
Sadly, historical reality means this book doesn't have many
female characters, but the two main ones are:
- Kitty Oppenheimer (Oppie's wife)
- Jean Tatlock (his mistress)
Indeed, the story is a bit of a love triangle between
Robert Oppenheimer, Kitty Oppenheimer, and Jean Tatlock.
Still, I suspect Oppie himself is the only figure you'll
definitely need to illustrate; the others are up to you.
The two main settings are the Los Alamos Laboratory in New
Mexico, circa 1945, and the Institute for Advanced Study
in New Jersey, circa 1950 (especially Fuld Hall).
Among the items depicted in the novel that might make good
foreground or background elements in your illustration are the
following. Illustrations should be easy to find online, or
contact the author (details above) for assistance.
- Oppenheimer's porkpie hat
- The sun and its angry surface: prominences, etc.
- The Project Orion atomic-bomb-propelled spaceship project
- Solar spectra (spectrums / spectrographs)
- The Doomsday Clock, as depicted often on the cover of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the Bulletin itself
- Feynman diagrams
- The Trinity Test
- Trinitite (the distinctive green glass created by the Trinity explosion)
- The planet Mars as it was formerly depicted with canals
- The planet Mars as depicted with craters in the Mariner 4 photographs
- The "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" atomic bombs
- The 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- The Nobel Prize in Physics (the gold medallion)
- The Enrico Fermi Award (also a gold medallion)
- Wernher von Braun's spaceship and space station designs, as depicted in Collier's magazine in the 1950s (beautiful retro designs!)
- V-2 rockets
- The Chicago Pile 1 (first atomic reactor)
- John von Neumann's computer at the Institute for Advanced Study
- Black holes
- Jupiter and its four largest moons
- President Truman's "The Buck Stops Here" desk sign
- A four-leaf clover
- Equation-filled blackboards
- The Bhagavad Gita (Hindu holy text)
- Transcripts of "In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer," his security hearing
- Documents with security-censored portions blacked out.
The full text of the novel is attached, so you can easily search on any of the above.
Looking forward to whatever you come up with!
And here is what the artist, Scott Grimando, did come up with
(click image for a larger version).
From top to bottom (more or less), we have:
- The planet Mars
- A spacescape
- Oppie's trademark porkpie hat
Oppie's famously blue eyes
- An Orion atomic-bomb-propelled spaceship
- Roiling clouds of an atomic explosion
Scott's painting of Oppie is based on a public-domain photograph from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as you can see here:
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