Vladimirov, a Russian popular science writer who defected in 1966, offers a novel perspective on the space race. His temperately presented thesis is that the vaunted Russian techno-scientific superiority of the '50's and early '60's was a carefully nurtured myth. He argues that the U.S.S.R. is a ""technologically backward"" country whose space accomplishments were the result of the application of unlimited resources and the genius of a few scientists, notably Korolyov, the ""Chief Designer"" whose identity was hidden for many years by a paranoid bureacracy. Sputnik and its successors are described as ad hoc gadgets designed to keep one propaganda jump ahead of the U.S.A. rather than parts of a coherent plan for space exploration. While the American program methodically pointed its nose cone toward the moon, Russian energies were devoted to flights that could be billed as firsts of one kind or another. For example, Voskhod, the Soviet three-man craft, was apparently launched in an unseemly rush when Khrushchev learned that the Americans were planning a two-man flight. The three cosmonauts were sardined into an available one-man ship by the simple expedient of stripping them to their underwear. There was of course no room for experimental equipment and even Soviet official sources were apparently hardpressed to describe the scientific fruits of the voyage. The tendency is to be skeptical of a defector's charges, but Vladimirov is no wild-eyed zealot; his tone is unhysterical and as a science writer he seems knowledgeable about the Soviet space program. Withal, the documentation is just too thin for a completely trustworthy case but the cumulative impact is more like sci fact than sci fic.