God's Billiard Balls is built around four close boyhood friends who grow up in Nazi Germany and are slowly torn apart by the near-daily changes in social, political and economic conditions that accompany Hitler's tumultuous and sometimes ruthless rise to power.
Hans-Isaac Meisel is a half Jew who aspires to be a runner and a scientist and who, in spite of Hitler's increasing oppression of Jews, manages not only to find a way into the 1936 Olympics but also to become involved in the scientific race that leads to the discovery of fission.
Stefan Mueller, son of a Hitler-admiring Lutheran minister, becomes an officer in the Nazi SS.
Otto Renthe and Willi Willmuether become apprentices in a machine shop where Willi becomes a special target of their Nazi-bully foreman.
Otto, whose pacifist father was blinded in WWI, becomes a seaman on the Graf Spee.
Willi finds satisfaction in revenge – and a time of happiness before his dream to become a flier loses its appeal.
God's Billiard Balls ends in late 1938. In two surprises. The first one involves a scientific discovery. The second comes only hours later during Hans' harrowing escape from a Storm Trooper roundup on Kristallnacht, a night in which at least one person gets what he wanted – and what he didn't want.
After his escape from Germany, in The Mine at Shinkolobwe, due to the foresight of the head of a Belgian mining company Hans is sent to Africa to take part in the recovery of uranium ore from the company's abandoned mine at Shinkolobwe and to oversee shipment of that ore to the United States (where it will eventually be used in producing the first atomic bomb).
In the first few months Hans is in Africa he finds a new joy and challenge in day-to-day physical labor, develops unexpected friendships, discovers love – and discovers that he has not escaped the Nazi threat. The Nazis have become aware of the richness of the ore at Shinkolobwe and are out to keep that ore – and Hans – from ever reaching America.
A great deal of research was done to make God's Billiard Balls and The Mine at Shinkolobwe historically and factually correct in every way, even down to names of streets and streetcar numbers.
The scientific and uranium-ore background (condensed):
In 1902 physicist Ernest Rutherford and chemist Frederick Soddy discovered that the element thorium underwent radioactive decay with the release of a significant amount of energy and soon thereafter concluded: "the latent energy in the atom must be enormous." When physicist Enrico Fermi reported in 1934 that he had bombarded uranium, the heaviest known natural element, to produce an unidentified and presumably new and heavier element, scientists in many countries set out to identify that element and almost surely win a Nobel Prize. That quest led in late 1938 not to the discovery of an element heavier than uranium but to the discovery that the uranium nucleus had split into lighter elements with the release, it was calculated, of a tremendous amount of energy – and almost overnight "moonshine" speculation became near scientific certainty that an atomic bomb could be built.
From 1922 to 1937 vast quantities of uranium ore had been mined at the Shinkolobwe mine in the Belgian Congo by the Union Minière du Haut Katanga and shipped to Olen, Belgium, for exhaustive extraction to obtain radium, then the world's most expensive substance. When the price of radium dropped, the mine at Shinkolobwe was closed and shipment to Olen ended.
Edgar Sengier, head of Union Minière, was well aware of the possibility of an atomic bomb and in early 1940 afraid that Germany would overrun Belgium and gain access to the uranium slag heap at Olen and unable to get officials in Washington to listen to his pleas, on his own ordered the uranium ore already above ground at Shinkolobwe shipped to the US and stored in a warehouse – where it stayed until it was used in developing the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.
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I'm not sure what species she was or if she was even from Earth. Why did I marry her? And why the hell did I ever fuck her?