Charles Boyle’s fascinating story, Shuttle Rising: To Rendezvous With A Rumor, makes excellent use of his deep knowledge of space research and technology, resulting in some highly imaginative plot twists. Boyle’s writings have appeared in Science and Omni magazines and he has served as Space Flight Editor for the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. He was also the Manager of Educational Programs for Earth Sciences at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
The narrative begins when CIA Technical Director Mike Benson is informed by a Ph.D. candidate of a mysterious signal that has been detected from a scan of the night sky.
After some speculation, it is deduced that a Russian satellite, (named Ivan), is a remnant of the last century and appears to be calling someone. However, it is not known who, how or why. Also, there is believed to be a timer set to go off once a year on the 4th of July, just over the continental US and in the hydrogen wavelength.
Due to the Soviet practice of secrecy and their total lack of confession of any fault, it was never known when their space adventures succeeded or failed. Could it be the unthinkable that Iván was one of his failures? That a Russian cosmonaut was used as fodder for his space experiments and is dead in orbit?
Meanwhile, as the plot unfolds, a resolution related to the “Open Lands Treaty” is presented to the United Nations, by which all nations would vote to eliminate nuclear weapons. If passed, it would mean that each nation would consent to having inspectors on its own soil to confirm that the treaty is respected. The Russians are appalled at such a requirement and refuse to accept the proposal stating that it would be planting spies among them.
This now sets the stage for the US to try to prove that the Russians are trying to hide something and that one of their cosmonauts has been lost in space. Once this is accomplished, the Russians will come back and sign the treaty.
Adam MacGregor, one of America’s top astronauts, Distinguished Service Award winner, along with his sidekick Tim Carver, are called upon to capture and retrieve Ivan and bring him back to Earth. Perhaps they will even manage to show evidence that it contains a dead cosmonaut?
The Russians find out what is going on through information they got from a mole they have planted inside the US space agency. All hell breaks loose and the Americans are accused of piracy and imperialist interference in the internal affairs of other nations.
All of this leads to some extremely dangerous shenanigans between the Russians and the Americans. There is also the possibility that the Russian astronauts have been left in states of hibernation, known as suspended animation, as is sometimes depicted in science fiction movies.
This is a gripping novel told with great enthusiasm as it takes its readers into the world of space adventure and investigation.
As the pieces slowly come together, readers realize that there is much more to this novel than simply recovering a lost Russian spaceship. Working various threads within the main plot, Boyle provokes a great deal of thought and speculation related to space research and “what if” scenarios. However, from time to time the excessive use of technical jargon, as well as the questionable relevance of some of the scenes, particularly between McGregor and the Russian astronaut Ylena, slow down the pace of the narrative a bit.
Despite this flaw, the novel leaves us sated, but wanting more. It’s a thriller that offers plenty of action, but perhaps, for those of us who aren’t very space-savvy, little plausibility; however, we love suspense!