Pity the novelist who unintentionally shoots his heroes, as well as himself, in the foot-as seems to be the case with Graham in this first novel that, apparently inadvertently puts the seamier side of defense contracting on display. Graham's ostensible heroes are Rolf Bernard and his cohorts at BAP, ``the biggest aerospace company in the world.'' Bernard is a businessman who claims to possess a space-oriented technology superior to that employed by NASA. He must battle frustrating federal bureaucracy, however, to deploy his Single-Stage-to-Orbit spacecraft, especially in order to launch ``Brilliant Pebbles,'' a series of satellites designed to shoot down ballistic missiles and to ensure that the U.S. (or at least BAP) controls low-orbital space the way the English used to control the high seas. Bernard and his colleagues-the ``gatekeepers''-come up with ingenious technological solutions to further their cause; even when they fail, the gaffes are interesting-a spaceship landing on an interstate highway, a short circuit caused by fruit bats. The problem for most readers will be that Bernard isn't much of a hero-in order to raise cash, for instance, he's willing to sell planes to a sanctioned China, skirting government regulations by first routing the planes to Bulgaria. Bernard and his crew also tend to treat woman as second-class citizens. Several red herrings involving the entrepreneur's estranged wife add twists to the plot without deepening it, and by novel's end, when Bernard is asking for $1.3 billion plus ``total immunity from criminal prosecution'' for the Pebbles System, most readers will be wondering why he, or anyone else in this novel, deserves to be rewarded for ingenuity or derring-do. (Oct.)
Graham is the son of the originator of the strategic defense initiative ("Star Wars" ) concept, so perhaps writing a superior space-advocacy novel comes easy for him. The plot is a near-future extrapolation from existing technology, in this case the recently flown single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) vehicle. The protagonist, an independent entrepreneur, develops a fleet of the SSTOs without government help but with his estranged wife's money instead and launches both solar power satellites and an ABM system. This initiative forces the government into a more cooperative stance. If the characters are archetypes, still they are plausible--the politicians and bureaucrats painfully so. The action is exceedingly brisk, and Graham presents the hardware in enough detail to be interesting but not so much as to overwhelm the story. Altogether, this is the best space-advocacy thriller to appear yet. It should appeal to readers in both the space-fan and thriller audiences.