It's the height of the Cold War and two Air Force pilots are orbiting Earth in a Gemini spacecraft in pursuit of a Soviet space station armed with a massive nuclear warhead. The Soviet crew has been given rogue orders to arm the warhead and target New York City, but they're also in trouble. As the Americans intercept them, after a game of cat and mouse that feels like The Hunt for Red October in space, the Soviets communicate with Morse code that they are desperately in need of rescue. What will the Americans do?
By the time the reader reaches this scene in Pale Blue, the final installment of Mike Jenne's Blue Gemini trilogy, it's clear that there is only one move for the American crew to make, though that doesn't lessen the suspense by a hair. Ourecky and Carson have trained endless hours together in a grueling, painfully uncomfortable simulator; they have endured survival exercises in Alaska and hostile capture upon an emergency landing in Haiti; and most importantly, Ourecky, an "egghead" engineer who was about to give up on his dreams of becoming a fighter pilot, has earned the trust of Carson, a dyed-in-the-wool hotshot.
In contrast to the Machiavellian maneuvers of the Pentagon brass and their competitive fellow pilots, these two men have a deeply human sense of integrity. They draw on this integrity as they balance the priorities of their secret mission with the desire to distinguish themselves in their careers and honor the people they care about most.
Jenne's books are the most compelling type of techno-thriller because they describe events that could easily have happened, and the protagonists' clandestine heroics urge readers to contemplate all of the near cataclysms that may have been prevented in the real world without our knowledge. Jenne, a licensed pilot, lifelong aerospace aficionado, and amateur space historian, is a retired Special Forces officer who served in deployments around the globe. Although he "held a high-level security clearance while writing the series," which helped him render a convincing backdrop, Jenne says he drew only on declassified records to describe the historic Cold War–era military space programs and "presented [his] manuscripts to all the appropriate authorities for security review."
After a Soviet rocket scientist, disfigured and put out to pasture by the military bureaucracy following a horrible launch accident, decides to move ahead with arming the warhead once it's reached space in Pale Blue, the action is reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove. However, in Jenne's world, which thankfully feels much closer to ours, the U.S. military is prepared to execute a measured response. "There is ample historical evidence of catastrophic events being averted by the timely actions of right-minded individuals—on both sides of the Iron Curtain," Jenne says, "so I suspect that we're a lot more fortunate than we will ever know, particularly since there were likely scores of incidents we will never be aware of."
The three books—Blue Gemini, Blue Darker Than Black, and Pale Blue (all published in hardcover and available or forthcoming in paperback from Skyhorse)—cover much adventurous ground in addition to the many critical space missions. There is undercover fieldwork in Africa, battlefield action in Vietnam, and even a Soviet military intelligence break-in at a Smithsonian warehouse, all led by a compelling cast of supporting characters such as Special Forces Sgt. Nestor Glades, who, Jenne says, is based "directly on an actual person, a gentleman named Maj. Richard J. Meadows, may he rest in peace, who was a legend in the special ops world."
Jenne keeps even the less technologically inclined reader engaged with the rich descriptions of NASA, the U.S. Navy, and the Air Force's historic spacecraft programs, which in reality may not have been deployed to the degree that Jenne imagines—or cannot be revealed. The books are intensely readable and addictive because the characters guide the reader through their problem-solving, even when it involves obscure technology. "When I began outlining Blue Gemini," Jenne says, "I envisioned a story that was very technology-centric, much like the techno-thrillers written by Clancy and others, but I soon realized that the human dimension was the most compelling aspect. This tale is populated by ordinary people who are called upon to do extraordinary things."