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Review: Perigee


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Perigee
by Patrick Chiles
CreateSpace, 2012
softcover, 388 pp.
ISBN 978-1-4699-5713-5
US$10.99

A long-term vision of many in the space community is the development of spaceplanes that can bridge the continents in a matter of a couple hours. Richard Branson, for example, as talked about developing such vehicles as future generations of the SpaceShipTwo his Virgin Galactic is now testing for suborbital space tourism; British company Reaction Engines Ltd has also examined how the SABRE engine it is developing for its Skylon vehicle could be used for hypersonic travel. For the foreseeable future, though, such vehicles are flights of fancy—and, occasionally, fodder for a technothriller.

Perigee can make for an entertaining way to spend a few hours, particularly if you’re reading it in a plane plodding along at subsonic speeds.

That’s the case with Perigee, a novel by Patrick Chiles. The story is set in the relatively near future, where the company Polaris AeroSpace has developed and operates a fleet of spaceplanes ferrying passengers around the world in a matter of hours. On one flight, though, a charter from Denver to Singapore carrying a media mogul and his entourage, there’s a problem: the spaceplane’s engines fail to shut down properly, and the vehicle continues to accelerate, achieving orbit. That triggers a race against the clock to rescue those stranded in orbit while understanding the technical problem—or tracking down the sabotage.

The idea of a spaceplane not intended to reach orbit bring stranded there isn’t a new one. Some may remember a 1983 television movie starring Lee Majors titled Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land with a similar plot: a hypersonic plane accidently reaches orbit, and has to be rescued by shuttles (straining the bounds of credulity even in the early years of the Space Shuttle program, the shuttles were turned around and launched again within a matter of hours!) In Perigee, Chiles makes a much stronger effort to be as realistic as possible regarding engineering and spaceflight as the characters work through rescue scenarios. That means a fair amount of technical chatter, sometimes at the expense of character development. Still, Perigee (also available as an ebook for $2.99) can make for an entertaining way to spend a few hours, particularly if you’re reading it in a plane plodding along at subsonic speeds.


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