by Kevin J. Anderson & Doug Beason



320pp/$23.95/March 1997


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason's latest collaboration, Ignition, is a techno-thriller set against a backdrop of a launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. A band of terrorists want to threaten the launch of Atlantis, in part, in an attempt to recreate public interest in the flagging space program.

In response to this threat, former mission commander Adam "Iceberg" Friese comes to the rescue like Bruce Willis in "Die Hard at KSC." Despite his broken foot (which caused him to be replaced by a by-the-book bureaucrat with no initiative or imagination, Friese is able to ignore the pain and cast on his foot as long as he is attacking terrorists in a Rambo manner.

The multi-national terrorists in Ignition, led by the enigmatic Mr. Phillips, sound like a band of terrorists from any action film. The terrorists are sociopaths, psychopaths and sadists with wry senses of humor. Killing is something they do emotionlessly, just as they try to destroy the shuttle Atlantis or the Ariane rocket they blow up in the opening sequence of the novel. While that type of criminal may work in an action film, in a novel their two-dimensionality and unbelievability only come into more focus.

Despite the make-up of their criminal brotherhood, the terrorists have an almost laughably easy time getting inside the NASA Launch Control Center mere minutes before a launch and then holding off all security forces. The ease with which they succeed is obviously a setup for heroics on the part of grounded astronaut "Iceberg" Frieze. This ease of entry is the more remarkable coming a mere six months after the same terrorists destroyed the aforementioned Ariane and eleven months after blowing up a Chinese rocket.

Rather than reading like a serious science fiction novel, Ignition reads like a treatment for a Hollywood blockbuster. The characters, while not cardboard, are certainly not as fully realized as the characters in the collaborators' Assemblers of Infinity. Although Ignition is a fun read, it is light and difficult to take seriously given the inefficiency of NASA's security at all levels and the unrealistic portrayal of Mr. Phillips and his band of terrorists.

Unfortunately, the writing can't rescue this Hollywood-action-film-cum-novel. Some of the lines are laughably funny: "His heart sank like a mainframe in water." and Mr. Phillips's quip "I should have read my horoscope today: Scorpio, Taking large spacecraft hostage may cause more inconvenience than it's worth."

Anderson and Beason have proven themselves capable, both individually and in tandem, of writing better books and short stories than Ignition. About the best that can be said for this novel is that it reads like a bad action movie. And that is certainly faint praise.

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