by Mike Jenne
Set during the height of the Cold War raging between its superpower players, the United States and the Soviet Union, Blue Gemini is a techno-thriller that takes readers through the early space age and behind the scenes in the rivalry many know today as the Space Race. Seen by both nations as key to national security, the quest for space dominance got its start with the Soviet Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite set into orbit, and continued with Yuri Gagarin’s journey in 1961, making the Russian cosmonaut the first human in outer space.
The road to 1969, when the Americans landed the first man on the moon, however, is paved with intrigue and action of the real-life variety, within which author Mike Jenne sets the tale of Lieutenant Scott Ourecky, a fictional USAF officer who dreams of flight school. He repeatedly falls short, but we do witness the beginnings of Ourecky’s romance with Bea, as a secret Air Force program simultaneously woos him into their mission of destroying suspect Soviet satellites. Recruited only as a fill-in, Ourecky attempts to keep his professional and private lives separate, until greater involvement and danger begins to merge his two worlds, and perhaps Bea’s as well.
One of the great draws to Blue Gemini is not only that many facets of the story are true, but also that the author reveals absolutely no classified information to achieve it. Jenne’s very striking author’s note stresses the “necessity and difficulties of keeping secrets that are larger than ourselves,” a challenge Ourecky faces as we, watching his saga unfold, can sense as we peer through time and space to witness a world we’ve only read about in school. Many readers will have personal recall of this time, still very much in living memory, and the mystique may very well have an even larger impact, given how much closer they were to it all.
Wherever readers are on the time continuum, Jenne’s style touches them as he shifts within several different perspectives, individual and group, American and Soviet, the latter achieved in a manner laid out in the narrative quite cleverly. As the novel progresses, Jenne slowly reveals layers of detail with an eye that misses nothing as it points out to us the unimaginable efforts it took to even conceive of such a program, let alone keep it up and running. While there are some technical bits here and there, it is gorgeously accessible with passages descriptive and intelligent, and ranging from “The room smelled of pine oil cleaner, cigarettes, and chalk dust” to
Henson enjoyed the sounds of nature awakening: swaying trees rustling in the wind, tree frogs chirping in the swamps, and birds rehearsing the opening notes of their morning songs[,]
and much in between and beyond. Jenne is also skilled at merging the institutional with a humanity that continuously illustrates the individuals behind the programs, while at the same time acknowledging their own very small role in the world they inhabit, a nod to the greatness of the space they are attempting to own.
The two men strolled out of the hangar as the C-130’s engines coughed to life. They walked along the grassy strip adjacent to a taxiway. By now, the sun had all but retired from the sky; the buildings and trees were bathed in the red-hued light of near dusk.
His repertoire, however, is much larger than that, while also being notable for its almost humorous straightforward nature. “[D]o I have to remind you[,” an official asks one of the flight crew, who has just equated a romantic decision to living dangerously,] “that you’re travelling over seventeen thousand miles per hour in a flimsy metal can built by the lowest bidder?”
That, dear readers, is what we call a dose of reality, and we feel it in the indrawn breaths that accompany the uneasy chuckle. This is one of the many ways Jenne brings us closer to characters and the real-life figures some of them were inspired by.
Readers also meet up with other key players Ourecky comes into contact with, which hints at the nature of the novel as it becomes apparent it is a series story, a wise choice on Jenne’s part, as trimming away enough to contain it to one volume would lose too many events. As it turns out, the author doesn’t tie up all the loose ends in this installment, and readers will find themselves wanting to know more about the mysterious Matt Henson, for example. Resourceful, intelligent, down-to-earth, practical, funny and friendly, Henson is a character we don’t get enough of, though the novel packs so much story into itself we look forward to moving onto the sequel.
At times self-aware, Blue Gemini is part our history, part airman’s journey, blended with intense research and fascinating imagination that leaves readers pulling for Ourecky while also wondering where exactly the lines are blurred and eager to progress beyond just before the moon landing, where the book ends. Tantalizingly detailed without the weight of bogging down readers unfamiliar with space stories, this is a techno-thriller that grew this reader as did the tale itself.
Spacefest is the event for space enthusiasts of any stripe, and author Mike Jenne will be there, signing books and appearing on a panel on space stations. Spacefest IX happens this week (July 5-8) in Tuscon, Arizona, and tickets are available at the door after midnight on July 2 (that’s tomorrow!). Click here for schedule and above links for more information about the event and what it entails.
The author provided a copy of Blue Gemini
in order to facilitate an honest review
Click here to see a series of amazing technical drawings!