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The Return cover The Return by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes

Published by Forge

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

This novel is particularly poignant after the events of February 1, 2003. In The Return, the Columbia also falls victim to an accident, albeit nothing so spectacularly catastrophic as what actually befell her. In the fictional version, the dear old queen of the Space Shuttle fleet has been bought out by ShareSpace, an organization dedicated to taking ordinary people into space as part of a long-term program to open space to all humanity rather than the scientific and military elite.

On the disastrous flight, they are carrying Michael James, a world-reknown retired basketball player (obviously based upon Michael Jordan), into space. While they are preparing for a publicity activity that helps fund these missions, something goes terribly wrong and MJ and astronaut Marc Clement are killed. By dint of good fortune Columbia is able to get safely to ground and the other five astronauts survive, but MJ's family and friends raise a hue and cry that he was needlessly endangered.

As the investigation proceeds, things become steadily more sinister. Was this more than a tragic accident. Did someone want MJ dead? If so, why?

Then things get even worse -- during growing hostilities between India and Pakistan, Chinese military advisors set off a "proton bomb," a devestating high-altitude nuclear weapon that fills the sky with hard radiation and wipes out satellites in every orbit. Worse, it floods the ISS with deadly radiation. With the Space Shuttle fleet grounded for political reasons, can a disgraced businessman save the ISS crew with his private-industry spaceship?

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Review posted April 8, 2003

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