Resurgent Russians preempt America's launch of a military supersatellite with their own system of orbiting hunter-killers. Col. Butler's first military thriller (The Iskra Incident, 1990) also featured non-perestroika Soviets. When Norman Schwarzkopf wiped out the Iraqi threat, he also knocked out Middle Eastern dictators as serious literary supervillains. So it's back to the USSR. Here, Russian General Novikov--former astronaut, former hockey star--has engineered a brilliant response to the challenge he expects from the cocky US. When the American President announces his plan to launch Defender, a peacekeeping Star War fortress, Novikov beats him to the punch and fires off his own pack of Borzoi anti-satellite satellites and parks a manned, nuclear-powered monster satellite in synchronous orbit over the Americas. The Russians can see and shoot down any rocket in the world. Defender's launch is effectively blocked. For the moment. But USAF Col. Michael Chisholm, who has spent his post- flying career days boning up on orbitology, has a plan. Knowing the Borzois to be at their most vulnerable when whizzing over Antarctica, Chisholm plans to pack a big jet transport full of missiles and launch them in midair where the Russians won't be looking. Among Chisholm's flight crew are his favorite loadmaster, his boozy but capable master flight mechanic, and the good-looking pilot he planned to marry until their careers clashed. Pretty pokey until the plane takes off.