Space historian Cassutt’s third procedural (Missing Man, 1998, etc.) turns on a deadly microorganism getting loose in a space module. (It should remind Tess Gerritsen fans of the organism called Chimera floating about her space station in Gravity.)
In 2006, various accidents, explosions, and losses of funds have led to a sponsored and combined US–USSR mission on Space Station Alpha (now in its sixth year), with one wealthy passenger paying zillions to carry out scientific tests in the commercially funded Russian module. Also along are star Rachel Dunne, playing astronaut Terry Drake; her film crew, to shoot footage for a MosFilm/DreamWorks space yarn called Recoil; and her companion, Russian cosmonaut Igor Gritsov. By this time, the planet has become plagued with X-Pox, a killer virus that slays far more people than AIDS and has spread unabated. Dr. Tadeusz Mikleszewski, the multimillionaire head of Pyrite, whose initials TM give him the nickname “Tango Midnight” (“Tango,” for short) leads the medical experiments aboard the Russian Harmony module docked with Alpha. Striving to synthesize in microgravity a working vaccine for X-Pox, Tango is working with deadly bugs in a glovebox when the box overheats and—hisss!—some of the bugs escape. The Harmony module and the bugs are doubly sealed off at once, but, self-imprisoned on Harmony, Tango is locked into a fatal Midnight. Of course, he may yet find the real deal, a vaccine. All this is set up with a density of acronymic detail and mass of secondary characters that only readers on booster herbs (Gingko biloba, not cannabis) will retain. Also on hand is astronaut Mark Koskinen, whose four years working with the commercial Spacelifter craft ended when it exploded on the launch pad. He’s reuniting with his lost love, fellow astronaut Kelly Gessner, with whom, not surprisingly, he will have a life-saving rendezvous in space. NASA politics and preparation in depth for the commercial launching add realism.
A struggle, but rewarding.