In this "heart-pounding" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) aviation thriller, New York Times bestselling author John J. Nance ventures forward to 2009, taking readers on a riveting journey of life or death.
His once-in-a-lifetime chance...
Disillusioned with his life, when Kip Dawson wins a passenger seat on one of American Space Adventure's commercial spaceflights, it's a dream come true. Although his acceptance of the prize strikes terror in his family, Kip sets off, ready for adventure. But a successful launch quickly morphs into chaos a micrometeor punches through the wall of the spacecraft, leaving the radios as dead as the pilot.
...becomes a global fight for survival.
With nothing to do but wait for death, Kip composes his epitaph on the ship's laptop computer. Little does he know an audience of millions would soon discover his cries sparking a massive rescue mission in his honor. With no idea the world can hear him, his heroism in the face of death may sabotage his best chance of survival.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
John J. Nance, aviation analyst for ABC News and a familiar face on Good Morning America, is the author of seventeen books, including Fire Flight, Skyhook, Turbulence, and Headwind. Two of his novels, Pandora's Clock and Medusa's Child, have been made into highly successful television miniseries. A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Nance is a decorated pilot veteran of Vietnam and Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield. He lives in University Place, Washington.
Read an Excerpt
FIVE MILES SOUTH OF MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA,
MAY 16, 9:23 P.M. PACIFIC
For Kip Dawson, the risks associated with being shot into space in a few hours are finally beginning to seem real.
Am I really going to do this? he thinks, braking the SUV hard, foot shaking, as he casts his eyes up to take in the stark blackness of his destination, amazingly visible through the windshield. This last evening on earth -- the very eve of his windfall trip into space -- feels too surreal to grasp emotionally. He's sure of only one thing: At long last, it's scaring as much as exciting him.
He winces at the irritated blast of a trucker's horn and pulls to the side of the highway, letting the big rig roar past before climbing out to stare into deep space. He's oblivious to the sharp chill of the desert night, but aware of the double white flash of the beacon at Edwards Air Force Base a few miles to the east.
To the west, the barest remains of ruddy orange undulate on the horizon, a razor-thin band along the crest of it, whispering a vestigial message from the sunset. But it's the deep velvet black of the cloudless night sky that's entrancing him, and he hasn't seen the Milky Way so startlingly clear since he was little.
The highway beside him is quiet again, but the sky is full of silently twinkling strobe lights from the arriving and departing airliners frequenting LAX, a kinetic urgency energizing the lower altitudes above him. He feels like a child as he contemplates the vastness of all that void. Provided there's no explosionon the way up, he'll be there in person in a few hours, encapsulated in a tiny, fragile craft, closer -- even if only incrementally -- to all those stars.
There is no productivity in stargazing, the dutiful part of his mind is grousing, but he suppresses the growing urge to leave. The air is quiet and perfectly still, and he hears the song of a nightbird somewhere distant. A moment earlier a coyote had made his presence known, and he hears the animal call again, the howl almost mystical.
How small we are, he thinks, as he stands beneath the staggering scope of a billion suns strewn at least ten thousand light-years across from horizon to horizon, trying to embrace it -- even the largest of his personal problems seeming trivial by contrast. There's a barely remembered quote . . . perhaps something Carl Sagan once said: "Even though earth-bound and finite, the same human mind that can declare the cosmos too vast to physically navigate can at the same moment traverse its greatest distances with but a single thought."
His cell phone rings again, the third time in an hour, but he tunes it out, thinking instead about the details of ASA's space school he's attended for the previous two weeks and the awe he still feels when he sees the famous Apollo 8 picture of the Earth rising over the lunar landscape. Everything in perspective. It's the way he's been told every NASA astronaut feels when the sound and fury and adrenaline of reaching orbit subsides -- three g's of acceleration end abruptly -- and it's finally time to be weightless and breathe and look outside.
He recalls the video of sunrise from space, the colors progressing through the rainbow to the sudden explosion of light over the rim of the planet, all of it proceeding at seventeen times the speed of dawn on the ground -- where the Earth's surface turning velocity is less than a thousand miles per hour. He'll see four sequences of that during the flight.
An incongruous desire for coffee suddenly crosses his mind, and he realizes he's longing as much for the tangible feel of something earthly and familiar as the drink itself. But he has a responsibility to achieve the sleep that coffee won't bring. Morning and caffeine will come soon enough. He should head back.
In some recess of his mind he's been keeping track of the number of times his phone has rung, and the newest burst is one time too many. He feels his spirits sag. Angrily he punches it on, unsurprised to hear his wife's strained voice on the other end. Like a wisp of steam, the humbling, exhilarating mood is evaporating around him, leaving only a duty to resume feeling guilty. He wonders if they're going to pick up at the same point in the argument.
"Sharon? Are you okay?"
There's a long sigh and he imagines her sitting in the dark den of her father's opulent home in North Houston where she's fled with their children.
"I may never be okay again, Kip. But that's not why I called. I just wanted to wish you well. And . . . I'm sorry about the argument earlier."
For just a moment he feels relieved. "I'm sorry, too. I really wish you could understand all this, but you do know I'll be back tomorrow afternoon, right? As soon as I get down, I'm going to fly directly to Houston, to you and the girls, and we can fly back to Tucson together . . ."
"You make it sound so routine. No, Kip. Even if you survive this madness, don't come here. Just go on back to Tucson. I'm too upset to talk for a while. We're going to stay here until I decide what to do."
He keeps his voice gentle, though he wants to yell.
"Sharon, keep in mind that this is probably the only time I've felt the need to . . . not honor your wishes on something big."
"Yeah, other than your so-called career."
He lets the sting subside and bites his tongue.
"Honey, you've been asking me to throw away the dream of a lifetime, winning a trip into space. I just wish you'd stop acting like we're in some sort of marital crisis."
She makes a rude noise that sounds like a snort, her tone turning acid. "Your wife takes the kids and leaves because her husband won't listen to her and the marriage is just fine? Wake up, Kip."
"Look . . ."
"No, dammit, you look! I only called to say I hope this thing is all you expect it to be, because the price you're paying is immense."
"Sharon . . ."
"Let me finish. I wanted to say that I hope you make it back alive, Kip. You've always belittled my premonitions. I want you to come back alive, regardless of what happens to us, but I don't expect you to. So I have to face the fact that this is probably our good-bye in this life."
"Sharon, that's nuts. I respect your premonitions, but they're not always right, and ASA does these trips twice a week. Over a hundred and fifty so far and no one's even been scratched." He says the words knowing the facts won't change her mind, but he has to keep trying. He's been trained that logic should trump emotion, whether it does or not.
"I've loved you, Kip. I really have."
"And I do love you, Sharon. Not past tense, but now."
Silence and a small sob answer his words, followed by the rattle of a receiver searching for the cradle.
He lets himself slump back against the side of the SUV in thought, working hard to overrule the guilt-fueled impulse to give in, call her back, cancel the trip and drive all night and all day straight through to Houston.
That would be the Kip thing to do, he thinks. The way he's always responded. Must repair everything. Must atone for the sin of taking her away from Houston and not following her plan for his professional life.
From the south he hears another large truck approaching, probably speeding, the whine of his wheels almost alarming as the driver hurtles the big rig northbound. But Kip's attention pulls away from the present and he's suddenly back two months before in his den in Tucson, the memory of the late-evening phone call from American Space Adventures still crystalline.
A gently burning pine log had suddenly readjusted itself on the fireplace grate that evening, startling him, even though the "thud" was as soft as a sleeping dog rolling over in the night. He'd been wasting time in his father's old wicker chair and wondering with a detached calm what, if anything, life had left to show him. After all, even though he'd always followed the path of a responsible man, the promised land was eluding him.
Watching the flickering orange rays playing off the paneled walls of his den had been mesmerizing until Sharon walked in, naked and desirable beneath the ratty terry-cloth robe she knew he hated, and she opened the robe and flashed him as she shook her head, a signal that she was mad and that there was, once again, not a chance in hell of sex this evening. It was a weapon she'd grown too used to wielding as their lack of intimacy had progressed. There she stood, preparing to verbally batter him over something. Tonight, he figured, it was either the evils of the cigar he was smoking, or his pathetic recent campaign of systematically investing in lottery tickets.
She was right about that one, but he couldn't tell her how desperate he was for a windfall or any reprieve from what was becoming a conjugal prison. He was even becoming desperate for sex. But he couldn't win on any front, and he'd concluded that, at best, the universe was not listening to his needs.
At worst, it was plotting against him!
And the growing pile of dead lottery tickets was irritating the daylights out of Sharon Dawson.
The late-evening phone call had come as a welcome interruption, a lovely female voice on the other end asking a few identifying questions before getting to the point.
"And, Mr. Dawson, you did enter an Internet-based contest with American Space Adventures, to win one of four seats on one of our spacecraft into low Earth orbit, correct?"
"Yes. It's always been a dream of mine, to fly in space."
"And, you charged the entry fee on your Visa card?"
"Yes. Is there a problem?"
"No, sir. Quite the contrary. I'm calling because you've won the trip."
It was hard to remember exactly how much he'd whooped and smiled and jumped around in the moments afterward, before explaining the happy call to Sharon. Carly and Carrie, their five-year-old twins, had come running in to see what all the noise was about, followed by thirteen-year-old Julie, his daughter from his first marriage. Sharon had shooed them back to bed without explanation before turning to Kip, and he'd been stunned at the look of horror on her face, her eyes hardening as she forbade him to go.
"Excuse me?" he'd said, still smiling. "What did you say?"
"I said you're not going! I have this gut feeling and it's really strong, Kip. I don't want to be a widow."
Within minutes it became an argument spanning the house, and then it turned somehow to encompass everything wrong with him and a marriage he'd refused to see as imperiled.
"Once again all you think about is yourself!" she wailed. "You're never here for me and the girls and now you want to go kill yourself in space? Then go!"
"Sharon, for God's sake, I'm never here? That's BS. I don't even play golf anymore. What time do I take away from you?"
"All you do is work! The girls are suffering."
"Name one school function I've missed."
"Even when you're there, you're thinking about business."
"Sharon, I sell pharmaceuticals. I'm a regional sales rep for a huge drug manufacturer. What's there to think about?"
"You could have been in the oil business, but no! You had to go be a peon for Vectra and work your rear off for no recognition, no advancement, and no time for us."
"Of course. I didn't go to work for your father. That's always it, isn't it? I don't measure up because I went out to get a job on my own."
"Stupidest decision you ever made."
Except marrying you! he'd thought, careful not to let his face show it. The thought shocked him, somehow defiling the very walls of the den he had shared with Lucy before her fatal accident. But that was long ago, before Sharon came along and caught him on the rebound. Before he caught himself growing numb.
It ended as usual with her storming off to bed alone. But for once, this time he didn't follow her like the usual whipped puppy begging to be forgiven. He'd returned to the wicker chair and sniffed the sweet woodsmoke he loved and made the decision that for perhaps only the second time in his adult life, Kip Dawson was going to stay the course and cling to his dream.
Kip's thoughts return to night in the high California desert, and he realizes he's been clutching his cell phone with a death grip as he leans against the SUV. He checks his watch, grimacing at the late hour, but pausing halfway into the front seat to watch the beacon at Edwards AFB for a few more sweeps, spotting a late-night flight lifting off, maybe a test run of some sort. He thinks of Chuck Yeager and Scott Crossfield and the other early Edwards flight test pioneers, wondering if they ever stopped like this in the early desert night to stand so deeply humbled by a celestial display?
Maybe, he decides. But they'd probably never admit it. Believing in a personal aura of invincibility was important to test pilots who routinely challenged the edge of the envelope. And besides, he thinks, men like that were constrained by the code from discussing feelings.
The cell phone rings yet again and he answers without looking at the screen, letting his voice convey the weariness with this game she's playing.
But the voice on the other end is different.
"Mr. Dawson, Jack Railey at ASA. We couldn't find you in your room, so I thought I'd phone you."
Kip chuckles. "Is this a bed check? Am I in trouble?"
"No, sir. But we have a problem. Could we come talk to you about it?"
"What problem, exactly?"
"I'd rather not go into it over the phone. We do have some options, but I need to speak with you about them in detail."
A kaleidoscope of possibilities, few good, flash across Kip's mind, depressing him. "I'm just a few miles south. Where can I find you?"
He listens to the brief description of Railey's office location before promising to be there in fifteen minutes, his voice heavy with concern before he disconnects and stows the cell phone. Sleep, he thinks, may not be necessary after all.Copyright ©2006 by John J. Nance
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In 2009 private after winning a contest Kip Dawson wins a free seat on an American Space Adventures Spacecraft. He is ecstatic but his wife left him and took the kids with her to her powerful father¿s mansion in Texas. Five passengers were slated to be on board the flight but due to varying reasons, only Kip and the pilot make the voyage. --- Kip is enchanted by the view of Earth from space but a micrometeorite hits the ship killing the pilot before the shell works to close off the hole. Kip expects to die up there because there is no communications from Earth to the ship. The various world space agencies know someone is alive because someone is manually moving the ship but Kip can¿t get the rocket thrusters to work. To pass the time he writes a diary of his life on the hard drive of his computer not knowing that every word he writes is read by the people on Earth. This work makes a profound impact on the people of Earth as billions listen to the thoughts of an everyman who has them rethinking their priorities abut what is important in life even as he rays this is not his epitaph. --- Kip¿s ordeal changes him and makes him realize he has to make some changes in his life if he survives his ordeal. He becomes a man hailed as a hero by billions of people on Earth who expect him to die with grace and courage. Kip Dawson becomes an unforgettable character, one that won¿t be forgotten anytime soon. John J. Nance always writes an exciting thriller and ORBIT is no exception but this time he humanizes the character and lays his soul bare through his writings on the computer. Kip is special because he doesn¿t expect to survive yet refuses to give in to despair. --- Harriet Klausner
This book is a masterpiece! Somehow, John Nance manages to get better with every work and this is a crowning achievement: a unique, unprecedented, clever plot, with heart-stopping action and a level of humanity and painful truth about the angst of an ordinary man in an extraordinary circumstance that only a deep humanist could articulate. Kip Dawson is any one of us, male or female. And his thoughts, unwittingly transmitted to the world, are the very thoughts so many men would like to deny or will never face. As one character says, it¿s not the way he¿s lived, but the way he¿s dying that¿s so moving. Most thrillers aren¿t able to get to a depth of more than an inch or so of true characterization, let alone able to plumb the depths of the human psyche as in ORBIT. Kip is an entirely new character for a thriller. And with Kip, John Nance has utterly redefined what a thriller can be. You will love this book. You will cry with this book! You will REMEMBER this book. Having said all this (and meaning every word of it), take a look at the shallow foolishness of the Kirkus review of ORBIT [above]. Yes, it¿s complimentary in many ways. This reviewer is correct in calling this book a ¿guilty pleasure¿. Yet this very limited and highly prejudiced naysayer who wrote it obviously likes neither thrillers nor books with any depth of characterization. In fact, the line about ¿manly men doing manly things...¿ is laughable because ORBIT is an incredibly sensitive story beautifully portrayed and light years from some Neanderthalish tale dripping in testosterone. Kirkus usually does justice to a review however, whoever wrote this one should re-read and re-consider. Read ORBIT. Recommend it to your friends and family. Celebrate the accession of a truly talented writer to an even higher plane (no pun intended). And, email Oprah to get John Nance back on her show to talk about Kip Dawson and ORBIT... the type of breakthrough book she should be championing!
Love it..and cried through some of it.
A well written novel. Though there is a sci-fi backing (man wins orbital trip and gets trapped in space) this book is much more about two themes: facing the end of life and voyeurism. As the world watches his every word come over the internet, Kip Dawson (unaware that his transcript is being broadcast) writes out his life's story filled complete with wonder and regrets. The world is transfixed by his honesty and works feverishly to save him from certain death.
This was my first John Nance book. The premise/jacket cover sounded great, but I don't think Mr. Nance delivered. The story was predictable and the action not so great. But, this is coming from a hard-core nerd that loves hard-core sci-fi. I would recommend this as a good read for non-nerds, as the technical detail is just enough for the layman, with an okay story to boot.
Nance's writing skills really shine, in my opinion, when he is writing about flight, aerodynamics and the skill and art of flying.This book was about a civilian winning a space flight from a private corporation to spend a few hours orbiting the earth. For various reasons the other three people who were to be passengers are not able to embark on the flight. So, he and the company pilot launch and begin the orbital flight together. The tension really ramps up when space debris hits and passes through the craft, striking the pilot, killing him instantly and disabling some of the spacecrafts functions. The passenger, Kip Dawson, wakes from a nap and gradually pieces together what might have happened. His emotions are all over the place and it is very hard for him to even imagine what he might be able to do in this situation. After much fear and anguish he accepts that he will most likely die in the craft as it continues to orbit the earth far beyond the ability of the on board CO2 scrubbers which clean the air and resupply oxygen to the spacecraft to continue performing their vital function.Eventually he begins to review his life and the primary relationships he has had. There is a laptop computer on board and he begins keyboarding a document relating not only his feelings and thoughts, but also very personal memories of his family of origin, his present family and early romantic loves. Unbeknownst to him, there is a link that downloads his entries to earth and over a short period of time, millions of people are reading the feed (or translations of it) around the world.My husband enjoyed this book more than I did. I felt some of it was a little gratuitous for my taste. I'm not a book snob and I love being entertained, but occasionally I felt I was being strung along, not in a good way, by the author.It is really the flying and passages about flying where I as a reader greatly admired the skill of the author.I would say it was a lukewarm thriller. I can understand how some people who haven't ever taken the time to examine their own lives and relationships would be inspired by this protagonist's journey to find himself and go on.
Kip Dawson¿s longtime dream is to fly into space. When he wins a seat aboard the American Space Adventures¿ shuttle Intrepid, little does he know that this incredible once in a lifetime journey will also change the course of his life in a manner no human being could ever foresee or imagine. After months of training as a substitute astronaut, Kip¿s launch date has arrived, and although his wife and son are angry with him for being so selfish due to the high risk this flight carries, he decides that for once in his life it is time to focus on his own dreams instead of that of others. As engines ignite and lift-off rumbles through the rocket, Kip is strapped in his seat behind Intrepid¿s only other passenger, pilot Bill Campbell. When fear and adrenaline pump through Kip¿s body, he suddenly doubts his decision and his life begins to flash before him.Arriving in outer space to view the wonders of the galaxy, the lives of Kip and Bill quickly and dramatically spin out of control as a small undetected meteor hits the Intrepid, punching a hole in the cockpit and killing Bill instantly. Sudden panic overwhelms Kip Dawson when realization that he is alone up there, descends over him like a shroud. He has no communication to earth, no way to yell ¿Mayday¿, and no button to push that will allow him to say ¿Houston,¿we have a problem!¿. Kip then desperately grabs for instruction manuals on how to keep himself alive aboard this rocket bound for hell. He finds that systems are not working, and engines won¿t fire in order to turn him around and get him out of Dodge. His only salvation as the reality of imminent death ensues, is an onboard laptop computer that he decides to use to chronicle his life¿s biography in case someone in the future finds this stranded heap of metal floating in space. Hour after hour, day after day as time runs out, Kip details pages and pages of his life. All of his regrets, sorrows, feelings of guilt, anger, lack of personal happiness, as well as his most desired dreams, pour out from his heart through his fingers as he types by star light. Paragraphs of his life expectations and moments of joy include heaps of personal intimate thoughts of life, love, and the pursuit of happiness, including his wildest sexual fantasies. Little does he know that his journal from space is being read by a 12 year-old computer hacker in Kalgoorie Australia that has somehow latched on to Kip¿s ramblings. At first thinking this was one heck of a scammer¿s joke, young Alistair Wood gets a jolt when he comes to the heart stopping conclusion that this is real and he better call NASA. As Kip Dawson¿s biography screams across every television, radio, computer, cell phone and billboard with live download feeds scrolling his every word across the planet, the world becomes enthralled and captivated by the mind of a man soon to die in outer space as he chronicles the life he has already lived, as well as the one he wishes he had if he could start all over. Orbit is an entrancing story that is simply one that readers will not be able to set down from start to finish. It is a novel that is totally engaging, and a tale that is very different offering a nice change of pace. This is an amazing story sure to have you philosophizing about your own life with all its dreams and past regrets. Orbit by John J.Nance is a top-notch fictional suspense yarn that serves up a lot of thought provoking ingredients, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and exemplary writing!
The plot is described elsewhere, I won't repeat it. I'll just say that this book resonated with me like few I can remember (John Fowles' "The Aristos" comes to mind, but it's an entirely different genre). It's got intrigue, action but above all, and the reason I urge you to read it, a human story that will bring you to tears of joy if you have any humanity in you. Maybe I'm overreacting but I stand by it.
I expected this to be a blockbuster, after all it was an unusual concept and I was looking forward to a good read. But it suffers from idiotic character names (Diana 'no, I don't sing' Ross is one) too much focus on the main character's life story captivating the world and too much pissing-contest politics overshadow what could have been a gripping story. The ending comes way too fast and too unbelievably. It sounds like a script for a four-hour TV movie seen over two days.