The Gatekeepers is not strictly alternate history, but with the recent disasters to the space program, it might as well be. The book is the story of the first attempt to create an independent company, which provides space services, including space transport through an experimental SSTO spacecraft and power supply though an solar power satellite. Rolf Bernard, our hero, has this chance, the last, best, chance, to place humanity in space, but there are powerful forces in the American government that want to stop him.
So Rolf comes up with a daring plan. Using experimental ‘Brilliant Peebles’ technology, Rolf decides to hold space access to ransom, charging governments and companies for access to space. Setting up shop in Australia, Rolf’s actions soon threaten the planet with global war….
This book, sadly, promises more than it delivers. The ending is dramatic, but leaves us hanging. We get hints that Rolf pulled final victory out of a stalemate, but we know nothing about what happens afterwards. We learn that a coalition of Arab nations is trying to sabotage Rolf, so that the ‘great Satan’ would be denied space access. We also see Israel painted as a hero nation with vast resources, although I personally doubt that Israel could have paid the money that they offered Rolf. It would be nice to think that Israel helped out because they too believed in the space dream, but even their representative freely admits that they are acting in their self-interest.
I also question Rolf’s claims to be a patriotic American citizen. He threatens America with complete and total ruin. Rolf’s outburst likening government to organized crime, an interesting comparison I have occasionally entertained myself, moves the political component from implicit to explicit.
We learn very little about the alternate world. We learn that Iran (and possibly Iraq) have Nuclear weapons and missiles. We learn that China, North Korea and Russia are still building nukes and that America is worried about the future.
The sub-plot, that of Rolf’s estranged wife, is completely superfluous. It’s unnecessary to the plot. My recommendation, read this book, but skip those chapters.