Project Skydancer was the brainchild of the Ministry of Defence. Beautiful and terrifying in its simplicity, DS29 had designed new warheads for Polaris missiles, warheads that with consummate ease could evade the new batteries of anti-ballistic missiles the Russians had set up around their prime military targets. For Aldermaston scientist Peter Joyce, it was the pinnacle of his career. Until his documents from the project turned up one chilly October morning on Parliament Hill, and the Ministry's prime suspect committed suicide leaving him with only two alternatives: write off a billion-pound project, or approve tests which could give Russia the power to wipe out the West at the touch of a button-.
The defense correspondent for a British TV news program, Archer bases this thriller on his knowledge of military and intelligence operations. Setting up the novel's ongoing crises is the theft of plans for Skydancer, a warhead invented by British scientist Peter Joyce. Designed to "dance'' missiles unerringly past anti-ballistic defenses ringing Moscow, the warhead has been a prize secret weapon, but now is a grave concern. The narrative switches from London to Moscow to Cape Canaveral, where Joyce flies to test Skydancer and must decide whether to prove it a dud or a fool-proof weapon, agonizing choices, since failure means an enormous financial loss and success means the warhead will be in the Soviet arsenal. The situation is tense, especially for various people in England who are suspected of stealing the plans and are mercilessly interrogated by a counterespionage agent. The end is a surprising turn-around, with Joyce at a rendezvous requested by Oleg Kvitzinsky, the U.S.S.R.'s chief military scientist. Although burdened by details and perhaps too many characters, the story provokes thought on the cost, in human terms, of nuclear one-upmanship.