Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review: The Precipice

Author: Ben Bova
Pages: 439
ISBN: 0340840900

Once, Dan Randolph was one of the richest men on Earth.  Now the planet is spiraling into environmental disaster, with floods and earthquakes destroying the lives of millions. Randolph knows the energy and natural resources of space can save Earth's economy, but the price may be the lost of the only thing he has left - the company he founded, Astro Manufacturing.

I picked up The Precipice and The Rock Rats at a book sale a couple of years ago.  I shelved them and promptly forgot about them, that is until I recently managed to buy the last two books in the series.  I’m sorry I waited so long.  If The Precipice is any indication of what to expect from the rest of the series I’m in for a treat.

The Asteroid Wars series fits into the much longer Grand Tour series using the same setting and some recurring characters from that series.  I haven’t read any of the Grant Tour novels so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it doesn’t really diminish the story by much.  At times you feel you lack some of the history and background story, but those moments are few and far between.  The novel stands on its own very well.

This is very much a hard science fiction novel and focuses more on ideas than straight-out action.  It’s set in the very near future with humanity struggling to cope on an Earth devastated by global warming.   The Earth needs resources badly and their only hope is in exploiting the abundant resources locked up in the asteroid belt.  The invention of a new type of spacecraft engine, a fusion engine, promises to make asteroid mining a feasible prospect.

The story revolves around two main characters, both the heads of large corporations.  Dan Randolph wants to use the fusion engine to help humanity while Martin Humphries is only interested in enriching himself regardless of the cost to humanity or anyone else. Humphries wants to manipulate Randolph into risking it all so that he can get control of Randolph's company, Astro Manufacturing. The rivalry between them sets the stage for what promises to be a very interesting series.

The technology and science used in the novel is very realistic and a very probable extrapolation of what will be in use within the foreseeable future.  In fact most of the technology (cryogenics, rejuvenation treatments, nanomachines) is actually in development right now.

Ben Bova tackles tough questions and issues that will become increasingly important in our future.  How will religion handle cryogenics when it finally becomes possible to revive people after they have been frozen?  Will nanotechnology be allowed when it poses so much risk and so much advancement?  Who gets to control space resources?  Can someone own an asteroid, moon or a planet?

I found all the ideas intriguing and that is what made the novel so appealing to me.  It makes you think about the implications of a future world that might be all too probable.

The only problem I had with the novel is that it has a slightly sexist slant at times.  There are two very strong female characters, Pancho and Amanda.  At almost every opportunity Amanda’s beauty is described in detail or emphasized in some remark. It really felt overdone.  I think what Bova wanted to show was that physical beauty can be just as much a curse as a blessing.  In actual fact Amanda is a very smart character that plays a pivotal role in the expedition to the asteroid belt.

The Verdict:
If you are intrigued by the idea of space exploration and not afraid of a more cerebral read, then this is the novel for you.  It might lack flashy space battles, but the concepts explored and the realistic science makes for an immersive read. Highly recommended.

I can’t wait to get started on the next one!    

Rating: 8/10

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