by Ben Bova
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
On the title page, The Precipice identified as "Book 1 of the Asteroid Wars." Although it may be the start of a new trilogy, it fits into the middle of a lengthy future history which Bova has been working on for several years. The Precipice links the "Moonbase" series, through the character of Douglas Stavenger of his nanomachines, to the novel Venus, through a much younger Martin Humphries and Lars Fuchs. All of these novels, and others, comprise a portion of what has begun to be referred to as "The Grand Tour," a series of novels which will, apparently, visit each of the planets in our solar system.
Although theoretically about the asteroid belt, The Precipice takes place mostly on the Moon, in the independent state of Selene. Only in the last chapters do Bova's principal characters have the chance to make their way to the asteroid belt.
Much of The Precipice tells the story of Dan Randolph's attempts to put together a mission to the asteroids using fusion engines in an attempt to bring much needed materials back to the Earth. He is both helped and stymied in this altruistic goal by Martin Humphries, whose only goal in life is to obtain power, which he views as synonymous with money. Randolph is helped by one of his pilots, Pancho Lane, who has just the right amount of larceny in her heart mixed with the right amount of idealism to take on the big boys.
The action frequently bogs down in the feeling that Bova is simply writing the story of corporate warfare. Beneath it, however, he is examining the difference between people who look to the future and try to plan for catastrophes and people who have short term vision and won't act unless danger is imminent. Bova clearly would like to see a world which includes policy makers who know how to plan for the long term public good rather than only to pander to the immediate public interest.
The Precipice keeps moving with a good pace, aided by a variety of subplots Bova weaves into the text, many of which will apparently be resolved in future novels. Pancho Lane's weakness is revealed to be her sister, whose body was frozen in the hopes that one day medical science would be able to cure her. Martin Humphries meets Pancho's fellow pilot, Amanda Cunningham, and believes himself to be in love. Amanda, meanwhile, learns that harmless flirting can become dangerous when done with a powerful and egocentric man.
Once Randolph manages to launch his spaceship to the belt, tension remains high as it becomes apparent that some industrial sabotage has taken place, although what it is and whether the crew can find it in time are not known. Readers of Venus will recognize certain characters and be able to figure out some of the plot, but not all of it, nor how things were achieved.
While The Precipice is not the best of the "Grand Tour" novels so far published, it is well-written and leads into future novels in a manner which will make Bova's fans clamor for the next volume, Rock Rats, which will, presumably, take place in the years when man is trying to conquer the belt for its mineral wealth.
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