Book Report: The Precipice by Ben Bova (2001)

I bought this book last autumn at a clearance book store for $5.00 because 1.) I have a fond memory of an old Scholastic copy of Ben Bova’s Escape and 2.) I have a fond college-era memory of Cyberbooks. So I opened this book as a break from the suspense I’d been reading lately, and….

I was underwhelmed.

Sure, I see that this is Book 1 of the Asteroid Wars, which unfortunately means that there’s some greater arc that the book will set up and that some plot lines will be unresolved at the end of the book, unfortunately. When my brother was in the Marines, he gave me all of his basic training reading material before he shipped off to Hawaii. This reading material comprised numerous books one or one and two of a trilogy, but never a book three….unless it was to a separate trilogy with no preceding books to set the plot up. So I have some experience with this sort of thing. Besides, every trilogy or whatnot begins with Book 1. So I got in on a ground floor opportunity here.

The premise: As the world runs over the “greenhouse cliff” (the Precipice), a space industrialist bucks cutthroat competition and overregulation to use a fusion drive to go to the Asteroid Belt to claim resources that can help the Earth alleviate its disaster.

Sounds kinda stock, with a topical interest whose political ramifications made me put down the book after a couple of pages once before. But I soldiered on this time, friends, For you.

Unfortunately, to accommodate its arc (and its past, which I will hint at now and later), the book spends the first half (200+ pages) on the political and corporate wrangling leading to the funding and the initial reaction to the prospect of the mission. Major yawn, and it was only through discipline that I really made it through. After the midpoint of the book, when the industrialist and his plucky pilots and capable geologist steal his ship to go to the Asteroid Belt without the approval of the government, the pacing picks up, and we’re in a rollicking science fiction book instead of some sort of corporate drama set tomorrow. Lester Del Rey, who was clawing his way out of his grave to beat Ben Bova, settled back to rest.

Unfortunately, after 180 pages of a good science fiction story buttressed by 250 pages of corporate wrangling. I found the end unsatisfying because of the extensive lengths Bova went to make the villain available for future novels in the series.

And while researching the book for this report (read: Clicking around on Amazon on related links), I discovered that the industrialist, Dan Randolph, is the subject of a long-running series of novels by Ben Bova. So perhaps I’m not privy to the nature of that series, nor of the significance of this book in that particular pantheon. Perhaps if I had bought the last ten years’ worth of Bova work, I’d be satisfied with the book and would recognize its position in the constellation, and admire its beauty as part of the whole.

But I’m too steeped in the world of suspense series, where the books are discrete units that build upon one another, and although later books might refer to earlier works in the series, one doesn’t have to read earlier books to understand the significance, and the current book does not have cliffhangers and hooks into the next or the next several for resolution.

So this novel got better as it went on to the new reader, but I don’t expect to buy the remainder of the series nor of the preceding series unless I can get them for a buck or less each sometime after I’ve diminished my stack of to-read books.

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1 thought on “Book Report: The Precipice by Ben Bova (2001)

  1. The second book isn’t any better. I forced myself through the first book in the hope that once people were working out in the asteroid belt, the pace would pick up. In Rock Rats, I only made it through the first 98 pages of corporate wrangling before giving up.

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