Rock Rats by Ben Bova
Hardcover: 384 pages: 1 Ed edition (April 2002)
Tor Books; ISBN: 0765302276;
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Also: SFRevu Feature: Ben Bova Interview

Rock Rats picks up where The Precipice (reviewed in SFRevu October, 2001) left off in Ben Bova's Asteroid Wars series.

Will the asteroids be pioneered to provide raw materials to save the ruined Earth? To give humanity a place to grow and survive off the planet that bore it? To fulfill the drive that humanity has always felt to go "out there" and see what lies beyond?  Not in Ben Bova's Asteroid Wars series.

Oh those factors figure in, sure enough, but like Helen of Troy before her, it's the desire for a woman that will launch a thousand (metaphorically speaking) spaceships heavenward. In the end, it's all for Amanda.

Martin Humphries, the ruthless zillionaire head of Humphries Space Systems, is still trying to create a monopoly on space commerce, from supplying ships and fuel to owning the asteroids that those ships are off mining. He's still determined to have another monopoly as well, to own the affections of Amanda Cunningham, now wife of Lars Fuchs, the astro-geologist that married her at the end the previous book: The Precipice Wars.

Things haven't worked out the way Martin expected, and the asteroid prospectors, the "Rock Rats" are making a better go of it than he cares for. Astro Corp. is still in business, and Pancho Lane is thwarting his attempts to take over the Astro's board. Pancho was once a grease monkey and space pilot, and suddenly became the heir of Astro's founder, Dan Randolph, when he found himself dying of radiation sickness on the inaugural flight of the fusion drive that made asteroid mining possible. Naturally the disaster had been staged by Humphries himself.

Now Pancho, a stringy, feisty, Texas girl from the wrong side of the tracks has had to learn the ins and outs of corporate intrigue while holding off Humphries' attempts to take over Astro. Though we don't see as much of her in this book, she's clearly coming into her own.

Out in the belt, the asteroid Ceres has become the hub of asteroid life, and now Lars has a plan to create a full-size space habitat nearby so that he won't have to take his wife back to the Moon, where Humphries lies in wait. Lars is a bit buggy on the subject in fact...or maybe it's just that the geologist never expected to get the girl, and he's afraid it's a marriage of convenience.

Considering the number of people that Humphries is willing to sacrifice to get what he wants, Amanda's marrying him would sure be a lot easier on everyone but Lars though.

As sabotage, murder and claim jumping escalate in the belt, all by the invisible hand of Humphries, Lars becomes more and more radicalized, trying to bring vigilante justice to the high frontier, with a welding laser strapped to his hip and a mining laser bolted to his ship. A man going to war.

Poul Anderson used to write stories like this, about lone privateers fighting the good fight on the edge of explored space, and asteroid claim jumping has been the meat and potatoes of space opera since Doc Smith's earliest novels. Bova takes these classic themes and weaves them into a story in the not so distant future, and being who he is, he makes them plausible at the same time.

This is the middle book in the  Asteroid Wars saga, and it's the place where the players grow up and bind themselves to paths that will take another book to play out. Just about everyone comes out of it transformed at least a bit, and the stage set for the next story. Though Bova is noted for the science part of his SF, this time he's gotten himself involved with some fairly deep characters...and I'm looking forward to seeing how he works it all out in the next book.

You can read any of these books by themselves, even though they are all part of a much larger work; The Grand Tour series. In fact Bova isn't writing them in any special order (as far as I can tell) so if you've read Jupiter or Venus already you'll be gratified when you come across the seeds he's laying for events that take place generations later.

...see our interview with the author this issue.

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu                                                                                sa 05.22.02