The Aftermath: Book Four of The Asteroid Wars
by Ben Bova
Edited by Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Review by Paul Haggerty
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765304148
Date: 07 August 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
The Asteroid War series has spanned a lifetime for its characters, but in the end it's still about people. Why they do what they do, what they expect to get out of it, and what they'll do when things don't go the way they expected. Aftermath concerns a few of the people from the previous three volumes, but centers around a new family, the Zacharius. Their ore-hauling ship, Syracuse, was attacked as an afterthought of the assault on Chrysalis, the rockrats orbital habitat at Ceres. Victor Zacharius sacrifices himself to draw the attacker while his family escapes back into the belt. But Victor doesn't die; instead he's rescued from the brink of death, only to set himself on crusade to find his family and bring them back alive. A mission hampered by the fact that nobody believes his wife and children could have survived, and of course the tiny problem of no longer having spaceship.
But his wife, Pauline, and children, Theo and Angie, did not die. Still aboard their crippled ship, the family continued on an outbound trajectory that would return them to the scene of the crime after only eight or so years. With their antennae array completely destroyed, they can't call for help. With almost no fuel in their ruptured tanks, they can't turn around. And with the ship so old that it's nearly falling apart on a good day, they're going to have major problems just staying alive. Theo, who has always been a bit klutzy, and therefore never really trusted to work on the ship's systems, is now going to have to grow up fast. He was the one that followed his father around. He's the one that knows the ship's systems best. And now he's the only one that can keep them alive and get them home.
A parallel thread concerns the cyborg Dorn, formerly the mercenary Dorik Harban, who just happens to be the madman that destroyed Chrysalis and nearly killed the Zacharius family. Dorn previously had an encounter with a mysterious artifact which showed him the error of his ways and convinced him to attempt to atone for his actions. Dorn is now accompanied by Elverda Apacheta, once the solar systems greatest sculptor, and now an old woman wondering if she'll ever create anything again. Together they're combing the asteroid belt, revisiting the sites of old space battles where Dorn (in his old mercenary persona) killed civilians and soldiers alike. Their mission is simply to find all the old bodies and give them proper burials. Unfortunately, Dorn's past hasn't gone away just because he had a change of heart. Even as they cruise through the belt, hunters are looking for him. His old employer who sent him out on those old murderous missions would just as soon not have Dorn showing up and telling stories. He's been scheming and plotting and killing for decades in order to get what he wants, and he's not about to let mistakes from his past shine a bad light on him. And so he's once again hired help to make sure that never occurs. But times have changed from the old days when things were cast in black and white. People know better now and at least a few just might be able to learn from past mistakes.
Weaving these two plot threads together with political wrangling, space pirates attacks, flashbacks to the settlement of the moon and belt, Aftermath tells a story that spans many years. A man without a ship that wants to find his family needs to take a long view, working where he can and with whom he must in order to finally accomplish his goal. A family on a wrecked spaceship is stuck with Newton's laws of gravitation. Regardless of their hurry, an orbit takes as long as it takes. A priest with a lot to atone for must search vast empty spans of space to gain even the tiniest amount of redemption. And a mysterious artifact, that many wish had never been discovered, continues to serve its unknown purpose, set by an unknown creator, for unknown reasons.
Meanwhile characters that were young when the series began are now old and dying. A new generation that never knew a time when humanity was confined to a single globe are now being launched into the narrative. They have little appreciation for the risks their fore bearers took to get them here. But they know what they want, and they know what they're willing to do to get it.