[books] The Precipice

I don’t usually read a lot of “hard” science-fiction, so I thought I’d branch out this summer and try a few of the big hardcover books at the library with spaceships zooming around, and see if it is any use to be as a gamer.

The Precipice by Ben Bova is the first of a series called “The Asteroid Wars” and is set in a dystopic near-future (by my count, about fifty years from now).  The world has toppled into an ecological disaster, compounded by religious conservatism and foreign nationalism keeping certain new technologies (like nanotechnology) from being utilized.

The story revolves around 3.2 characters.  Dan Randolph is the waning corporate bigwig seeking redemption from his role in the crisis by trying a last-ditch attempt to save the world.  Martin Humphries is the yound meglomaniac corporate bigwig who wants to capitalize on the situation and take control of the moon (the only place worth living anymore).  The third is Pancho Lane, the spunky astronaut-cum-con artist who has been put in the middle of both their plans.

There’s also a fourth character (the “.2” I mentioned) who is really a side character throughout the book but turns out to be very pivotal to the plot.  I will not spoil it by pointing out who it is (unlike the book jacket).

This does actually bring me to my biggest gripe about this book.  It’s the “set up” book for the series, meaning that it just lays out the general concept for the series, introduces the characters, and gets the ball rolling.  So it isn’t going to make great strides plot-wise.  But the book jacket tells you the entire plot in about three sentences.  I mean the whole damn thing.  It’s like a preview for a comedy where they show you every good joke and you spend the other sixty two minutes suffering through the bad ones.  Plot elements that are clearly supposed to be twists are laid out in the jacket, and frankly it made the whole book a foregone conclusion.  So if you do read it, for God sakes don’t look.

What’s in there for gamers?  Well, if you’re looking for a “stock” cyberpunk or dystopic near future universe, this one can certainly help you out.  It’s almost generic in nature, with names for groups like “New Morality” and the “Global Economic Council.”  Bova doesn’t really try too hard to come up with innovative nomenclature for his vision of the Earth.  It’s also too bad that he doesn’t do more with its main character, Randolph, who is clearly tottering between his guilt for being a huge corporate figure and his enjoyment of what he’s accomplished as one.  He can’t help but feel pride about the space stations he built, and at one point is clearly indulging in a little human trafficking, but he’s trying replace that with his new crusader-persona that most people around him view with skepticism and pessimism.  Bova’s prose is also sparse, with little in the way of description, making the space-hopping plot seems a little sterile and boring.  The only location that actually gets any real attention in Humphries’ home, and that’s the hammer home that he is really is an opulent, self-serving Big Evil Guy.

Lane is the clear “RPG PC in a novel.”  She’s a smart-alecky spaceship pilot who is constantly pulling scams, has a genetically-modified snake that serves as her bodyguard, and has the secret backstory that explains her hidden heart of gold.  Oh, and she’s got a wacky name too.  I’d say “play her in your next cyberpunk/sci-fi game” except that most people already do.  She’s obviously meant to do the heavy lifting for the series too when it comes to plot.

Light, but good fare.  Bova will need to make sure he doesn’t succumb to the “first book is the best book” trap of fantasy/sci-fi series if “The Asteroid Wars” is going to go anywhere, however.

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