[books] The Rock Rats by Ben Bova

I’m willing to give an author a shot if the first novel in a series seems to be too caught up in laying out the greater story to the point that it can’t stand alone, if that same story looks compelling enough.  The Precipice had enough promise to get me to read the second book, The Rock Rats, and I’m glad I did.

The Rock Rats had a few surprises, not the least of which is that the most interesting characters from the first novel, Pancho Lane, isn’t in this one (there’s a suggestion she’ll play a greater role in later books).  The Rock Rats instead focusses on the relationship between Amanda “I need a personality” Cunningham, her husband Lars Fuchs, and the seminal villain Martin Humphries, aka Evil Corporate Guy.  As other reviews have mentioned, Bova borrows heavily from classic tragic themes, even going so far as to citing both the Flying Dutchman and the Nautilus in association with Fuchs, who is fighting almost a one-man war against Humphries to keep him away from both the asteroids and his wife (who ironically wants nothing to do with Humphries, not that Fuchs notices).  I quickly read through the book watching Fuchs rush blindly to his (possible) doom.

If The Precipice laid out an easy-to-copy universe for a gamer to use in a sci-fi RPG, then The Rock Rats definitely gives you the campaign premise.  It isn’t easy to imagine players enjoying the boardroom-drama of Dan Randolph, but Lars Fuchs as the force of good in a lawless region threatened by corporate domination is tailor made (in fact, the whole thing sounds a lot like the Traveller sourcebook Belters, if my memory serves me correctly).  As fellow “Rock Rats” PC’s could vacillate between trying to find their fortune in hostile space and fending off Humphries’ pirates and fellow miners.  There’s a scene where two spaceships are locked in combat, both cumbersomely spinning around which people hang out of cargo hatches blasting away with cutting lasers that definitely belongs in the descriptive text of some sci-fi RPG shoot-out.

Finally, there’s two “Easter Eggs” in here.  Throughout the book Bova drops out of the narrative to give the reader a glimpse at a “dossier” of two very minor characters in the book.  Don’t stress about them–they are, at least at this point, totally irrelevant to the plot.  But they could both make for good backstories of PC’s if you’re looking at a Rock Rats campaign.

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