Terrible. Just terrible.
I could leave it at those three words, if I wished. Rarely have I found myself literally skimming the final chapters to see if anyone important dies or if possibly, possibly the plot moves in any real direction. But no, this book may in fact be the weakest of the “Asteroid Wars” series, and that is saying a lot.
In the third book Bova introduces an alien artifact and its impact on Dorin, the psychotic mercenary and war criminal from the earlier books. Dorin and his companion, an elderly artist who has found a new lease on life thanks to her exposure to the artifact, are on a strange mission to provide proper burials for all who died in the Asteroid Wars. “Proper burial” meaning being crammed in an industrial incinerator aboard their ship, by the way.
The second plot involves a family separated by Dorin’s attack on the space station Chrysalis. The father is back at the station, his family is adrift in a space literally years away from home. Much of that plot revolves around the teenage son concocting ways to trying to get home safely while the dad tries talking someone into giving him a ship to go scour all of the solar system for his family.
Pancho Lane? Gone. Humphries? Only a token presence as the mastermind being the forces hounding Dorin. Ambrose? More antagonist than charming side character.
Any purpose, history, or any plot movement on the whole alien artifact thing? Nope.
In fact really it feels a lot like a non-finish, with the exception of resolving the whole family being separated thing. I would expect the artifact to show up in other novels. What also showed up in spades was something I had read about in other reviews, namely Bova’s latent misogyny. All of his women characters are either mentally weak (like the mother and daughter or the family) or possessing what used to be called weak moral fiber. For example most of the women who are not dim bulbs (Pancho Lane, Humphries rotating cast of assistants, the captain of the ship the father ends up aboard) use their sexuality to advance themselves professionally. In addition, there is the egregious example which follows below:
The worst example of this comes when the mother of the family is raped by a pirate captain in order to shield her daughter from the crew. Having been away from her husband for several years, the wife is surprised to find herself “liking it,” and later the event is equated by her and her husband to his infidelity while aboard the space station.
Liking being raped? Equated with the husband’s years-long marital infidelity? Okay Bova, I’m sticking a fork in your backside–you’re done.
As I said: terrible, just terrible.