Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • The Asteroid Wars (#1)
  • Part of the Grand Tour universe
  • Published by Hodder & Stoughton
  • First published in 2001
  • Hard SF
  • 439 pages

With climate change ravaging the Earth, two of humanity’s most influential men turn their attention to space. Dan Randolph has the technology to reach the asteroid belt, while Martin Humphries has the financial backing to make that dream a reality. But in a partnership riven by ideological differences, only one man can come out on top . . .

Inside of you there are two wolves. One wants to avoid starting yet another series before finishing off the dozens of others you are reading. The other wants to get rid of that pesky book one of a series that’s been in your TBR stack since February. Did I say you? I meant me. Because while I am trying to wrap up series and focus on standalones, The Precipice has been on my TBR longer than any other book. Given how much I’ve enjoyed every other Ben Bova book I’ve read, this was a situation that could not be allowed to continue. And yes, this does mean I’ve got yet another half-read series on my shelves, but with the large number of books Bova wrote during his life, it’s probably for the best that I get started sooner rather than later.

The Precipice is everything I’ve come to expect from the Grand Tour. It’s quick-paced, full of colourful characters, and with a fine balance between adventure and hard science. Despite all the action and mayhem, it’s all delivered in a Star Trek-like, somewhat relaxed manner. By turns thrilling and utterly soothing, leaning more towards the former once things heat up. Despite the tonal range however, there’s never any whiplash, nor anything that jars you out of the story. If you’ve read any of my other Ben Bova reviews, there’s not a whole lot I have to add other than to tell you to go out and read his books.

This is my seventh book in the Grand Tour universe, and at this stage I’m starting to see how it all slots together. Having already read the Moonbase duology and the standalone Venus, it is quite clear that The Asteroid Wars functions as a bridge between the them. Not simply because characters cross over from one book to the other, but because the larger arc of humanity’s exploration of the solar system is starting to become clear. Trying to draw a direct timeline would probably expose impossibilities in the grand scheme of things, but everything trends in the right direction. In The Precipice, humanity is still held back by the dogmatically anti-technology New Morality movement. But while governments are paralysed by this, it’s the billionaires who are free to colonise other worlds.

Though printed two decades too soon to be a direct commentary (and the stronger for avoiding this), the rivalry between Randolph and Humphries maps very easily onto certain present-day private spaceflight ventures. Obviously, things are more complicated than can be summed up in a four hundred page novel, let alone a five hundred word review, but Bova’s argument is clear. No matter how bad things get on Earth, expansion into space is necessary. It’s better that the obscenely wealthy get out there than no one at all, but space might just hold the answers we seek for our longevity as a species. You can read The Precipice as a fun adventure novel, and that is a perfectly fine way to read it. But bubbling away beneath the action and intrigue is a call to arms for scientific literacy. When it comes to spaceflight, we only fail if we stop trying.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Moonrise, by Ben Bova
Leviathan Wakes, by James S. A. Corey
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir

One response to “BOOK REVIEW: The Precipice, by Ben Bova”

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