01/10/2008. Contributed by Rod MacDonald
audio CD. pub: Audio Renaissance/PanMacmillan. 10 hours. 9 CDs. Price: $39.95 (US), $55.95 (CAN) ISBN: 1-59397-492-2). read by: Ira Cdlaffey, Amanda Karr and cast.
check out websites: http://us.macmillan.com/Book.aspx?isbn=9781593974923 and www.benbova.net
There is something of a child-like simplicity in the idea that old-time miners will someday be chipping away at rocks within the asteroid belt, nevertheless this is the essence of 'The Rock Rats', Ben Bova's second instalment of 'The Asteroid Wars' series. He has extrapolated the spirit of the Klondike Goldrush and the Texas oil boom to new worlds in space, something which has certainly been accomplished by other authors in the past. The similarity between the process that occurred on Earth in the 19th century with mineral exploitation and this future race for space minerals in the asteroids is strikingly obvious in the pages of Bova's book.
It is the same old routine. Pioneers make all the sacrifices and endure all the hardships to set up the basis of a financially lucrative business and then the big corporations make their play, the numbers of players are reduced and the winners take all. However, will the mining of the asteroids really be like this? Will their resources be valuable enough to make this a reality? Possibly not and even with the fusion drive which Bova introduces the logistics of the operation may not be feasible. Despite that, 'The Rock Rats' is a rocking good story, rolling along with enough punches to keep most people happy.
The first book set the scene with a confrontation between Dan Randolph and Martin Humphries but now Randolph is dead, his death the result of the latter's dastardly machinations. You would think that Humphries would now have everything his own way but, unfortunately for him, Randolph had left all his holdings in the Astro Company to Pancho Lane, the former space pilot. Now, this strong-willed character is someone not to be messed with. You would also think she would be okay in her new position but, being a straightforward person of reasonable morality, she has trouble fitting into Corporation business life with its complex relationships and dubious ethics.
Amanda, the other girl from the first book, is a real stunner with plenty of attributes which would make her attractive to the opposite sex. Unfortunately for Humphries, she decided to fall in love with geologist Lars Fuchs, a man of quiet temperament with a sense of fair play. In other words, he's a sportsman! Amanda and Lars get married and Humphries, like any nasty little boy who doesn't get his own way, becomes vindictive and jealous.
What makes matters worse is that Amanda and Lars start up their own business supplying materials to the Rock Rat miners of the asteroid belt and in doing so act to break the monopoly already held by Humphries. The couple become successful because they are out to make a reasonable profit but not at the expense of the miners, the direct opposite of Humphries who wants to make them pay and pay. This is a double slap in the face for Humphries and he plots to get his revenge.
Now, Humphries, who seems to have no redeeming qualities at all, doesn't directly attack the couple himself but employs subterfuge and sneaky methods to get his way. Eventually, Lars cracks and retaliates, the desired result from Humphries' efforts and a war breaks out which involves everyone in some way or other. Lars finds himself on the other side of the law. So, does Humphries win? I'm afraid you will have to read or listen to the book to find out.
This audio version is pretty good. There are a lot of characters, which can be confusing, but there are also a lot of narrators which keep pace with the story. Now, as many know I don't like to complain (Uncle Geoff fell off his seat at this point) but societies set in a future where humanity has spread into the solar system will probably have adopted a lingua franca (English, dare I say) which will have had many of its regional accents ironed out. Ben Bova uses regional accents to help identify his characters to make them more recognisable but maybe this is a mistake and an easy way out. Characters should be recognisable by how they act, think and speak and not just by an accent similar to Scottie in 'Star Trek'.
Complaining set aside, this was an enjoyable audio book which deserves to be recommended. As a part of a series, it does help if you know what has happened in the first book but it's not essential. It is very easy to get caught up in the story, just like a soap opera, and you soon get the gist of what is going on. Don't miss the next episode!
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