Review of 'The Rock Rats'

The Rock Rats by Ben Bova
2nd book in the 'The Asteroid Wars' series

the_rock_rats.jpg Set three years after the events of “The Precipice” the commercial exploitation of the asteroid belt is underway with so-called “rock rats” laying claim to the resources the asteroids hold. Martin Humphries, president of Humphries Space Systems, is determined to capitalise on the situation and wrestle control away from the miners operating independently and those working for his arch commercial rival Astro Manufacturing, now headed by Pancho Lane, so sends a mercenary, Dorik Harbin, out to “scare” them…with bloody, violent, consequences. The miners have formed a loose community around Ceres, a an outpost in the belt where Lars Fuchs and Amanda, his wife, having started mining the asteroids with it's slender margins have moved onto the much more lucrative business of selling mining supplies. Humphries, driven by both his commercial interest and his lust for Amanda, attacks their fledgling business so Lars, increasingly frustrated with HSS, decides to take matters into his own hands. As the death toll mounts the battle over the resources of the asteroids and the hearts of it's people comes to a head…

This second instalment in the Asteroid Wars series sees the Humphries character as more and more an “evil man” as he seems to be able to get away with whatever he wants through this use of his money and power. Yes, the “big bad corporation” theme is still very much here as we are repeatedly bashed over the head with it. This obvious “black and white” characterisation is contrasted with the increasingly grey shades of Lars who out of frustration starts to fight Humphries on his own terms and in the course of doing so loses everything that matters to him. The machinations of Humphries assistant Diane Verwoerd as she seeks to further her own goals adds a bit of interest to the somewhat one-sided story of power. It is good to see that the people in this series (with the exception of Humphries) are being to be fleshed out a bit more. As with the original novel the technology and futuristic aspects take a back seat with very little lecturing to the reader.

It would be best for anyone wishing to read this to first read chapter 1, The Precipice. This book could probably be read standalone but the reader would lose many of the nuances and be lost for quite some time before getting into the story.

This novel begins immediately after the events of the first book with the years quickly passing as events unfold with a slow burning middle section and a somewhat dramatic ending that is not altogether unexpected. Bova does have a way of compelling us to continue reading to see how things will turn out for the characters he has taught us to care with or, at the very least, sympathise with. I will certainly be reading on to see how it all turns out…will Humphries get his comeuppance? Two more books to see…

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2017-06-25

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Hodder & Sloughton

Publication Date: 2002

ISBN: 0340769580

Other reviewed books in the 'The Asteroid Wars' series:

Other reviewed books by Ben Bova: