The Precipice: A Novel

The Precipice: A Novel

by Ben Bova

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Six-time Hugo Award winner Ben Bova chronicles the saga of humankind's expansion beyond the solar system in The Precipice.

Once, Dan Randolph was one of the richest men on Earth. Now the planet is spiraling into environmental disaster, with floods and earthquakes destroying the lives of millions. Randolph knows the energy and natural resources of space can save Earth's economy, but the price may be the loss of the only thing he has left--the company he founded, Astro Manufacturing.

Martin Humphries, fabulously wealthy heir of the Humphries Trust, also knows that space-based industry is the way of the future. But unlike Randolph, he doesn't care if Earth perishes in the process. And he knows that the perfect bait to ensnare Dan Randolph--and take control of Astro--is his revolutionary new fusion propulsion system.

As Randolph--accompanied by two fascinating women who are also brilliant astronauts--flies out to the Asteroid Belt aboard a fusion-propelled spacecraft, Humphries makes his move. The future of mankind lies in Randolph's hands.

The Asteroid Wars have begun.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312703073
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 10/26/2001
Series: Asteroid Wars , #1
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 272,662
File size: 432 KB

About the Author

Born in Philadelphia, Ben Bova worked as a newspaper reporter, a technical editor for Project Vanguard (the first American satellite program), and a science writer and marketing manager for Avco Everett Research Laboratory, before being appointed editor of Analog, one of the leading science fiction magazines, in 1971. After leaving Analog in 1978, he continued his editorial work in science fiction, serving as fiction editor of Omni for several years and editing a number of anthologies and lines of books, including the "Ben Bova Presents" series for Tor. He has won science fiction's Hugo Award for Best Editor six times.

A published SF author from the late 1950s onward, Bova is one of the field's leading writers of "hard SF," science fiction based on plausible science and engineering. Among his dozens of novels are Millennium, The Kinsman Saga, Colony, Orion, Peacekeepers, Privateers, and the Voyagers series. Much of his recent work, including Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, The Precipice, and The Rock Rats, falls into the continuity he calls "The Grand Tour," a large-scale saga of the near-future exploration and development of our solar system.

A President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in 2001 Dr. Bova was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He lives in Naples, Florida, with his wife, the well-known literary agent Barbara Bova.

Ben Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Able One, Leviathans of Jupiter and the Grand Tour novels, including Titan, winner of John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, and in 2008 he won the Robert A. Heinlein Award "for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature." He is President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America, and a former editor of Analog and former fiction editor of Omni. As an editor, he won science fiction’s Hugo Award six times. Dr. Bova’s writings have predicted the Space Race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), electronic book publishing, and much more. He lives in Florida.

Read an Excerpt

The Precipice

Book 1 Of The Asteroid Wars

By Ben Bova, Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2001 Ben Bova
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-70307-3



"Jesus," the pilot kept murmuring. "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus."

The helicopter was racing north, bucking, jolting between the shattered land below and the thick dark gray clouds scudding just above, trying to follow Interstate 55 from the Memphis International Airport to what was left of the devastated city.

You could not see the highway; it was carpeted from horizon to horizon with refugees, bumper to bumper traffic inching along, an unending stream of cars, trucks, vans, busses, people on foot swarming like ants, trudging painfully along the shoulders of the road in the driving, soaking rain, women pushing baby carriages, men and boys hauling carts piled high with whatever they could salvage from their homes. Flood water was lapping along the shoulder embankment, rising, still rising, reaching for the poor miserable people as they fled their homes, their hopes, their world in a desperate attempt to escape the rising waters.

Dan Randolph felt the straps of his safety harness cutting into his shoulders as he stared grimly out the window from his seat behind the two pilots. His head throbbed painfully and the filter plugs in his nostrils were hurting again. He barely noticed the copter's buffeting and jouncing in the choppy wind as he watched the swollen tide of refugees crawling sluggishly along the highway. It's like a war zone, Dan thought. Except that the enemy is Mother Nature. The flooding was bad enough, but the earthquake broke their backs.

Dan put the electronically-boosted binoculars to his eyes once again, searching, scanning the miserable, soaking wet throng below for one face, one individual, the one woman he had come to save. It was impossible. There must be half a million people down there, he thought. More. Finding her will take a miracle.

The chopper bounced and slewed wildly in a sudden gust of wind, banging the binoculars painfully against Dan's brow. He started to yell something to the pilot, then realized that they had run into another blustery squall. Fat, pounding raindrops splattered thickly against the copter's windows, cutting Dan's vision down almost to nothing.

The pilot slid back the transparent sanitary partition that isolated Dan's compartment. Dan suppressed an angry urge to slam it back. What good are sterile barriers if you open them to the outside air?

"We've got to turn back, sir," the pilot yelled over the thrumming thunder of the engines.

"No!" Dan shouted. "Not till we find her!"

Half turning in his seat to face Dan, the pilot jabbed a finger toward his spattered windscreen. "Mr. Randolph, you can fire me when we land, but I ain't going to fly through that:

Looking past the flapping windscreen wipers, Dan saw four deadly slim dark funnels writhing across the other side of the swollen Mississippi, dust and debris flying wherever they touched the ground. They looked like coiling, squirming snakes thrashing across the ground, smashing everything they touched: buildings exploded, trees uprooted, autos tossed into the air like dry leaves, homes shattered into splinters, RV parks, housing developments, shopping malls all destroyed at the flick of the twisters' pitiless, mindless malevolence, blasted as completely and ruthlessly as if they had been struck by an enemy missile attack.

The enemy is Mother Nature, Dan repeated silently, numbly, as he stared at the advancing tornadoes. There was nothing he could do about them and he knew it. They couldn't be bought, bribed, flattered, seduced, or threatened into obedience. For the first time since he'd been a child, Daniel Hamilton Randolph felt totally powerless.

As he locked the partition shut again and fumbled in his pockets for his antiseptic spray, the chopper swung away, heading back toward what was left of the international airport. The Tennessee National Guard had thrown a cordon around the grounds; the airport was the Memphis region's last link with the rest of the country. The floods had knocked out electrical power, smashed bridges, covered roads with thick muddy brown water. Most of the city had been submerged for days.

Then came the earthquake. A solid nine on the Richter scale, so powerful that it flattened buildings from Nashville to Little Rock and as far north as St. Louis. New Orleans had already been under water for years as the rising Gulf of Mexico inexorably reclaimed its shoreline from Florida to Texas. The Mississippi was in flood all the way up to Cairo, and still rising.

Now, with communications out, millions homeless in the never-ending rains, aftershocks strong enough to tumble skyscrapers, Dan Randolph searched for the one person who meant something to him, the only woman he had ever loved.

He let the binoculars drop from his fingers and rested his head on the seat back. It was hopeless. Finding Jane out there among all those other people— The copilot had twisted around in his seat and was tapping on the clear plastic partition.

"What?" Dan yelled.

Instead of trying to outshout the engines' roar through the partition, the copilot pointed to the earpiece of his helmet. Dan understood and picked up the headset they had given him from where he'd dumped it on the floor. He had sprayed it when they'd first handed it to him, but now he doused it again with the antiseptic.

As he clamped it over his head, he heard the metallic, static-streaked voice of a news reporter saying, "... definitely identified as Jane Scanwell. The former President was found, by a strange twist of fate, on President's Island, where she was apparently attempting to help a family of refugees escape the rising Mississippi waters. Their boat apparently capsized and was swept downstream, but snagged on treetops on the island.

"Jane Scanwell, the fifty-second President of the United States, died trying to save others from the ravages of flood and earthquake here in what remains of Memphis, Tennessee."



It was raining in Venezuela, too, when Dan Randolph finally got back to his headquarters. Another hurricane was tearing through the Caribbean, lashing Barbados and the Windward Islands, dumping twenty-five centimeters of rain on the island of La Guaira and Caracas, on the mainland, with more to come.

Dan sat behind his big, bare desk, still wearing the rumpled slacks and pullover that he had travelled in from the States. His office smelled musty, mildewed from the incessant rain despite its laboring climate control system. He wasn't wearing the protective nose plugs; the air in his office was routinely filtered and run past intense ultraviolet lamps.

Leaning back into the softly yielding caramel brown leather of his swivel chair, Dan gazed out at the windswept launch complex. The rockets had been towed back into the assembly buildings. In this storm they could not dare to launch even the sturdy, reliable Clipperships. The launch towers were visibly shaking in the gale-force wind, lashed by horizontal sheets of rain; roofs had already peeled off some of the smaller buildings. Beyond the launch towers, the sea was a wild madhouse of frothing whitecapped waves. The wind howled like a beast of prey, rattling even the thick double-paned windows of Randolph's office.

Third storm to hit us and it's not even the Fourth of July yet Business isn't lousy enough, we've got these double-damned hurricanes to deal with. At this rate I'll be broke by Labor Day.

We're losing, Dan thought. We're in a war and we're losing it. Hell, we've already lost it. What's the sense of pretending otherwise?

The dampness made him ache deep in his bones, an arthritic-like reminder of his age and the dose of radiation sickness he'd contracted years earlier. I ought to get back to Selene, he told himself. A man with a broken-down immune system shouldn't stay on Earth if he doesn't have to.

Yet for hours he simply sat there, staring out at the pounding storm, seeing only the face of Jane Scanwell, remembering the sound of her voice, the touch of her fingers, the soft silkiness of her skin, the scent of her, the way she brightened a room, they way she had filled his life even though they were never really together, not more than a few quick hours now and then before they fell into bitter argument. There was so much separating them. After she had left the White House, they had managed to spend a couple of days together on a tropical atoll. Even that had ended in a quarrel.

But for once they had seen things the same way, had the same goal, fought the same fight on the same side. The greenhouse cliff meant war, a war pitting humankind's global civilization against the blind forces of nature. Jane understood that as well as Dan did. They were going to fight this war together.

And it killed her.

Should I go on? Dan asked himself. What's the use of it? What's the sense of it? He wanted to cry, but the tears would not come.

Dan Randolph had always seemed larger than his actual physical size. He was a solidly-built welterweight, still in trim physical shape, although now, in his sixties, it took grueling hours in the gym to maintain his condition. His once-sandy hair was almost completely gray now; his staff people called him "the Silver Fox" behind his back. He had a fighter's face, with a strong stubborn jaw and a nose that had been flattened years ago by a fist, when he'd been a construction worker in space. Despite all the wealth he'd amassed since those early days, he'd never had his nose fixed. Some said it was a perverse sense of machismo. His light gray eyes, which had often glinted in amusement at the foolishness of men, were bleak and saddened now.

A chime sounded, and the sleek display screen of his computer rose slowly, silently out of the desktop surface.

Dan swiveled his chair to see the screen. His administrative assistant's young, somber face looked out at him. Teresa was a native of Caracas, tall, leggy, cocoa-cream complexion, deep brown almond eyes and thick lustrous midnight dark hair. Years earlier Dan would have tried to bed her and probably succeeded. Now he was simply annoyed at her intrusion into his memories.

"It's almost dinnertime," she said.

"So what?"

"Martin Humphries has been waiting all day to see you. He's the man Zack Freiberg wants you to meet."

Dan grimaced. Zack had been the first one to warn Dan of the impending greenhouse cliff.

"Not today, Teresa," he said. "I don't want to see anybody today."

The young woman hesitated a heartbeat, then asked, softly, almost timidly, "Do you want me to bring you a dinner tray?"

Dan shook his head. "I'm not hungry."

"You have to eat."

He looked at her image on his screen, so intent, so young and concerned and worried that the boss was going off the deep end. And he felt anger rising inside him, unreasoning blind blazing rage.

"No, goddammit to hell and back," he snapped. "You have to eat I can do any goddamned thing I want to, and if you want to keep drawing your paycheck you'd better leave me the hell alone."

Her eyes went wide. Her mouth opened, but she said nothing. Dan snapped his fingers and the screen went blank. Another snap and it folded back into its niche in the desk's gleaming rosewood top.

Leaning back in his chair, Dan closed his eyes. He tried to close his mind against the memories, but that was impossible.

It was all going to be so damned great Okay, a century or two of global warming would lead to a greenhouse cliff. Not a gradual warmup but a sudden, abrupt change in the world's climate. All that latent heat stored in the oceans would pour into the atmosphere. Ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica melting away. Sea levels shooting up over a decade or two. Big storms and lots of them. Climate shifts turning croplands into deserts.

So what? We'll use the resources of space to solve all those problems. Energy? We'll build solar power satellites, beam energy from space to wherever it's needed. Raw materials? We'll mine the Moon and the asteroids; there's more natural resources in space than the whole Earth can provide. Food production?

Well, that would be a tough one. We all knew that But with enough energy and enough raw materials we could irrigate the croplands that were being desiccated by the climate shift.

Yeah, sure. And when half the world's major cities got flooded out, what did we do? What could we do? When the electrical power grid got shattered, what did we do? When earthquakes and tsunamis wiped out the heart of Japan's industrial capacity, what did we do? Diddley-squat. When this quake flattened the midwest, what did we do? We tried to help the survivors and Jane got herself killed in the attempt.

The office door banged open and a huge, red-bearded man pushed in, carrying an ornately- carved teak tray laden with steaming dishes. In his massive hands the tray looked like a little child's toy.

"Teresa says you've got to eat," he announced in a high, sweet tenor as he set the tray on Dan's desk.

"I told her I'm not hungry."

"You can't fookin' starve yourself. Eat something."

Dan glanced at the tray. A steaming bowl of soup, a salad, a main course hidden under a stainless steel dome, a carafe of coffee. No wine. Nothing alcoholic.

He pushed the tray toward the red-haired giant. "You eat it, George."

Pulling one of the upholstered chairs up close to the desk, Big George looked his boss in the eye and pushed the tray back toward Randolph.

"Eat," he said. "It's good for ya."

Dan stared back at George Ambrose. He'd known Big George since he'd been a fugitive on the Moon, hiding out from the Selene City authorities with a handful of other free souls who styled themselves the Lunar Underground. Big George was Dan's personal bodyguard now; he wore custom-tailored suits instead of patched coveralls. But he still looked like a barely-tamed frontiersman: big, shaggy, the kind of man who could gleefully pound your head down into your ribcage with no personal malice at all.

"Tell you what," Dan said, feeling a reluctant smile bend his lips a little. "I'll split it with you."

George grinned back at him. "Good thinking, boss."

They ate in silence for several minutes, George gobbling the entire main course, which turned out to be a thick slab of prime rib. Dan took a few spoonfuls of soup and nibbled at the salad.

"Better than the old days, huh?" George said, still chewing prime rib. "Fookin' soyburgers and recycled piss for water."

Dan ignored the younger man's attempt to jolly him. "Has Teresa gone home?" he asked.


Nettled, Dan glanced at his wristwatch. "She's not my nursemaid, double-damn it. I don't want her hovering over me like—"

"That Humphries bloke is still waitin' to see you," George said.

"Now? He's out there now? It's almost nine o'clock, for chrissakes. What's wrong with him? Is he stuck here because of the storm? Doesn't Teresa have the smarts to put him up in one of the guest suites?"

George shook his shaggy head. "He said he'll wait until you're ready to see 'im. He did have an appointment, y'know."

Dan let his breath out in a weary sigh. I just got back from the funeral and they expect me to stick to a schedule made out weeks ago.

"Teresa says he's makin' her nervous."


"He's comin' on to her. I can see it meself."

Frowning, Dan muttered, 'Teresa can take care of herself."

"The voice of experience?" George grinned.

"He's been hitting on her all the time he's been waiting for me?"

"Want me to shoo 'im off?" George asked.

For a moment Dan relished the image of George hustling his visitor out of the building. But then he realized that the man would simply come back tomorrow. I'll have to get back to business, he told himself. Can't avoid it forever.

"Take the tray out," he said to Big George, "and show this Humphries guy in."

George smacked his lips. "I can bring in dessert and coffee."

"Fine," Dan said, unwilling to argue. "Do that."

Grinning, George scooped up the crumb-littered tray in one hand and started for the door. Dan saw that the desktop was sprinkled with crumbs, too. Annoyed, he brushed them to the carpet.

Teresa appeared at the door. "Mr. Martin Humphries," she announced. She looked tense, Dan thought. Humphries must have really rattled her.

Martin Humphries looked quite young. He was on the small side, a couple of centimeters shorter than Teresa, and he seemed soft, with rounded shoulders and a waistline that was already getting thick, despite the careful drape of his burgundy blazer. He seemed to radiate energy, though, as he strode confidently across the office toward Dan's desk.

Dan got to his feet and extended his hand across the desk.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," he said, making himself smile.

Humphries took Dan's hand in a firm grip. "I understand," he replied. "I'm sorry to intrude on your grief."

His eyes told Dan that the words were nothing more than an expected ritual. Martin Humphries's face was round, almost boyish. But his eyes were diamond-hard, cold and gray as the storm-lashed sea outside the window.

As they sat down, George re-entered the office bearing a tray of pastries and the same carafe of coffee, with a pair of china cups and saucers alongside it. For all his size, Big George walked with the lightfooted step of a dancer—or a cat burglar. Neither Dan nor Humphries said a word as George deftly deposited the tray on the desk and swiftly, silently left the office.


Excerpted from The Precipice by Ben Bova, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Copyright © 2001 Ben Bova. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents




Exclusive Author Essay
I grew up in the narrow streets and row houses of South Philadelphia, in a blue-collar neighborhood where the richest guy we kids knew was a petty Mafioso who ran the local numbers racket. One day in 1941 we were taken out of our junior high school classroom and packed into a bus. Our teachers told us we were going to visit the city's science museum. We all groaned and griped, but in those days of iron discipline we had no choice but to go to the museum. It was called the Franklin Institute (in Philadelphia nearly everything is named after either Ben Franklin or William Penn) Science Museum. Dullsville, we thought.

They took us into a round auditorium with a domed roof and made us sit -- quietly, or else. In the middle of this planetarium was some kind of machine that looked like a giant black ant. (This was long before sci-fi movies that featured giant insects, by the way.) I noticed that the lights were getting dimmer and dimmer. In a few minutes it was completely dark. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Scary. A man's soft tenor voice started telling us that it's difficult to see the stars from the streets of the city. To really the stars, you have to be way out in the country, or maybe on a ship in the middle of the ocean. "Then," he said calmly, "you can see the stars in all their true splendor." With that, he turned on the planetarium projector (the giant ant). Thousands of stars suddenly appeared above us. We all gasped.

The planetarium director had turned on the stars. He turned me on, too. In that instant of wonder and beauty I got hooked on astronomy. It was the turning point in my life. I returned to the museum on my own. The director, Dr. I. M. Levitt, became a friend, a mentor. Through him I learned that there were people who wanted to build rockets that could take us to the Moon and worlds beyond. I found that there were futuristic stories of what it would be like to go into space. I became interested in astronautics at a time when "flying to the Moon" was regarded as the ultimate impossibility, and science fiction was disdained as cheap pulp trash.

I began to write my own stories about the future, trying always to base them solidly on the known scientific facts of the day. In 1959, when I sold my first science fiction novel, the editors were so impressed with the astronomical background of the story that they asked me to write a nonfiction book about astronomy. While I wrote fiction and nonfiction books, I also worked on the first American program to launch an artificial satellite into orbit, Vanguard, two years before the creation of NASA. Later, I edited Analog Science Fiction magazine, and then Omni -- all because of that mandatory class trip to the Franklin Institute and I. M. Levitt. In 1972 I had the great joy of dedicating one of my nonfiction books to him, The Amazing Laser.

Today, more than 100 books later, I am still writing about the marvelous future that awaits us in space, still basing my fiction on the latest scientific discoveries. In novels such as Mars, Moonwar, and The Precipice, I am taking readers on a Grand Tour of the solar system, showing how the human race will expand through the solar system in the coming years. In my nonfiction books, such as The Story of Light, I try to show how our growing understanding of science helps us to live longer, healthier, more productive lives.

It's a never-ending quest. The first novel I ever wrote, in 1949, was never published because publishers thought its plot too odd: It was based on the idea that the Russians go into space before the U.S. does, so the Americans launch a crash program to get American astronauts to the Moon before the Russians get there -- too crazy for publishers in 1949. Twenty years later, Armstrong and Aldrin won the space race for the U.S. It took the real world 20 years to catch up with my science fiction. Now, when I start a new project, I wonder if I can finish the book before the scientists beat me to the punch.

Writing about science and the future is exciting, and great fun. I hope reading about it is, too. (Ben Bova)

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Precipice 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In a distant future, the planet earth is in on the brink of extinction due to the greenhouse effect leading to ecological mayhem and consequently mass starvation. The future looks nonexistent with the only glimmer of hope seemingly in outer space. Dan Randolph and Martin Humphries agree that saving planet earth depends on harvesting raw materials from other solar system orbs so that pollution would lessen on their homeworld and subsequently reduce the greenhouse effect.

The caring optimist, Dan actually believes in saving his fellow human beings while Martin wants to keep costs down so as to increase his profit even if it means destroying his home planet. Martin¿s goal is simple: he plans to rule over the survivors that he personally chooses to allow to live with Dan his only true obstacle to success.

Fans of Ben Bova¿s outer space tales will full enjoy his latest thriller THE PRECIPICE. The story line is loaded with action, but in many ways is very simplistic with Dan and Martin as two opposite extremes if they ever took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator psychological test. Though typical of Mr. Bova¿s science fiction theories on industrializing (environmentalists would say polluting) the solar system, the audience will relish this great author¿s latest this outer space thriller.

Harriet Klausner

SonicQuack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Falling between Moonwar and Jupiter, The Precipice details Dan Rudolph's next venture, the asteroid belt. In true Bova style hardcore science-fiction is less favoured than intrigue, political backstabbing and bouts of gung-ho heroism. The Precipice villains are underdeveloped and somewhat stereotypical and although the story has an interesting concept and finale, as a whole it is somewhat flat. It reads like a story-by-numbers rather than an insightful piece of sci-fi and although it's never dull, it is the weakest of the Grand Tour so far.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
All the elements of a good story are here, for that Ben is as reliable as your neighborhood mechanic. However, at least two mistakes were in this story, each of them having to do with physical concepts. First One: Dan the protagonist is mentioned as being very tall, a full one hundred eighty centimeters tall, which is merely five feet nine inches tall. Maybe compared to someone shorter he's tall, but not by international standards. Second One: It's mentioned that a positively charged hull is effected by electron guns. This cannot be because an electron gun fires off electrons (e.g., thyrotron), not protons. It would be better ifthe hull were made of a P-type semiconductor, with the N-junction forming the inner hull. When forward biased, the outer hull would easily and powerfully repel protons being that it is hole rich, or positively charged. Except for solar winds, protons are not whatt flow in a conductor (sorry Ben ... Franklin); but electrons do. I'm surprised to see such basic science screwed up by Ben. But then again Ben, not to mention a host of other luddites in the SF field, seem to find it hard to believe that someone might come up with a powerful emissionless propulsion motor. They're still stuck on the Dean Drive and other such wankering drivel.