About the Author
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
By Bova, Ben
Tor Science FictionCopyright © 2002 Bova, Ben
All right reserved.
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."
Copyright 2001 by Ben Bova
Excerpted from The Precipice by Bova, Ben Copyright © 2002 by Bova, Ben. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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
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.
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.