The Rock Rats (Asteroid Wars Series #2)by Ben Bova
Brimming with memorable characters and human conflict, rugged high-tech prospectors and boardroom betrayals, The Rock Rats continues the tale of our near-future struggle over the incalculable wealth of the Asteroid Belt. Before it ends, many will die and many will achieve more than they ever dreamed was possible.
“Bova in top form.” Kirkus Reviews
“Hard-charging. . . . Ambitiously juggling elements of space opera, western, and Sophoclean drama, Bova keeps the pages turning.” Publishers Weekly
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"I said it would be simple," Lars Fuchs repeated. "I did not say it would be easy."
George AmbroseBig George to everyone who knew himscratched absently at his thick red beard as he gazed thoughtfully out through the window of Starpower 1's bridge toward the immense looming dark bulk of the asteroid Ceres.
"I di'n't come out here to get involved in daft schemes, Lars," he said. His voice was surprisingly high and sweet for such a shaggy mastodon of a man.
For a long moment the only sound in the compartment was the eternal hum of electrical equipment. Then Fuchs pushed between the two pilots' seats to drift toward Big George. Stopping himself with a touch of his hand against the metal overhead, he said in an urgent whisper, "We can do it. Given time and resources."
"It's fookin' insane," George muttered. But he kept staring out at the asteroid's rock-strewn, pockmarked surface.
They made an odd pair: the big, bulky Aussie with his shaggy brick-red mane and beard hovering weightlessly beside the dark, intense, thickset Fuchs. Three years in the Belt had changed Fuchs somewhat: he was still burly, barrel-chested, but he had let his chestnut brown hair grow almost to his collar, and the earring he wore was now a polished chip of asteroidal copper. A slim bracelet of copper circled his left wrist. Yet in their individual ways, both men looked powerful, determined, even dangerous.
"Living inside Ceres is bad for our health," Fuchs said.
George countered, "Plenty of radiation protection from the rock."
"It's themicrogravity," Fuchs said earnestly. "It's not good for us, physically."
"I like it."
"But the bones become so brittle. Dr. Cardenas says the rate of fractures is rising steeply. You've seen that yourself, haven't you?"
"Maybe," George half-admitted. Then he grinned. "But th' sex is fookin' fantastic!"
Fuchs scowled at the bigger man. "Be serious, George."
Without taking his eyes off Ceres' battered face, George said, "Okay, you're right. I know it. But buildin' a bloody O'Neill habitat?"
"It doesn't have to be that big, not like the L-5 habitats around Earth. Just big enough to house the few hundred people here in Ceres. At first."
George shook his shaggy head. "You know how big a job you're talkin' about? Just the life support equipment alone would cost a mint. And then some."
"No, no. That's the beauty of my scheme," Fuchs said, with a nervous laugh. "We simply purchase spacecraft and put them together. They become the habitat. And they already have all the life support equipment and radiation shielding built into them. We won't need their propulsion units at all, so the price will be much lower than you think."
"Then you want to spin the whole fookin' kludge to an Earth-normal g?"
"Lunar normal," Fuchs answered. "One-sixth g is good enough. Dr. Cardenas agrees."
George scratched at his thick, unkempt beard. "I dunno, Lars. We've been livin' inside the rock okay. Why go to all this trouble and expense?"
"Because we have to!" Fuchs insisted. "Living in micro-gravity is dangerous to our health. We must build a better habitat for ourselves."
George looked unconvinced, but he muttered, "Lunar g, you say?"
"One-sixth normal Earth gravity. No more than that."
"How much will it cost?"
Fuchs blinked once. "We can buy the stripped-down spacecraft from Astro Corporation. Pancho is offering a very good price."
"The preliminary figures work out . . ." Fuchs hesitated, took a breath, then said, "We can do it if all the prospectors and miners put in ten percent of their income."
George grunted. "A tithe, huh?"
"Ten percent isn't much."
"A lot of us rock rats don't make any income at all, some years."
"I know," said Fuchs. "I factored that into the cost estimate. Of course, we'll have to pay off the spacecraft over twenty or thirty-year leases. Like a mortgage on a house, Earthside."
"So you want everybody here in Ceres to take on a twenty-year debt?"
"We can pay it off sooner, perhaps. A few really big strikes could pay for the entire project all by themselves."
With burning intensity, Fuchs asked, "Will you do it? If you agree, most of the other prospectors will, too."
"Whyn't you get one of the corporations t' do it?" George asked. "Astro or Humphries . . ." He stopped when he saw the look on Fuchs' face.
"Not Humphries," Fuchs growled. "Never him or his company. Never."
"Okay. Astro, then."
Fuchs' scowl shifted into a troubled frown. "I've spoken to Pancho about it. The Astro board would not vote for it. They will sell stripped-down spacecraft to us, but they won't commit to building the habitat. They don't see a profit from it."
George grunted. "Lot they care if we snap our bones."
"But you care," Fuchs said eagerly. "It's our problem, George; we have to solve it. And we can, if you'll help."
Running a beefy hand through his thick mop of red hair, Big George said, "You're gonna need a teckie team to do the integration job. There's more to puttin' this habitat of yours together than just connectin' tinkertoys, y'know. You'll need a flock of geek boys."
"That's already in the cost estimate," Fuchs replied.
George huffed a mighty sigh, then said, "All right, Lars, I'm in. I guess it would be pretty good to have a base out here in the Belt with some decent gravity to it."
Fuchs smiled. "You can always have sex aboard your own ship."
George grinned back at him. "Believe it, mate. Believe it."
Fuchs went with George to the ship's main airlock and helped the bigger man get back into his hard-shell spacesuit.
"They're testin' lightweight suits back at Selene, y'know," he said as he slid into the rigid torso and worked his arms through the stiff sleeves. "Flexible. Easy to put on."
"And the radiation protection?" Fuchs asked.
"Magnetic field surrounds the suit. They claim it's better'n this stuff." He rapped his knuckles against the torso's cermet carapace.
Fuchs gave a little snort of disdain. "They'll need years of testing before I'd buy one."
As he wormed his hands into the gloves, George said, "Me too."
Handing the bigger man his fishbowl helmet, Fuchs said, "Thanks for agreeing, George," he said. "It means a lot to me."
George nodded solemnly. "I know. You two want to have kids."
Fuchs' cheeks reddened. "It's not that!"
"Well, not alone, no." Fuchs looked away from George for a moment, then slowly admitted, "I worry about Amanda, yes. I never thought she would want to stay out here with me. I never thought I myself would be out here this long."
"There's a lot of money to be made here in the Belt. A lot of money."
"Yes, yes indeed. But I worry about her. I want her to be in a safer place, with enough gravity to keep her from de-conditioning."
"And enough radiation shielding to start a family," George said, grinning. Then he pulled on his helmet before Fuchs could think of a reply.
Excerpted from The Rock Rats by Ben Bova. Copyright © 2000 by Ben Bova. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet 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.
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Humanities only hope for survival remains with the ore rich Asteroid Belt. However, the rivalry for control of the vast richness continues between Martin Humphries and Lars Fuchs. Martin wants to exploit the mineral wealth as a means to make him dictator of the solar system. On the other hand, Lars feels that there is room for everyone to benefit and welcomes competition including from the independent ROCK RATS, miners like him living and working amidst the asteroid orbs. However, the antagonism between Lars and Martin has turned even more personal and ugly as the former has married Amanda Cunningham, a woman that the latter obsesses to make as one of his more precious possessions. Lars sells supplies to THE ROCK RATS, but Martin destroys his competitor¿s warehouse, kills innocent rock rats, and steals their find. He also tries to murder Lars. A desperate Lars counters Martin¿s assault by attacking his malevolent opponent¿s ships and bases. Though distant from earth, mankind¿s latest economic battle is turning deadly with war seemingly inevitable. THE ROCK RATS, book two of the Asteroid Wars, shows why Ben Bova is one of science fiction¿s all time greats, as he delivers an exhilarating tale that will please his fans and those readers who relish outer space stories. The story line is fast-paced, loaded with action, and makes life on Ceres and elsewhere in the Asteroid Belt feel authentic in an everyday sense. Though Martin appears a bit extreme as a maniacal industrialist, he and the other key cast members remain as strong as they did in the entertaining first novel, THE PRECIPICE. Readers will enjoy this outer space adventure. Harriet Klausner
Part of a four book subset of the lengthy "Clarke County" "future history" series in the Heinlein tradition. Stands alone, with overlapping characters. It might be better for fans like me who enjoy reading interlocking books in the same universe to begin at the beginning.
Great sci-fi that gets closer to home each year.