The Silent War (The Asteroid Wars book 3) by Ben Bova

I am new to ‘The Asteroid Wars, having missed ‘The Precipice’ and ‘The Rock Rats’ that preceded this book but ‘The Silent War’ looked interesting enough to skip those and dive right in with the last book of the series. It certainly does not require the reader to have read the other books being a self-contained novel in its own right. The blurb on the books fly-cover tells us that two corporations, Astro Corporation and Humphries Space Systems, have gone to war over the rich pickings to be found in the asteroid belt. Ms Pancho Lane leads the Astro Corporation which, while not quite the good guys, they are certainly not as bad as the Humphries Space Systems, led by the evil and despotic Martin Humphries. The war threatens the lives not only of the corporation employees but the Rock Rats who mine the asteroids and the various settlements that serve them.

There is one bit of information missing from the cover blurb and that is that an alien artefact has been found inside an asteroid. This little omission is a bit surprising as the novel opens with Martin Humphries visiting the artefact. This section is quite short being just over seven pages and sees Martin Humphries being told he will have to wait to see the artefact before he is detained in the asteroids living quarters and loses communications with his ship. Humphries guide to the artefact is a known criminal wanted for war crimes, namely the destruction of the Chrysalis Habitat, killing eleven hundred men, women and children while in the employment of Humphries Space Systems. At this point, the novel jumps six years into the past, which represents the starting point for the majority of the novel. While the story is described as a war between corporations, it is really a conflict between the respective corporation leaders. There is personal animosity between Pancho Lane and Martin Humphries that, in the case of the latter, influences a lot of the decisions he makes.

Pancho Lane and Martin Humphries are not like any CEOs I have ever met or read about. For one thing, they seem quite happy using their respective companies resources for their own personal means. Pancho Lane, in particular, takes time off at various points to do other things. There are no management meetings or management team, in fact it is difficult to see how she is running a corporation as there is so little interaction with her staff. The same could also be said of Martin Humphries but as he seems to own his company outright, then he could probably be forgiven for his egotistical style.

Although Martin Humphries is a complete utter scoundrel, it does not stop Humphries Space Systems winning just about every combat they have with Astro Corporation. Given the poor string of results they experience, I’m surprised they manage to last so long. The one time Astro did manage to come up with a credible strategy to contain Humphries, it ended in disaster. What neither Pancho Lane or Martin Humphries realises is that there is a third force at work here which not only started the war but actively encourages its continuation. As both organisations seem to have espionage and security teams, it makes you wonder what they were up to and how they missed it.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this book has two beginnings, one at the alien artefact and the second six years earlier at the start of hostilities. It’s not surprising then that the book has two endings. There is the ending of the war between Humphries Space Systems and Astro Corporation and there is the conclusion of events at the alien artefact. Unfortunately, neither ending is satisfactory. The deal hammered out to end the war seems fanciful and unlikely. The events at the alien artefact leave so many unanswered questions that it is hardly an ending at all.

This is not a bad book but it could have been so much better. It’s not one I would advise against but then again it’s not one I would recommend neither.

Andy Whitaker

August 2012

(pub: TOR. 380 page small hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $34.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-312-84878-1) 

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I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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