An exciting futuristic techno thriller - how can an asteroid racing towards Earth be used to help solve the world's desperate energy crisis?
About: In the near future a catastrophe has left a large part of the world's remaining oil reserves radioactive and unusable, plunging the Middle East into chaos and wrecking much of the world's economy. Russia is left as the last major power able to export oil and gas, and it's determined to exploit that new-found geopolitical dominance.
When an asteroid appears from deep space headed in the general direction of Earth, the US hatches a bold plan to pull the asteroid into Earth orbit and to mine it to help create a whole new source of energy - raw materials from the asteroid are to be used to build huge solar power satellites, which will then beam energy back to the US. The US sees it as a last chance to fix its ruined economy and to prevent political servitude; others are absolutely determined to see the plan fail.
Things seem to be going well - the asteroid is successfully tugged into orbit; manned stations and factories are built on the asteroid, and the first huge "powersat" is built. But before it can go live, NASA has to convince everyone that the technology is foolproof and safe; after all, if a system beaming huge amounts of power back to Earth goes even a tiny bit astray, the consequences will be horrendous. Even if it works perfectly, what if it were used as a weapon rather than a power source?
Marcus Judson is a NASA contractor playing a key role in the final tests and approval process, though he'd never imagined that might entail having to travel to the asteroid. As the testing comes to a head, so too does a complex and devious plan to prevent the program's success.
John's thoughts: This is an extremely clever idea for a novel - well thought out and well-constructed. Whether or not it would be technically feasible I have no idea, but reading the book you certainly get the sense that it could be. Lerner is clearly someone steeped in technology that loves to create storylines around technical extrapolations and theories that might just work.
There are some wonderful big ideas in here - harnessing the power of asteroids, mining them for raw materials, creative ways of breaking our dependence on oil, and how best to harness the full power of the sun. These ideas are mixed in with a strong plot involving political tensions, personal relationships, career scientists (a strange breed!) and plenty of thrills.
So the book has a lot of positives and I enjoyed the read. For me the thing that held it back a bit where the characters - they sometimes felt a bit two-dimensional and some of their actions and interactions were a bit stretched. But despite the somewhat implausible characters I'd still recommend this book to anyone who likes good somewhat futuristic techno thrillers. It's worth reading for the neat ideas alone! I'd rate the book 3 stars.