The Precipice (2001) is the first SF novel of the Asteroid Wars series. In this volume, Earth has reached the greenhouse cliff, the threshold where the world's climate changes drastically in a very short time. Although the greenhouse effect had been hotly debated, the current evidence could not be rebutted. The icecaps were melting and storms tore savagely at human infrastructure.
Dan Randolph is one of the victims of the new weather patterns. Jane Scanwell died trying to rescue people stranded by the flooding of the Tennessee River. Dan had not known how much he loved her until she was no longer there.
Randolph is determined to alleviate the greenhouse effects as much as possible by moving industry into space and providing raw materials from the Belt. Only one asteroid has ever been brought to Earth in the past; of course, the operation bankrupted Sam Gunn, but it was successful. Now Dan needs a less expensive way to mine the Belt and Martin Humphries shows him such a method.
Lyall Duncan has developed a small fusion power source. Unlike most such sources, the Duncan fusion device is small enough to fit into an old cruise missile used as a test vehicle. The results of this test suggest that a large version would be capable of powering a manned vehicle to the Belt in record time.
Although Humphries has offered to underwrite the initial voyage, Dan just doesn't trust him. Humphries has made his billions by merging smaller companies into his Humphries Space Systems and Randolph's company, Astro Manufacturing, seems to be the old Humper's next target.
While Randolph tries to get other concerns -- public and private -- to fund the first fusion drive spaceship, Pancho Lane has been taken off her piloting duties and assigned, with Amanda Cunningham, to the new fusion drive project. Humphries has recruited her to spy on Randolph, but Pancho doesn't really know anything; besides, she has already confessed her extracurricular activities to Randolph, whom she is beginning to admire. Humphries, however, is still unaware of her new role as a double agent.
Randolph finally exhausts his list of earthside contacts and takes his case to the Moon. Douglas Stavenger, founder of Masterson Aerospace and leader of the Lunar succession from the old United Nations, is still chairman emeritus of Masterson and is government head of Selene. Stavenger has made full use of nanotechnology for maintenance of his body and thus looks much younger than Dan. As they talk, Randolph learns that Humphries has blocked any deal with Masterson by buying a majority interest in the company. Stavenger, however, points out than Selene is quite willing to partner with his company in the development of nanomachines to make fusion drive units.
This novel is one of many works in the Grand Tour universe. Most of the major players in this novel are also found in other unrelated stories. Moreover, three other novels are direct prequels to this work.
Bova has been writing Science Fiction for several decades and was editor of Analog magazine and fiction editor of Omni. Since 1992, he has been concentrating on the Grand Tour novels, with a common political background and an expanding technology. These novels relate the exploration and settlement of the Solar System, from Mercury to Saturn, using engineering solutions based on today's knowledge and speculation.
Highly recommended for Bova fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of interplanetary adventure, political intrigue and cutthroat capitalism.
-Arthur W. Jordin