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Powersat by Ben Bova
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765309238
Date: 01 January, 2005 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

After taking us from the moon to the edge (nearly) of the solar system in his Grand Tour, author Ben Bova takes us back to where it all began, in the skies over Texas and the day after tomorrow. Powersat balances on that knife edge between Science Fiction and Techno Thriller, and fans of either will find the story engages them with familiar themes, some ripped from today?s headlines, some prescient of the future history he?s already written more than half a dozen volumes for.

Ben Bova?s prequel to his series begins in the very near future with the fiery destruction of an experimental spaceplane, which goes out of control on reentry, killing its female test pilot and littering West Texas with debris. The fate and fortune of Astro Manufacturing Corporation, and its founder Dan Randolph, rest on the success of the plane, into which Dan?s sunk all the money he can find, and the odds don?t look promising. Astro needs the plane to make affordable the cost of running the solar power satellite they?ve built in geosynchronous orbit. He did the heavy lifting needed to build it the old fashioned way - with other people?s rockets. Dan?s given up a lot for his dream, and it looks like he?s going to have to give the dream up too, and with it the world?s hope for energy independence from mid-east oil.

Of all the things he?s lost, it?s the love of Senator Jane Thornton he misses the most. As we learn in flashback (though still flash forwards from the reader?s standpoint) Dan and Jane had been an item once. He wouldn?t give up his dream of building a power satellite, neither would she give up her political ambitions. So, on the terrible ?Day of the Bridges? they parted ways, burning their own bridges behind them as surely as?we?ll I?ll let you find out what that day was about by reading the book.

Now it?s year?s later, Dan?s been to space working for Yamagata Corporation to help build their demonstration powersat. He jumped ship to come back and build one right here in the good old U.S of A., and he?s in deep financial trouble. Actually, he?s in deeper trouble than that, but evidentially he hasn?t read enough stories about what oil companies do to people with radical energy technology. The Japanese want to buy him out. The world?s largest oil company wants to invest in the project. And, the potential for the powersat?s use as a death ray from space hasn?t been lost on the terrorists who want to bring down the West. Dan stubbornly doesn?t want help from anybody, but he?s consistently pretty mule-headed and he?s pretty easily blindsided too when it comes to that. When you consider that there are at least three women in the story in love with him, one hopelessly, one secretly, and the other mercenarily, and he?s only aware of the latter?you can see that he?s a classic man of vision?farsighted to a fault.

Dan?s self-reliant to a fault as well. When he realizes that his efforts are being sabotaged by someone, and that it has already cost the life of his test pilot, he assigns his chief engineer to the task of figuring out whodunit - not his head of security, not the FBI, not even the friendly FAA inspector come to shut him down. This time, evidentially, it?s personal.

Readers of Bova?s other books in the series already know that Astro survives, but newcomers don?t. Besides, this might just be an alternate reality to the one that spawns Precipice, The Rock Rats, The Silent War and others. Welding today and tomorrow together isn?t an easy job, and there?s plenty of time for Bova to decide it?s not worth the sacrifices he?ll have to make to the story.

Today?s villains are terrorists, and they?re carrying a lot of water for action adventure plots. I find the author?s geo-political notions suspect if only because they don?t suppose any shift between now and the day after now, and that the confluence of motivations is somewhat contrived. I?m not as pleased with Powersat as I?ve been with further future parts of Bova?s Grand Tour, but it?s mostly the right stuff, and either a good place to start the rest of the stories or a good read for your next long flight from NY to LA, or from Matagorda to Moonbase, if the authors dreams can come true.

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