The Silent War by Ben Bova


On more than one occasion I’ve started an RPG campaign which I thought was the cat’s pajamas and then, after a few months said, “forget this, it isn’t working,” and went onto something else.  (My Star Wars campaign is a good example of this.)

The Silent War, the third book in the “Asteroid Wars” series by Ben Bova feels a lot like this.  After a pretty good set-up novel and a solid second one, the third book feels a lot like Bova said “enh, I dunno where this is going,” wrapped it up with a whimper and quickly moved onto a totally unrelated plot point.

What’s more, he begins the novel with a cutscene from several years after the events depicted in the book, revealing several major plot points in the novel that occur later in a way that just seems unnecessary.  But the point of the “sneak peek” is to have the author say to the reader, “Look!  Alien artifacts!  Get yourself through this novel and you’ll get alien artifacts in the fourth one!  Just bear with me while I tie a bow on this other stuff I spent two other novels laying out for you, and then I’ll get around that what I really want to write about!”

Because honestly, alien artifacts have nothing to do with the plot of the first three books of the Asteroid Wars.  It’s a sharp right turn that seems to be motivated only by Bova’s realization that he’s told this story before, and perhaps better, elsewhere.  To give credit where it is due, there’s some interesting utilization of technology in the realm of inter-space ship battles, like coating the ships with asteroidal rock as armor.  There’s also an extended scene where my favorite PC-as-book character Pancho Lane escapes the clutches of the bad guys using gear that looks like it was cribbed from the Stainless Steel Rat, but I like that kind of silliness so it is all good.

On the “books for gamers” note, as I said before I’m reminded of what happens when a GM/DM/judge runs out of juice on a storyline.  There’s lot of reasons why this happens–a better idea comes along, players don’t quite gel with what the GM thought it would be like, or it just doesn’t turn out to be as interesting in practice as in theory.  How a GM responds has a lot to do with his or her own skill and the group, but taking a storyline that the players are invested in, but the GM isn’t, and just letting it wither out doesn’t seem to be the answer.

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