- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

Ararat, the legendary mountain upon which the Biblical Ark comes to rest as flood waters recede, has been a symbol of hope through the ages. Brian Stableford has borrowed the image and refashioned it for a new era in his novel Dark Ararat (Tor, $25.95, 352 pages). The theme of darkness contrasts with the glimmering rainbow that consecrates the original tale, but the motif of hope endures in this new one.
In fact, "Hope" is a starship, a modern-day Ark in Mr. Stableford's visionary story of the future. Scientific tinkering has opened a Pandora's box of genetic mutation and humankind is on the verge of extinction. Hope transports a cross section of populations from the dying Earth to a distant world. Instead of 40 days, though, this trip takes 700 years and the travelers survive in "SusAn," suspended animation.
Still, foibles of the human heart are not bound by time or space, and like stowaways, appear unbidden at journey's end. Aboard the ship, crew members are in rebellion against ship owner Shen Chin Che. Below, the new planet is inhospitable, teaming with strange life forms that defy the usual distinctions of plant and animal. Meanwhile, explorers have discovered ruins of an ancient civilization and worst of all, eminent ecologist Bernal Delgado has been found murdered among the ruins. As a result, TV personality and prophet Matthew Fleury is aroused from SusAn to deal with this waking nightmare.
Colonists' hopes for a new beginning are upended by doubts of whether it is safe to inhabit a planet that might harbor hostile aliens, or whether safety can be found anywhere if the killer turns out to be one of their own.
Is Matthew a spacesuit clad Noah? He, like the legendary figure with the floating barn, faces the task of providing leadership for a group of castaways encountering mortal danger at every turn. It is an apt comparison. "Dark Ararat" is an entertaining take on the age-old story of human beings confronting their doubts amid a quest for new hope.

Ben Bova has added a new story to his tall tale about the titans of space industrialization. In The Rock Rats (Tor, $24.95, 384 pages), Mr. Bova advances his Asteroid Wars series with an imaginative chronicle about mining the dark and dangerous reaches of the Asteroid Belt.
Set in the near future, it envisions a desperate people in a desperate age. Earth is threatened with extinction triggered by global warming. As earthquakes, floods and hurricanes ravage the continents, mining the belt is considered the only way to replace natural resources destroyed by the global catastrophe.
"Rock rats" are the independent prospectors who risk their lives drilling into the desolate space rock, hoping for the one big strike that will make them wealthy. One is Lars Fuchs, a two-fisted miner not afraid to fight for the rats' rights to their stakes. Others, however, are determined to exterminate the rats in order to monopolize control of the belt's incalculable wealth.
For wealthy industrialist Martin Humphries, the battle to crush the independents is about the usual passions of the highly ambitious money and power. But his obsession with Lars is personal. It is driven by an insatiable desire to obliterate the man who won the heart of the beautiful Amanda Cunningham. Years earlier, Amanda had chosen Lars' adventurous spirit over Martin's narcissistic ego. Humphries has never forgotten and will not rest until the miner gets drilled and Amanda is his.
"The Rock Rats" provides a hair-raising tale to gnaw on.

Old astronauts don't die, they just fly away. So writes Stephen Baxter in Manifold: Origin (Del Rey, $24, 452 pages), the concluding episode of his Manifold trilogy in which he has mused over the meaning of time, space, and now, the roots of human existence.
Aging astronaut Reid Malenfant is a maverick, which isn't a plus in a team-oriented organization such as NASA. He's washed out of an upcoming space station mission and finds himself doing PR for the space program in South Africa. Malenfant seeks solace in the sky and borrows a jet from the South African air force. Cruising aloft with his wife, Emma, in the back seat, he spots something unusual. Curious, he investigates.
A shape resembling a large wheel suspended in the sky turns out to be a portal leading to a mysterious red planet, visible in the distance. Heedless of danger, Malenfant flies too close and the craft breaks up. Emma is sucked into the portal; Malenfant is blown out and parachutes back to earth.
The astronaut is determined to find his wife and mounts a campaign for a space shot out to the anomaly. His space craft travels through the portal to the Red Moon. Malenfant encounters not only Emma, but numerous intelligent gorilla-like species that he comes to realize are progenitors of Homo sapiens.
A story in which gorillas makes monkeys of humans, "Manifold: Origin" requires indulgence of the unpredictable.

A book bound for a youthful audience is Leaping to the Stars (Tor, $24.95, 320 pages) by David Gerrold.
To the casual observer, Charles Dingillian appears to be living the teenage dream in the era of the Jetsons. He and his two brothers have divorced their parents and have left Earth for new digs on a space station. But corporate pirates are closing in, intent on ripping off their HARLIE. No, not a space faring motorcycle, HARLIE is a supercomputer prototype so advanced that its calculations can practically prophesy. Desperate to stay a step ahead of their pursuers, the brothers plan another move, this time to a new planet among the distant stars.
Aboard the starship Brightliner Cascade, they discover the pirates among the passengers. Worse, HARLIE has malfunctioned, producing unreliable information that could jeopardize the entire voyage.
Along the way, the boys gain enduring wisdom for the ages: It's cool to reach for the stars, but computer problems are the pits, or something like that.

Frank Perley is articles editor for the Commentary section of The Washington Times.


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