Ben Bova


"Mars Life"

(Reviewed by Ann Wilkes OCT 3, 2008)

A barren planet – boring? Not when Ben Bova's imagining it. With Mars Life, he weaves a drama with interpersonal conflict, inner conflict, political pressure, hostile environment and surprises from the red planet itself.

Author InterviewJamie Waterman, the geologist from the first manned Mars mission (Mars 1992) is now the Scientific Director of the Mars Program. Control of the planet itself lies with the Navaho nation, as long as at least one Navaho is present.

On this third mission, the scientists uncover ruins of a village on the floor of the Grand Canyon of Mars, near the cliff structure that Jamie discovered on the first mission. The resident Navaho, Billy Greycloud works at translating the writing on the wall of the cliff structure which scientists believe to be a place of worship, while an anthropologist explores the village ruins. When they make these discoveries and need more scientists to uncover and study the ruins, the project funding dries up. They face being shut down entirely by the New Morality, a religious movement that is gaining power in the government and pressuring donors to the Mars project to pull their support. The New Morality feels their beliefs threatened by the possibility – they won't call it a fact, even when faced with evidence – of intelligent life outside their world.

Jamie must find a way to save the project from them and from the tourists that Dex Trumball, Jamie's geologist buddy from the second mission who wants to send to the Mars base. As head of Trumball Trust and the Mars Foundation, it falls on Dex to infuse the project with sufficient money to keep the scientists there. Jamie and his wife, Vijay, set off for the red planet once again; to Mars, where Jamie feels most at home.

Bova's vision is solid. His carefully researched details lend it a credibility that make the reader forget that Mars Life is a novel. His "what if" seems clearly within our grasp. The reader can relate to the competition, the tension from close quarters, and the anxiety from the impending shut down of the base—especially in today's economy.

The wonder of Mars shines through in ways this reader never thought possible. Bova finds the beauty in a hostile environment. He also uses multiple points of view to good effect, letting us see the planet from several personality types for an even more detailed picture of what life there might be like.

"[Jamie and Vijay] stood transfixed on the arid, dusty floor of the tremendous valley, staring up at the aurora that weaved and coiled above them. Jamie knew that with almost every sunset on Mars the aurora flared as high-energy subatomic particles from the solar wind impinged on the inert neon, xenon and other noble gases in the Marian atmosphere. But the Navaho part of his mind recalled the Sky Dancers on Earth, in the desert scrubland of New Mexico, the night that Grandfather Al died. They're watching over us, he thought. We're not alone."

Like Bova's other works in the Grand Tour of the Universe, and especially the first two Mars books, Mars, and Return to Mars, Mars Life captures the imagination and puts us on another planet. He creates a human society that is shaped by its environment; a Martian society. He opens up new frontiers for his readers that they may see realized in their life-time. I highly recommend reading all three Mars books in the Grand Tour series - though you certainly don't have to read the first two to appreciate Mars Life. (Mars Life is set about twenty years after the events in Return to Mars.) But don't stop there. Take the Grand Tour of the solar system with Ben Bova as your guide.

  • Amazon readers rating: starsfrom 28 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Mars Life at author's website

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"Titan: A Tale of Cataclysmic Discovery"

(Reviewed by Ann Wilkes FEB 23, 2007)

Ben Bova's latest book in his Grand Tour of the Universe series, Titan, overflows with richly drawn characters and delicious possibilities. The Grand Tour of the Universe is only a series in the sense that all of the novels take place in the same imagined future and they all take place in a place other than Earth but in our solar system. They do not follow one character or family, but rather human expansion into the solar system as Bova imagines it. Titan is about the habitat Goddard, in orbit around Saturn, and the exiled undesirables, pioneers, scientists and disillusioned malcontents who populate it.
The habitat is more than a tin can in space. Entire towns line the interior -- complete with parks, restaurants, science labs and fitness centers.

A perfect springtime day, she thought. Just like every day here in the habitat. She raised her eyes and saw the ground curving up all the way overhead, villages and clumps of trees and brooks and little lakes above her, a bit hazy with distance but still discernable. A perfect inside-out world.

Pancho Lane goes to visit her "little" sister Suzie at Goddard. Suzie died of cancer before she reached adulthood and was frozen for twenty years, thawed, revived and healed.

And the first thing Sooze did, once she was fully recovered, was to change her name [to Holly] and traipse out on the space habitat Goddard on this wild-ass mission to explore Saturn and its moon, Titan. She picked up and left Pancho behind, with a smile and a peck on the cheek and a perfunctory, "Thanks for everything, Panch." She ran off with that slimy son of a bitch Malcolm Eberly.

Pancho can hardly claim to have been in the neighborhood but, as the newly retired CEO of Astro Corporation, finding a lift was not all that difficult. Holly's now the head of Goddard's human resources department. Pancho spurs Holly on to become much more and, in the process, finds new direction herself.

Malcolm Eberly, slime ball indeed! You'll love to hate him.

"Did someone deliberately cause the power outage just to make me look ridiculous? Impotent?…you'd better track it down pretty damned fast!" Eberly fairly shouted. "And fix it! I can't have this happening while I'm running for reelection. I can't have the people thinking this habitat is breaking down around their heads."

Throughout the book, we check in with the unmanned probe that has just landed on Titan, the most promising of Saturn's moons, as it struggles with programming conflicts and refuses to communicate with the scientists who sent it there. Meanwhile, another scientist must prove her belief that there is life in Saturn's rings before bureaucrats allow mining that would obliterate that life.

They share pretty equal time with the obsessed scientist who sent the probe, and the retired stunt man asked to find it. And let's not forget the engineer who is pushed to the brink, and whose reaction to his particular heartache may doom them all.

Bova isn't content with putting one protagonist through the crucible to come out stronger on the other side. He orchestrates life-changing events for half a dozen characters with ease. His machinations never appear forced or coincidental. The reader is compelled by the inner struggles of these people and propelled at an ever-increasing rate to the unexpected, yet satiating, climax. We see Goddard's denizens and their individual and collective dramas from many angles. For some, Goddard is a lonely exile. For others, it is an opportunity to explore areas of science forbidden to them on Earth.

The ambitions and conflicts within each of Bova's characters is this novel's main strength. He creates a cauldron of potential that keeps the reader guessing. Many people read Science Fiction because it speaks of our own social issues in a fictitious, therefore neutral medium, to see if the all the same rules apply and to test new ones. Titan speaks to the ambitious nature in us all and the drive to make our mark on our world. We can also identify with the exiles and the disgruntled, disaffected plodders. It's loaded with sociological insights, offering possible answers to the questions: If you take a cross section of humanity from various countries and cultures and stick them on an isolated and deserted island (or in this case a space habitat), will they need governmental structure? Will it be patterned after what they know or evolve into something new?

  • Amazon readers rating: from 13 reviews
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"Venus"

(Reviewed by Ann Wilkes FEB 23, 2007)

Venus is the fourth book to have been published in the Grand Tour of the Universe series, an adventure story that showcases Ben Bova's vision of human expansion. According to the author, the events in Venus takes place last in the series. Martin Humphries, a powerful, wealthy and decadent man, summons his son, Van, to his 100th birthday party to cut off Van's allowance. Within minutes of delivering this news to his son, he makes an announcement to all of his guests. He declares that he will pay a ten billion dollar reward to the man or woman who can retrieve the body of his first born son, Alex, from the surface of Venus. After leaving the party, Van reflects on his father's reaction to his brother's death two years ago.

"It should've been you, Runt," he snarled, his fury mounting, his face going from white to red. You're worthless! Nobody would miss you. But no, you're here, you're alive and breathing while Alex is dead. It should've been you, Runt!" he howled.

Van takes up his father's challenge himself. He goes to Venus seeking his beloved brother Alex, as well as closure, independence and respect. His father sees to it that one of his own cast-off conquests is made captain.

"Who says you're the captain?" Rodriguez snapped…"I take my orders from Mr. Humphries, here."

A thin smile curved her lips. "I take my orders from Mr. Humphries, there." She gestured toward…Selene City…

I clasped my hands to my head and shouted at them, "Why can't you two work something out between yourselves? Why do you have to put me in the middle of this?"…

"Well," Rodriguez demanded. "What's it going to be?"

I let my hands drop to my sides. My stomach was churning. My knees felt rubbery. "She's right…If my father cuts off the money the crew won't even get aboard..."

His crew sees him as he sees himself:  a rich boy playing at being a scientist. His gorgeous captain runs roughshod over him, even booting his scientist to add her daughter to the crew.

Van suffers from anemia, a weakness that plagues him and makes him feel every bit the runt whom his father and others see. It could stop him before he finds his brother, the real scientist, the real hero. And before he lands on Venus, he meets the competition, Lars Fuchs, a ruthless man his father despises at least as much as he despises Van. Hostile forces threaten both ships. Forced to work together to survive, they continue in one ship. Van finds new strength as he faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles both within and outside of the two ships.

Bova's description of the space ships and the planet's layered, acidic and intensely hot skies and surface are only topped by his penetrating look at man's need for acceptance and familial love. Venus is written entirely in the first person, allowing us to experience all of Van's thoughts, reactions, and his metamorphosis from the inside out. His expert characterization made me care about this weak underdog and the planet that took his brother and could take him.

I read Titan, which is the latest in the series and then went back to begin at what I thought was the beginning of the series. Later research proved that to be a wrong assumption, however, it does not seem to matter. I had no sense that I was missing something when reading either Venus or Titan and suspect that you could pick up any of the books in this series in any order and enjoy them. Of course, once you've read one, you might want to read the rest.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 59 reviews


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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

Watchmen

Exile Series:

  • Exiled from Earth (1971)
  • Flight of Exiles (1972)
  • End of Exile (1975)
  • The Exiles Trilogy (2011)
Voyagers Orion To Save the Sun
  • To Save the Sun (1992) (with AJ Austin)
  • To Fear the Light (1994) (with AJ Austin)

Grand Tour of the Universe:

Moonrise (part of Grand Tour):

Asteroid Wars (part of Grand Tour):

Sam Gunn (part of Grand Tour):

Nonfiction:

Related:

 

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Book Marks:

 

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About the Author:

Ben BovaDr. Ben Bova was born in Philadelphia in 1932. He received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Temple University (1954), a M.A. in communications from the State University of New York at Albany (1987) and his doctorate in education in 1996 from California Coast University.

He has been involved in science and high technology since the very beginnings of the space age. In his career he has worked as a newspaper reporter for several years before joining as technical editor on Project Vanguard, the first American artificial satellite program. His articles, opinion pieces and reviews have appeared in Scientific American, Nature, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other newspapers and magazines. He wrote scripts for teaching films with the Physical Sciences Study Committee in association with Nobel Laureates from many universities. Dr. Bova has taught science fiction at Harvard University and at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, where he has also directed film courses. Dr. Bova was a regular commentator on WGCU-FM, the southwest Florida NPR station. He was the science analyst on CBS Morning News, and has appeared frequently on Good Morning America and the Today show.

He is President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America, Dr. Bova received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, “for fueling mankind’s imagination regarding the wonders of outer space.”

He was editorial director of Omni magazine and, earlier, editor of Analog magazine. He received the Science Fiction Achievement Award (the "Hugo") for Best Professional Editor six times. His 1994 short story, "Inspiration," was nominated for the SFWA's Nebula Award. In 2001 Dr. Bova was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He received the 1996 Isaac Asimov Memorial Award; was the 1974 recipient of the E.E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction; the 1983 Balrog Award winner for Professional Achievement; the 1985 Inkpot Award recipient for his outstanding achievements in science fiction. In 2000, he was Guest of Honor at the 58th World Science Fiction Convention, Chicon2000.

He has written over 100 fiction and nonfiction books.

Dr. Ben Bova lives in Naples, Florida.

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