Ben Bova Novels

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Mars by Ben Bova

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Mars has been a hot topic lately, so it seemed only right to pick up Ben Bovaís book on the subject, aptly titled Mars. This has got to be one of the most realistic, believable science fiction novels Iíve ever read. The story deals with Earthís first manned expedition to the red planet. A multi-national team, unofficially led by a Native American geologist, makes the arduous trip sometime in the not-so-distant future. Bova doesnít specify exactly when this novel takes place, but you get the feeling that it could happen any day. Through a series of flashbacks, he details the personal backgrounds and the political intrigues driving the expedition. The main character, Jamie Waterman, unthinkingly sets off a storm of controversy almost from the beginning, when all he really wants is to explore a planet that has consumed his dreams for years. Each of the scientists on the trip have their own agendas, but they are all hoping against hope that they will be the ones to find life and ensure a return trip to Mars. Interspersed with the flashbacks are realistic portrayals of the daily routines the explorers follow. Bova clearly describes the tedious, but extremely critical maintenance of the hard suits, the various experiments conducted for the sake of science, as well as the excitement of actually exploring the planetís surface. Back on Earth, every action the team takes is dissected and examined, both politically and scientifically, to determine the merit of ongoing explorations.

Some may feel that Bovaís characterizations are stereotyped and take exception. Perhaps Iím not very politically correct, but I believe that Bova took great pains to ensure that his characters were human, possessing both flaws and assets. These characters represent almost a dozen different nations. He may have painted them with a broad brush by giving them stereotypical attributes, but I didnít find any of his characters to be unbelievable or offensive. Ultimately, all of these people from different cultures learn to work together as a team. Considering the events waiting for them on Mars, this is a good thing!

Reviewed by Diane

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Return to Mars by Ben Bova

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This sequel to Bovaís best seller Mars is perfectly capable of standing on its own merits. There are plenty of references to the earlier novel, but they are used primarily to provide background information. Rest assured you could read Return to Mars without needing to read its predecessor.

Six years have elapsed since the return of the first Mars expedition. The main character, Dr. Jamie Waterman, has not fared all that well back home on Earth. A combination of luck, experience and political campaigning earns him a berth on the second expedition to Mars. As mission director, it is now Jamieís turn to call the shots, and take the heat for any errors in judgment that occur on this trip.

Jamieís Navaho mysticism is even more evident this time around. It becomes a running theme throughout the story. He has formed a strong affinity to Mars, and deep down, believes that Mars is truly his home. Bova uses less racial stereotyping in this novel, but there are some deliberate racial slurs. They may be necessary to the plot, but it would be easy to find them offensive. Bova works with a smaller cast of characters this time and focuses almost exclusively on the activities taking place on Mars. Much to Jamieís dismay, the scientific goals are in danger of being overshadowed by the commercial ventures that funded the trip. Jamie fears that Mars will be turned into a tourist trap and compares it to the arrival of the Europeans in North America. The small group of scientists learns to work together despite their personal differences and make a number of amazing discoveries. However, it becomes increasingly apparent that all is not right within the group and that seemingly random accidents may actually be sabotage.

While I enjoyed this novel, I didnít find the plot to be as realistic or probable as the events Bova described in his previous effort. The character development was somewhat sparse and I had a real problem with the way Jamie handled some of his altercations. On the plus side, Bova keeps the mystery building until the very end. He also offers a unique solution to Jamieís commercialization concerns. Bovaís knowledge of scientific and technological information is still readily apparent. He provides enough information to make things understandable without being overwhelming. Overall, Iíd say this was a good, fast-paced novel with an interesting mystery thrown in for good measure.

Reviewed by Diane

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Moonrise by Ben Bova

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Bovaís forte seems to be writing science fiction novels that are so realistic and plausible, the reader hardly notices the high tech science because the plots are so engrossing. Moonrise is another great example of his skill. The action in this book takes place after the incidents related in Bovaís earlier novel, Mars, so there are some similarities in the settings and technology he describes but each is a completely separate story.

In Moonrise, Bova describes manís attempt to colonize the Moon and make it a viable place to live and work. It tells the tale of the Masterson Corporation and the political and corporate intrigues involved in keeping one manís vision alive. That man is Paul Stavenger and as the story opens, the reader finds Paul in a life and death struggle with the very technology that will permit Moonbase to become a success. Bova has written this novel in two sections. The first deals with Paul Stavenger and, through the use of flashbacks, lays out the background and history of the Masterson Corporation, Moonbase and Paulís link with the two through his relationship with Joanna Masterson. The second portion of Bovaís tale takes place a number of years later. The seeds of destruction for Moonbase were sown years ago and, although the current players are oblivious to their danger, old hatreds and resentments still linger.

Bova keeps the tension high in this novel. Although much of the danger is obvious to the reader, it is because we know things that the characters are unaware of. Waiting for the characters to put all the clues together was sometimes nerve-wracking! One of the things I enjoy most about Bovaís writing is that he doesnít let the science fiction get in the way of, or overpower, the plot and his characters. The technology is fascinating and realistic, but it is the characters and their actions that drive the story. Bova deftly leads the reader through the convoluted paths of corporate infighting, political maneuvering and plain old personal betrayal, backstabbing and treachery. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and am looking forward to reviewing Bovaís follow-up novel, Moonwar, in the near future.

Reviewed by Diane

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Moonwar by Ben Bova  

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The action in Moonwar picks up seven years after the climactic ending of Moonrise, the first book in this series. The corporate and political conflicts from the first novel have continued to grow and are now at crisis stage. Moonbaseís survival and profitability is completely reliant on the nanotechnology that has been outlawed on Earth. The highly militant New Morality, including the fanatical nanoluddites, have turned their attention to the one place in the universe still using nanotechnology. Staffed entirely by corporate employees, researchers and scientists, virtually weaponless and with the entire force of the United Nations bearing down upon them, Moonbase seems to have few alternatives left.

But, Douglas Stavenger has a dream to fulfill. Unable to return safely to Earth because of the nanotechnology within his own body, he has made Moonbaseís destiny his own. Declaring Moonbase an independent entity, the struggle to outwit the UN without bloodshed begins. Stavenger faces all sorts of obstacles, including corporate maneuvering, treachery from within the Moonbase organization and political bureaucracy.

Despite the premise of impending war, this novel didnít seem to have the same urgency as Bovaís earlier novel. Many familiar characters from the first book are present and Bova has introduced some new ones as well. Bovaís science fiction is as realistic and interesting as ever and I found the passages on nanotechnology absorbing (no pun intended). Still, the plot seems just a bit tiredÖ especially the parts involving corporate intrigue and betrayals, and the characters donít seem to be as well fleshed out as in his previous novels. Bova also includes a few new subplots involving some ancillary characters, but most seem to go nowhere and donít contribute very much to the main storyline. Since Return to Mars was published not long after Moonwar, I canít help but wonder if Bovaís focus was divided between these two novels. Neither seemed as good as their predecessors. Despite all that, I did enjoy this novel, if only because I was interested in the initial characters and the future of Moonbase and wanted to see what Bova would do with them. Rumor has it that Bova may return to Moonbase for yet another novel. Hopefully, heíll find a way to breathe new life into the series and keep his readers happy.

Reviewed by Diane

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