Saturn by ben bova Review and Opinion

Saturn by ben bova Review and Opinion


Ben Bova
NEL paperback £7.99

review by Duncan Lawie

Saturn continues Ben Bova's 'grand tour of the Solar system' but this episode is rather a letdown. The story begins as a crew is assembled for the longest journey yet to be undertaken by mankind, a mission to Saturn, and 10,000 people join Goddard - a good old fashioned centrifugally spun cylinder habitat which is expected to take a couple of years to reach its destination. This is projected primarily as a scientific mission, investigating the microbial life forms known to exist on the surface of the moon Titan, but it is quickly apparent that the people being chosen for this mission are not the cream of the religious societies that run planet Earth. As agnostic and atheistic types, they cannot prosper on Earth but neither do they know that this mission is intended to be an experiment in human societies and its chief administrator is an anthropologist. Representatives of the religious caste have also been slipped into the manifest with a duty to take over the habitat and instil discipline and order that conforms to the standards now present on Earth. All this adds up to a large potential cast with natural rivalries and divisions and ought to result in a tense plot.
   The book concerns itself with the lengthy journey from lunar orbit, which should surely hold some sense of wonder. Instead the transit seems to be largely automated while the potential magnificence of space and the Solar system is largely left to the reader's imagination. Bova wants to focus on people and social issues here, but many of the characters seem half-formed. Some wander across the stage for a scene or two, others appear out of nowhere halfway through the book, and the central characters are hard to care about. The plotters are meant to be unlikeable in any case but even those characters explored in detail do not feel internally consistent, seeming to become whatever the plot needs at any given moment.
   Bova attempts to build a claustrophobic atmosphere within the massive tube of Goddard and for the first third of the book this works rather well. Eberley, the head of human resources, has been placed by the religious societies which rule Earth with orders to take over, backed by a threat of return to jail. His assistant, Holly, falls in love with him and cannot understand why he aligns himself with the foul security chief and a covert member of Earth's holy orders. A fourth member of this cell is number three in Communications and ambitious to rule, leading to the murder of a friend of Holly. This is initially considered to be an accident but she remains suspicious. Unfortunately, this happens too early in the journey and much of the rest of the book seems to be padding rather than plot. The schemers are caught red-handed, rather too conveniently, just as Saturn orbit is reached. At this point, the book winds to halt, leaving the reader unsure what the point was supposed to be.

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