Daily News (Los Angeles)
Bova gets better and better, combining plausible science with increasingly complex fiction.
Multiple Hugo–winner Bova's 18th Grand Tour novel (after 2009's The Return) is a quick-paced space adventure. Physicist Grant Archer, part of the exploratory team in 2002's Jupiter, is now a research station director dedicated to proving the intelligence of the leviathans his team encountered 20 years earlier. He's aided by four newcomers to the station: biologist and art student Deidre Ambrose; deep brain stimulation expert Andy Corvus; cyborg Dorn (familiar to readers of Bova's Asteroid Wars novels); and engineering physicist Maxwell Yeager. Katherine Westfall, a powerful International Astronomical Authority member, is also en route to Jupiter, on a mission to shut down Archer's team. Bova is at his best writing about the leviathans and their perceptions. The human motivations and emotions (particularly romance) seem more shoe-horned in, with the exception of Archer's engaging scientific passion. (Feb.)
To prove that the massive symbionts, named Leviathans, that inhabit Jupiter's atmosphere possess intelligence, physicist Grant Archer readies a deep-pressure manned probe for immersion in the giant planet's deadly cloud cover. Equally anxious to thwart his attempt, millionaire Katherine Westfall seeks to outmaneuver Archer in her bid for the top spot in the International Astronautical Authority (IAA) by any means possible—including murder. Bova's novels revolving around the planets (Mars; Mercury; Venus; Jupiter) contain common themes—rebellion against political and religious interference in space colonization, human courage, and the desire to reach the stars; his latest addition provides all that as well as fully realized characters and a fast-action plot. VERDICT Bova's fans and hard sf lovers should flock to his latest novel.
Book 13 in Bova's Grand Tour series, and a direct sequel to Jupiter (2001), wherein physicist Grant Archer led an expedition into Jupiter's planetary ocean in an attempt to study the enormous creatures that inhabit it.
Now director of the research station orbiting Jupiter, Archer has a staff of scientists ready and eager to send a vessel of highly advanced design into Jupiter's ocean hoping to communicate with the Leviathans, whom they suspect are intelligent. Before the expedition gets underway, however, super-rich paranoid megalomaniac Katherine Westfall arrives, determined to shut down the research for her own mad reasons. Finally, the vessel launches with four crew members aboard: curvaceous grad student Deirdre Ambrose; lanky, color-blind dolphin-communications specialist Andy Corvus; Dorn, previously a murdering cyborg, now a philosopher; and lecherous ship's designer Max Yeager. So enormous are the pressures in Jupiter's deep waters that they must breathe oxygenated fluid despite the vessel's crush-resistant design. On the station, Westfall goes through her humdrum evil machinations. Under water, the humans debate whether the Leviathans are intelligent, just as the Leviathans wonder the same about them. Had Bova devoted some serious thought and effort to developing his lumpish aliens, it would have been possible to overlook this horrendous casting-by-numbers and blatantly obvious plotting. But the upshot, with the exception of a few dozen pages of real excitement, is tedium alternating with embarrassment.
A book that has "contractual obligation" stamped all over it.
Read an Excerpt
CERES ORBIT: CHRYSALIS II HABITAT
Big George Ambrose was far from happy.
“I still don’t see why they need a fookin’ microbiologist,” he grumbled. “Bloody beasts on Jupiter are big as mountains, aren’t they?”
His daughter Deirdre nodded in agreement. The two of them were waiting in Chrysalis II’s departure lounge for the torch ship from the Earth/Moon system to dock at the habitat. No one else was in the departure lounge; no one else from the habitat was heading for Jupiter.
They did not look much like father and daughter. George was a huge bushy mountain of a man, with a tangled mop of brick red hair and a thick unruly beard to match, both bearing the first telltale streaks of silver. Deirdre was almost as tall as he, but seemed dwarfed next to him. She was strikingly beautiful, though, with wide innocent almond eyes that had a slight oriental cast to them and high cheekbones, thanks to her mother. She had her father’s strong jaw and auburn hair that glowed like molten copper as it streamed down past her shoulders. She was wearing a simple pullover blouse and comfortable slacks, but they couldn’t hide the supple curves of her ample figure.
“You’ll miss my retirement party,” George growled.
“I’m sorry about that,” Deirdre said. “But they promised me a full scholarship to the Sorbonne if I’d put in a year at the research station in Jupiter orbit. A full scholarship, Daddy!”
“Yes! On Earth!”
George shook his shaggy head. “Earth’s a dangerous place. Too many people. All sorts of diseases and maniacs runnin’ around.”
“Daddy, it’s Earth!” Deirdre exclaimed. “It’s civilization. It’s culture. I don’t want to spend my whole life cooped up in this habitat. I know you love it, but I want to see the real world!”
George muttered something too low for his daughter to catch.
George Ambrose had been director of the rock rats’ habitat orbiting the asteroid Ceres for the past quarter century. He had helped build the original Chrysalis for the miners and prospectors who combed the Asteroid Belt in search of the metals and minerals that fed the human race’s expansion through the solar system. He had directed the building of Chrysalis II when the rock rats’ first habitat had been destroyed in the Asteroid Wars.
And he had presided over the trial of the mercenary killer who had wiped out the original habitat.
Now he stood with his only daughter scowling at the display screen that spread across one entire bulkhead of the departure lounge. It showed the long, sleek torch ship from Earth making the final delicate maneuvers of its rendezvous with the slowly revolving wheel of the habitat. George saw tiny puffs of cold gas squirting from the ship’s maneuvering rockets: thruster farts, he said to himself.
Like most of the habitat, the departure lounge was strictly utilitarian: a row of hard benches ran along its facing gray bulkheads, the scuffed, dull heavy steel hatch of the airlock between them. No windows; the only outside view was from the wide display screen that stretched above one of the benches.
Across from the wall screen, though, was a mural that Deirdre had painted as a teenager, a seascape she had copied from memory after studying a docudrama about Earth’s oceans. Deirdre’s murals decorated many of the otherwise drab sections of the habitat: Even the crude, gaudy daubings she had done as a child still remained on the otherwise colorless bulkheads of Chrysalis II. They were little better than graffiti, but her father would not permit anyone to remove them. He was proud of his daughter’s artistry, which had grown deeper and richer as she herself blossomed into adulthood.
But George was not admiring his daughter’s artwork now. Still staring at the display screen, he impatiently called out, “Screen, show Ceres.”
The display obediently shifted from the approaching torch ship to show the cratered, dusty rock of the asteroid around which the habitat orbited. Largest of the ’roids in the Belt, Ceres was barely a thousand kilometers across, an oversized boulder, dusty, pitted, dead. Beyond its curving limb there was nothing but the dark emptiness of infinity, laced with hard pinpoints of stars bright enough to shine through the camera’s protective filters.
Big George clasped his hands behind his back as he stared at the unblinking stars.
“I only came out here to get rich quick and then go back to Earth,” he muttered. “Never thought I’d spend the rest of my fookin’ life in the Belt.”
Deirdre gave her father a sympathetic smile. “You can go back Earthside any time you want to.”
He shook his shaggy head. “Nah. Been away too long. I’d be a stranger there. Leastways, I got some friends here.…”
“Tons of friends,” Deirdre said.
“And your mother’s ashes.”
Deirdre nodded. Mom’s been dead for nearly five years, she thought, but he still mourns her.
“You can visit me on Earth,” she said brightly. “You won’t be a total stranger.”
“Yeah,” he said, without enthusiasm. “Maybe.”
“I really have to go on this ship, Daddy. I’ve got to get to Jupiter; otherwise I won’t get the scholarship.”
“I could send you to school on Earth, if that’s what you want. I can afford it.”
“That’s what I want,” she said gently. “And now I can get it without putting the burden on you.”
“That ship’ll be burning out to Jupiter at one full g, y’know,” George said. “Six times heavier than here.”
“I’ve put in tons of hours in the centrifuge, Daddy. I can handle it. The station orbiting Jupiter is one-sixth gravity, just like here.”
George nodded absently. Deirdre thought he had run out of objections.
They felt the slightest of tremors and the speaker built into the overhead announced, “DOCKING COMPLETED.”
George looked almost startled. “I guess I never thought about you leavin’.”
“I’d have to go, sooner or later.”
“Yeah, I know, but…”
“If you don’t want me to go…”
“Nah.” He shook his head fiercely. “You don’t want to get stuck here the rest o’ your life, like me.”
“I’ll come back, Dad.”
George shrugged. “It’s a big world out there. Lots of things to see and do. Lots of places for a bright young woman to make a life for herself.”
Deirdre didn’t know what to say.
His scowl returning, George said, “Just don’t let any of those sweet-talkin’ blokes take advantage of you. Hear?”
She broke into a giggle. “Oh, Daddy, I know how to take care of myself.”
“Yeah. Maybe. But I won’t be there to protect you, y’know.”
Deirdre grabbed him by his unkempt beard with both hands, the way she had since she’d been a baby, and pecked at his cheek.
“I love you, Daddy.”
George blushed. But he clasped his daughter by both shoulders and kissed her solidly on the forehead. “I love you, Dee Dee.”
The airlock hatch swung open with a sighing puff of overly warm air. A short, sour-faced Asian man in a deep blue uniform trimmed with an officer’s gold braid stepped through and snapped, “Deirdre Ambrose?”
“This way,” the Asian said, gesturing curtly toward the passageway beyond the airlock hatch.
George Ambrose watched his only child disappear into the passageway, the first step on her journey to Jupiter. And then to Earth. I’ll never see her again, he thought. Never.
Then he muttered, “I still don’t see why they need a fookin’ microbiologist.”
Copyright © 2011 by Ben Bova