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Power Play
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Power Play

3.0 3
by Ben Bova

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Ben Bova, six-time winner of the Hugo Award, brings us a fascinating look at the future in Power Play.

Astronomer Jake Ross wants nothing more than to teach a few university classes each semester and continue his research. However, Frank Tomlinson, an ambitious politician with his eye on the U.S. senate, is determined to land Dr. Ross as his science


Ben Bova, six-time winner of the Hugo Award, brings us a fascinating look at the future in Power Play.

Astronomer Jake Ross wants nothing more than to teach a few university classes each semester and continue his research. However, Frank Tomlinson, an ambitious politician with his eye on the U.S. senate, is determined to land Dr. Ross as his science advisor.

Tomlinson is in need of an edge that will allow him to defeat his opponent at the polls, and Dr. Ross can contribute just that edge with a new innovation that will allow electricity to be generated at less than half the price of nuclear power. But the technology is still in its infancy, and although the outlook is extremely promising, there are great---and deadly---risks.

Dr. Ross soon discovers that the world of politics carries its own dangers. Nothing has prepared Dr. Ross for the extreme tactics that desperate and powerful people are willing to use.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Unpredictable at every turn, [Power Play] is sexy, intriguing, and timely.” —Booklist

Power Play features a strong, plot-driven story; snappy dialogue; and characters, uncluttered by backstory drama, whose personalities still leap off the page.” —Library Journal

“Bova proves himself equal to the task of showing how adversity can temper character in unforeseen ways.” —The New York Times

“Bova gets better and better, combining plausible science with increasingly complex fiction.” —Los Angeles Daily News

“A cautionary but hopeful thriller . . . Modern twists and a genuinely surprising ending.” —Publishers Weekly on The Green Trap

Publishers Weekly
Dr. Jake Ross is a handsome young adjunct astronomy professor going nowhere fast. Then he’s approached by Frank Tomlinson, a senatorial candidate looking for a photogenic science adviser. Tomlinson envisions himself as the next Kennedy and wants his own glamorous scientific cause to champion. Ross finds it in magnetohydrodynamics, a more efficient method of generating electricity. Along the way, Ross encounters two different love interests—the only major female characters in the book, both of whom sleep with their bosses—and makes a few enemies, including Tomlinson’s rival, Senator Leeds, and his thugs: deadly Ignacio “call me Nacho” Perez; and genial Benito “Monster” Falciglia. Leeds and company have all the finesse of comic-opera villains, blatantly offering Ross tenure if he sabotages Tomlinson’s campaign and threatening to murder him if he doesn’t. This is no more than an average political thriller with an advertisement for magnetohydrodynamics pasted on. Agent: Spectrum Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Library Journal
When astronomy professor Jake Ross is recruited as an adviser to aspiring senator Frank Tomlinson, he is asked to become an expert on MHD, or "magnetohydrodynamics," a new procedure intended to increase radically the generation of cheap and clean electricity. Its creator, Dr. Arlen Sinclair, is unwilling to expose this still-experimental technology to the political arena, especially since he has connections with the incumbent whose seat Tomlinson wants. Drawn further into the cutthroat world of political elections, Ross soon faces the prospect that he may not make it to Election Day alive. Bova's latest novel, set in the near future, features a strong, plot-driven story; snappy dialog; and characters, uncluttered by backstory drama, whose personalities still leap off the page. VERDICT The winner of multiple Hugos puts the science in sf; his large following will appreciate another rapid-fire sf thriller.
Kirkus Reviews
Present-day, science-based political thriller from the veteran author and editor (Leviathans of Jupiter, 2011, etc.). Assistant astronomy professor Jake Ross still grieves for his wife Louise, killed a year ago in an auto accident. He rubs along putting together science experiments for a new Mars rover, and hopes for tenure one day—until his mentor, wise old Lev Cardwell, persuades Jake to meet rich, ambitious Frank Tomlinson, whose goal is to oust incumbent senator Christopher Leeds in the upcoming election. Tomlinson needs an edge and offers Jake a job as his science advisor—if he can come up with an idea. At Cardwell's suggestion he recommends that Tomlinson back MHD, magnetohydrodynamics, a revolutionary, efficient and clean method of generating electricity. Jake becomes doubly motivated when it turns out that Tomlinson's assistant, attractive Amy Wexler, will sleep with him whenever he comes up with a good idea. The university's MHD researchers, irascible Tim Younger and easygoing Bob Rogers, are overjoyed at the prospect of money and support; curiously, however, the project's head, Professor Arlan Sinclair, refuses to support Jake and avoids meeting Tomlinson. Could there be sinister reasons why Sinclair refuses to push his own pet project? There could indeed, and when Sinclair and his wife turn up dead Jake finds himself in an ugly, dangerous battle for which he is totally unprepared. Bova deals with the issues and the politics with his usual workmanlike competence, and he explains the concepts behind the (real) technology clearly—though he tends to skate over the practical difficulties involved. His one real failure is candidate Tomlinson's motivation: Why would a wealthy playboy type think that, in an age when science is routinely derided or ignored, science could boost him into a Senate seat? Solid if unspectacular—Bova makes his point without belaboring it—and a huge improvement over his flabby previous outing.

Product Details

Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.40(d)

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“MHD?” asked Jake Ross. “What’s MHD?”

Leverett Cardwell smiled his enigmatic little smile and replied, “It stands for magnetohydrodynamics.”

“Oh, like Alfvén.”

Jake was walking with the older man along the Hall of Planets, which ran the length of the museum’s planetarium. They were passing beneath the model of Mars, a rust-red globe dotted with long-dead volcanoes. He had first introduced himself to Dr. Cardwell at almost this exact spot, more than a dozen years earlier.

“Alfvén dealt with astrophysics. The branch of MHD I’m talking about now is a way of generating electricity very efficiently,” Cardwell went on, his tenor voice soft but perfectly clear. “An MHD generator can produce a lot of power in a relatively small piece of equipment.”

Jake nodded. Lev was up to something, he knew. The old man didn’t just chat to pass the time of day. He had some purpose in mind.

Jacob Ross had first come to the Van Allen museum on a mandatory class trip when he’d been in middle school. None of the guys wanted to go to a geeky science museum, Jake included. But once the teachers got the kids settled into the strange, round, domed room that housed the museum’s planetarium, the lights dimmed slowly until the place was pitch black. And then they turned on the stars. Thousands of stars sprang out of the darkness, with the faint glowing ribbon of the Milky Way arching among them. Young Jake got turned on, too. Sitting in the darkness, watching the stars wheel in stately procession overhead, he became hooked on astronomy for life.

He rode city buses to the museum every weekend. He scraped together enough money from his after-school jobs to buy a student membership. He attended the planetarium shows so often he began to learn the lectures by heart.

And he discovered that the soft, clear voice that explained the stars in the darkness belonged to Dr. Leverett Cardwell, the planetarium’s director. With some trepidation, Jake fumblingly asked Dr. Cardwell a question about his lecture one Sunday afternoon, out in the hallway under the model of Mars, while the rest of the audience streamed past after the planetarium show had ended.

“You’ve been coming pretty regularly, haven’t you?” Cardwell asked the youngster.

Surprised and pleased that the director had noticed him, Jake stuttered, “Y … yessir.”

Thus began a lifelong friendship. Cardwell took Jake under his wing, opened the planetarium’s library to him, and helped him win a scholarship to the state university.

And now Lev was talking about something called MHD.

“Magnetohydrodynamics, huh?” Jake said.

Walking slowly toward the bright yellow globe of the Sun glowing above the museum’s entrance lobby, Cardwell said, “There’s a group of people in the university’s electrical engineering department who are working on MHD power generation.”

Why’s he telling me this? Jake wondered. But he knew he wouldn’t have to ask; Lev would explain it to him in his own time.

Jake had grown into a reasonably healthy young man. Scrawny as a child, picked on by the neighborhood bullies, he’d worked hard on homemade exercise equipment to build himself up. Now he stood just short of six feet tall, still on the lean side, but solid. His hair was dark and unruly, his face too long and horsy to satisfy him. Even so he’d been fairly popular with women, and married his high school sweetheart. But since his wife’s fatal car accident he’d kept to himself.

Leverett Cardwell was a tiny man, round-faced, balding, so neat and carefully groomed that some thought him effeminate. His large, round, slightly protruding owl-gray eyes always seemed to Jake to be searching, inquisitive. Jake had never seen Lev wearing anything but a gray wool suit, winter or summer, and a jaunty little bow tie.

“I’ve been invited to a cocktail party by one of Frank Tomlinson’s people,” Cardwell said as they walked slowly toward the museum’s entrance.

Frowning at the seeming change of subject, Jake asked, “Isn’t he the guy they say might run against Senator Leeds?”

Cardwell nodded, his smile turning almost impish. “If Tomlinson decides to run, he’s going to need somebody on his staff to advise him about science. I think you could do the job very well, Jake.”

“Me?” Jake’s voice squeaked with surprise. “I’m just an associate professor. I don’t even have tenure yet.”

“Aren’t you up for tenure this year?”

Nodding gloomily, Jake answered, “Along with five other people, including a Hispanic woman. Besides, I’m the youngest. They’ll give it to one of the others this time around.”

Nonchalantly waving a hand in the air, Cardwell said, “Maybe not. Maybe they’ll surprise you.”

Jake made an unhappy grunt.

“I think it would be a good idea for you to attend the Tomlinson party,” Cardwell said. “Meet the man. Let him meet you.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You’ve been keeping to yourself too much, Jake. I know Louise’s death was a blow, but that was more than a year ago—”

Jake stopped walking. He could feel his guts twisting. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Nothing matters much anymore. It’s just … Lev, nothing’s any fun anymore.”

“You can’t have any fun sitting by yourself watching old movies on television.”

“I don’t just watch television.”

“What else do you do?”

“Prepare my lectures. Do my research. I’m working on a proposal for the imaging team on the next Mars lander.”

“You need a social life, my boy.”

Jake looked down at the man who’d been his mentor for so many years. Mentor? Hell, Lev’s been more of a father to me than my old man ever was, he told himself. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. I’d still be back in the ’hood, in those narrow streets and row houses, working some dumb-ass job and dodging the wiseguys.

Reluctantly he asked, “I won’t have to wear a tux, will I?”

Cardwell laughed. “Heavens, no. This is just a cocktail party, not a formal occasion.”

Jake capitulated. “Okay, I’ll go, if you think I should.”

“I do indeed, Jacob.”

“When and where? What time should I pick you up?”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, I’m not going!”

“You’re not?”

“No. This is an opportunity for you, Jake. They’re not interested in an old geezer like me.”

Jake felt stunned. Lev was past sixty, he knew. But that’s not old! he told himself. There must be some other reason why he wants me to go without him.


Copyright © 2011 by Ben Bova

Meet the Author

Ben Bova is a six-time winner of the Hugo Award, a former editor of Analog, former editorial director of Omni, and a past president of both the National Space Society and the Science Fiction Writers of America. Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction. He lives in Florida.

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Power Play 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
carl-larsen More than 1 year ago
i found it hard to believe this book was written by the same guy that wrote the sam gunn stories.  the plot was predictable and whenever a woman entered the scene, her mood was sometimes mentioned, sometimes her expression, but ALWAYS her outfit.  i think this was written by his 17 year old niece under his name.
LovesToReadMN More than 1 year ago
As a lover of both science fiction and political thrillers, I thought this would be a two-fer. It was instead a huge disappointment on both fronts. There was no sci fi other than the new type of electricity generation. As a political thriller, it was flat and predictable. If you want to read a political thriller, others have done it much better. There were no surprises. The review by always3 (above) tells you all you need to know in one paragraph rather than plodding through 400 pages.
always3 More than 1 year ago
While Ben Bova is best known for his science fiction stories he brings the same expertise that he uses to forge those stories, to any story he writes. This story fits in that category as the main science fiction aspect is something called magnetohydrodynamics or MHD for short, which is a higher efficiency method of generating electricity. Jake Ross, or more accurately, Dr Jacob Ross’s life was plugging along very nicely thank you. He was teaching astronomy and on his way to tenure at the state university and although his wife had died a year earlier in a car accident he felt that he was dealing with that as well as could be expected. When his mentor, Dr. Leverett Cardwell ,suggested he meet with Frank Tomlinson who he said may be running for Senator in the next election Jake is hesitant to get involved in politics. Cardwell had been invited to attend as a potential science advisor to Tomlinson but he felt that Jake would be a better candidate. Jake meets with Tomlinson and agrees to be his science advisor and is tasked by Tomlinson to come up with a scientific improvement as part of his platform. Jake investigates at the university and comes up with MHD which will create electricity at a lower cost and safely use high sulphur content coal which is currently not being used within the state due to emission problems. The encumbant senator, Senator Leeds soon brings dirty politics into the picture putting Jake and his friends in danger. Gambling and drug connections to Senator Leeds and 3 murders during the campaign seem to be helping the Tomlinson campaign, however danger creeps ever closer to Jake. The machinations and political jockeying are interesting and Ben Bova always has a tight control over the story line which just flows seamlessly in this book. Character development is at the highest standards, and the tension as Jake treads through the political mine field is palpable. A great book from a great author. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED