Venus (Grand Tour Series #4)by Ben Bova, Arte Johnson, Arte Johnson
Here is the central volume in Bova's epic tour of the solar system, now available on audio for the first time. Late in the 21st century, the son of a tyrannical tycoon accepts the ultimate challenge: a race to Venus to recover the remains of his older brother who perished in the first attempt by man to land on the planet. From the author who will have "the greatest effect on the scientific world and the world as a whole." Ray Bradbury
"Bova proves himself equal to the task of showing how adversity can temper character in unforeseen ways."The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
I was late and I knew it. The trouble is, you can't run on the moon.
The shuttle from the Nueva Venezuela space station had been delayed, some minor problem with the baggage being transferred from Earthside, so now I was hurrying along the underground corridor from the landing pad, all alone. The party had started more than an hour ago.
They had warned me not to try to run, even with the weighted boots that I had rented at the landing port. But like a fool I tried to anyway and sort of hip-hopped crazily and bumped into the corridor wall, scraping my nose rather painfully. After that I shuffled along in the manner that the tourist-guide video had shown. It felt stupid, but bouncing off the walls was worse.
Not that I really wanted to go to my father's inane party or be on the Moon at all. None of this was my idea.
Two big human-form robots guarded the door at the end of the corridor. And I mean big, two meters tall and almost as wide across the torso. The gleaming metal door was sealed shut, of course. You couldn't crash my father's party; he'd never stand for that.
"Your name, please," said the robot on my left. Its voice was deep and rough, my father's idea of what a bouncer should sound like, I suppose.
"Van Humphries," I said, as slowly and clearly as I could enunciate.
The robot hesitated only a fraction of a second before saying, "Voice print identification is verified. You may enter, Mr. Van Humphries."
Both robots pivoted around and the door slid open. The noise hit me like a power hammer: thumping atonal music blasting away against wildly over-amped screeching from some androgynous singer wailing the latest pop hit.
The chamber was huge, immense, and jammed wall-to-wall with partygoers, hundreds of men and women, a thousand or more, I guessed, drinking, shouting, smoking, their faces contorted with grimaces of forced raucous laughter. The noise was like a solid wall pounding against me; I had to physically force myself to step past the robots and into the mammoth chamber.
Everyone was in party attire: brazenly bright colors with plenty of spangles and glitter and electronic blinkies. And lots of bare flesh showing, of course. I felt like a missionary in my chocolate-brown velour pullover and tan micromesh slacks.
A long electronic window swept the length of the cavern's side wall, alternately proclaiming "HAPPY ONE HUNDREDTH BIRTHDAY!" and showing clips from pornographic videos.
I might have known Father would pick a bordello as the site for his party. Hell Crater, named after the Jesuit astronomer Maximilian J. Hell. The gaming and porn industries had turned the area into the Moon's sin capital, a complete cornucopia of illicit pleasures dug below the dusty floor of the crater, some six hundred klicks south of Selene City. Poor old Father Hell must be spinning in his crypt.
"Hi there, stranger!" said a brassy, buxom redhead in an emerald-green costume so skimpy it must have been spray-painted onto her. She waggled a vial of some grayish-looking powder in my general direction, exhorting, "Join the fun!"
Fun. The place looked like Dante's Inferno. There was nowhere to sit except for a few couches along the walls, and they were already filled with writhing tangles of naked bodies. Everyone else was on their feet, packed in shoulder to shoulder, dancing or swaying and surging like the waves of some multihued, gabbling, aimless human sea.
High up near the smoothed rock ceiling a pair of acrobats in sequined harlequin costumes were walking a tightrope strung across the chamber. A set of spotlights made their costumes glitter. On Earth, performing that high up would have been dangerous; here on the Moon they could still break their necks if they fellor more likely break the necks of the people they fell upon. The place was so tightly packed it would've been impossible for them to hit the floor.
"C'mon," the redhead urged again, pawing at the sleeve of my pullover. She giggled and said, "Don't be so twangy!"
"Where is Martin Humphries?" I had to shout to be heard over the din of the party.
She blinked her emerald-tinted eyes. "Hump? The birthday boy?" Turning uncertainly toward the crowd and waving her hand vaguely, she yelled back, "The old humper's around here someplace. It's his party, y'know."
"The old humper is my father," I told her, enjoying the sudden look of astonishment on her face as I brushed past her.
It was a real struggle to work my way through the crowd. Strangers, all of them. I didn't know anyone there, I was certain of that. None of my friends would be caught dead at a scene like this. As I pushed and elbowed my way through the jam-packed chamber, I wondered if my father knew any of these people. He probably rented them for the occasion. The redhead certainly looked the type.
He knows I can't take crowds, and yet he forced me to come here. Typical of my loving father. I tried to shut out the noise, the reek of perfume and tobacco and drugs, and the slimy sweat of too many bodies pressed too close together. It was making me weak in the knees, twisting my stomach into knots.
I can't deal with this kind of thing. It's too much. I felt as if I would collapse if there weren't so many bodies crowded around me. I was starting to get dizzy, my vision blurring.
I had to stop in the midst of the mob and squeeze my eyes shut. It was a struggle to breathe. I had taken my regular enzyme shot just before the transfer rocket had landed, yet I felt as if I needed another one, and quickly.
I opened my eyes and surveyed the jostling, noisy, sweaty throng again, searching for the nearest exit. And then I saw him. Through the tangle of weaving, gesticulating partygoers I spotted my father, sitting up on a dais at the far end of the cavern like some ancient Roman emperor surveying an orgy. He was even clad in a flowing robe of crimson, with two beautifully supple young women at his sandalled feet.
My father. One hundred years old this day. Martin Humphries didn't look any more than forty; his hair was still dark, his face firm and almost unlined. But his eyeshis eyes were hard, knowing; they glittered with corrupt pleasure at the scene being played out before him. He had used every rejuvenation therapy he could get his hands on, even illegal ones such as nanomachines. He wanted to stay young and vigorous forever. I thought he probably would. He always got what he wanted. But one look into his eyes and it was easy to believe that he was a hundred years old.
He saw me shouldering through the strident, surging crowd and for a moment those cold gray eyes of his locked onto mine. Then he turned away from me with an impatient frown clouding his handsome, artificially youthful face.
You insisted that I come to this carnival, I said to him silently. So, like it or not, here I am.
He paid no attention to me as I toiled to reach him. I was gasping now, my lungs burning. I needed a shot of my medication but I had left it back at my hotel suite. When at last I reached the foot of his dais I slumped against the softly pliable fabric draped over the platform, struggling to catch my breath. Then I realized that the strident din of the party had dropped to a buzzing, muted whisper.
"Sound dampers," my father said, glancing down at me with his old disdainful smirk. "Don't look so stupid."
There were no steps up the platform and I felt too weak and giddy to try to haul myself up beside him.
He made a shooing motion and the two young women jumped nimbly from the platform, eagerly joining the crowd. I realized that they were just teenagers.
"Want one?" my father asked, with a leering grin. "You can have 'em both, all you have to do is ask."
I didn't bother to shake my head. I just clung to the side of his platform, trying to bring my breathing under control.
"For Christ's sake, Runt, stop that damned panting! You look like a beached flounder."
I pulled in a deep breath, then stood as straight as I could manage. "And it's lovely to see you, too, Father."
"Aren't you enjoying my party?"
"You know better."
"Then what'd you come for, Runt?"
"Your lawyer said you'd cut off my stipend if I didn't attend your party."
"Your allowance," he sneered.
"I earn that money."
"By playing at being a scientist. Now your brother, there was a real scientist."
Yes, but Alex is dead. It had happened almost two years ago, but the memory of that day still scalded me inside.
All my life my father had mocked and belittled me. Alex was his favorite, his firstborn, Father's pride and joy. Alex was being groomed to take over Humphries Space Systems, if and when Father ever decided to retire. Alex was everything that I'm not: tall, athletic, quick and handsome, brilliantly intelligent, outgoing, charming and witty. I'm on the small side, I've been sickly from birth, I'm told that I tend to be withdrawn, introspective. My mother died giving birth to me and my father never let me forget that.
I had loved Alex. I truly had. I had admired him tremendously. Ever since I could remember, Alex had protected me against Father's sneers and cutting words. "It's all right, little brother, don't cry," he would tell me. "I won't let him hurt you."
Over the years I learned from Alex a love for exploration, for seeing new vistas, new worlds. But while Alex actually went out on missions to Mars and the Jovian moons, I had to stay cocooned at home, too frail to venture outward. I flew an armchair, not a spacecraft. My excitement came from streams of computer data and virtual reality simulations. Once I walked with Alex on the red sands of Mars, linked by an interactive VR system. It was the best afternoon of my life.
Then Alex was killed on his expedition to Venus, he and all his crew. And Father hated me for being alive.
I left his house for good and bought a home on Majorca, a place all my own, far from his dismissive sarcasm. As if to mock me, Father moved to Selene City. Later I found out that he'd gone to the Moon so he could take nanotherapies to keep himself young and fit. Nanomachines were outlawed on Earth, of course.
It was clear that Father went for rejuvenation treatments because he had no intention of retiring now. With Alex dead, Father would never leave Humphries Space Systems to me. He would stay in command and keep me exiled.
So Father lived some four hundred thousand kilometers away, playing his chosen role of interplanetary tycoon, megabillionaire, hellraising, womanizing, ruthless, corrupt giant of industry. I was perfectly content with that. I lived quietly on Majorca, comfortable with a household staff that took excellent care of me. Some of my servants were human; most were robots. Friends came to visit often enough. I could flit over to Paris or New York or wherever for theater or a concert. I spent my days studying the new data about the stars and planets that were constantly streaming back from our space explorers.
Until one of my friends repeated a rumor she had heard: My brother's spacecraft had been sabotaged. His death was not an accident; it was murder. The very next day, my father summoned me to his moronic birthday party on the Moon, under the threat of cutting off my stipend if I didn't show up.
Looking up at his youthfully taut face again, I asked my father, "Why did you insist that I come here?"
He smiled down sardonically at me. "Aren't you enjoying the party?"
"Are you?" I countered.
Father made a sound that might have been a suppressed laugh. Then he said, "I have an announcement to make. I wanted you to be on hand to hear it directly from my lips."
I felt puzzled. An announcement? Was he going to retire, after all? What of it; he would never allow me to run the corporation. Nor did I want to, actually.
He touched a stud set into the left armrest of his chair and the stupefying noise of the party blasted against my ears hard enough to crack my skull. Then he touched the other armrest. The music stopped in midbeat. The tightrope-walking acrobats winked out like a light snapped off. A holographic image, I realized.
The crowd fell silent and still. They all turned toward the dais, like a sullen horde of party-dressed schoolchildren forced to listen to their principal.
"I'm delighted that you could come to my party," Father began, his low, modulated voice amplified and echoing across the crowded chamber. "Are we having fun yet?"
On that cue they all cheered, clapped, whistled, and yelled lustily.
Father raised both hands and they all fell silent again.
"I have an announcement to make, something that you hardworking representatives of the news media out there will find particularly worthwhile, I think."
Half a dozen camera-carrying balloons were already hovering a few meters from the dais, like glittering Christmas ornaments floating buoyantly. Now several more drifted out of the farther reaches of the chamber to focus on my father.
"As you know," he went on, "my beloved son Alexander was killed three years ago while attempting to explore the planet Venus."
A collective sigh swept through the throng.
"Somewhere on the surface of that hellhole of a world his spacecraft lies, with his remains inside it. In that terrible heat and pressure, the corrosive atmosphere must be slowly destroying the last mortal remains of my boy."
Somewhere a woman broke into soft sobbing.
"I want to offer an inducement to someone who is bold enough, tough enough, to go to Venus and reach its surface and bring back what's left of my son to me."
They all seemed to stand up straighter, their eyes widened. An inducement?
My father hesitated for a dramatic moment, then said in a much stronger voice, "I offer a prize of ten billion international dollars to whoever can reach my dead son's body and return his remains to me."
They gasped. For several seconds no one spoke. Then the chamber filled with excited chatter. Ten billion dollars! Reach the surface of Venus! A prize of ten billion dollars to recover Alex Humphries's body!
I felt just as stunned as any of the others. More, perhaps, because I knew better than most of those costumed freeloaders what an impossible challenge my father had just offered.
Father touched the stud on his chair arm and the babble of the crowd immediately was cut down to a muted buzz again.
"Very nice," I said to him. "You'll be named Father of the Year."
He gazed disdainfully down at me. "You don't think I mean it?"
"I think you know that no one in his right mind is going to try to reach the surface of Venus. Alex himself only planned to coast through the cloud decks."
"So you think I'm a fraud."
"I think you're making a public relations gesture, nothing more."
He shrugged as if it didn't matter.
I was seething. He was sitting up there and getting all this publicity. "You want to look like a grieving father," I shouted at him, "making the whole world think you care about Alex, offering a prize that you know no one will claim."
"Oh, someone will try, for it, I'm certain." He smiled coldly down at me. "Ten billion dollars is a lot of incentive."
"I'm not so sure," I said.
"But I am. In fact, I'm going to deposit the whole sum in an escrow account where no one can touch it except the eventual prize winner."
"The entire ten billion?"
"The whole sum," he repeated. Then, leaning slightly toward me, he added, "To raise that much cash I'm going to have to cut a few corners here and there."
"Really? How much have you spent on this party?"
He waved a hand as if that didn't matter. "One of the corners I'm cutting is your allowance."
"It's finished, Runt. You'll be twenty-five years old next month. Your allowance ends on your birthday."
Just like that, I was penniless.
Meet the Author
Ben Bova is the author of more than a hundred works of science fact and fiction, including Able One, Leviathans of Jupiter and the Grand Tour novels, including Titan, winner of John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005, and in 2008 he won the Robert A. Heinlein Award "for his outstanding body of work in the field of literature." He is President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America, and a former editor of Analog and former fiction editor of Omni. As an editor, he won science fiction’s Hugo Award six times. Dr. Bova’s writings have predicted the Space Race of the 1960s, virtual reality, human cloning, the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), electronic book publishing, and much more. He lives in Florida.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I have read many of Ben Bova's books, Mars, Return to Mars, and i must say this is at the top of my list. It is a riviting tale of a struggling man plagued with illness who tries to earn the respect of his 'Father'. Along the way Van encounters many mishaps and struggles along the way. This is a fantastic read that will keep you up all night reading to try and find out what happens, A MUST READ.
What drives men to love and hate so much drives this story. Venus our morning and evening star we know so little about. Great sci-fi book to read and share.
There were times that I had to guess at the content, because the OCR scan of the book wasn't proofread. I dreaded chapter changes as the difference in typeface interrupted the first few lines of just about every single chapter. Yech! Please please please - proofread the scans before flinging them at customers!
When I started reading this tale, I was less than impressed with Ben Bova¿s choice of a protagonist. But, the reader quickly begins to empathize with Van Humphries, the somewhat sickly, younger son of billionaire, Martin Humphries. The plot develops as Martin¿still mourning the lost of his first son Alex; whose spaceship crashed on the first manned expedition to Venus¿withdraws his financial support for Van. Simultaneously, Martin announces a $10 billion Venus Prize to the first person who recovers Alex's remains from the planet¿s scorching surface. Reluctantly, Van rises to the challenge, and puts together an expedition in search of his monetary independence. In a well-paced tale, Van encounters incredible dangers and a determined rival, Lars Fuchs (his fathers arch-enemy), as he descends through Venus¿s hellish atmosphere. Van experiences real character growth as he struggles to overcome everything his shipmates and Venus can throw at him. You know the writing is good when you stay up late because you¿ve got to find out what happens next. That¿s what happened to me when I reached the book¿s climax. --David Hitchcock, author, VIRTUAL LIFE and PATENT SEARCHING MADE EASY
I realize the above phrase may trivialize this novel's import, but the truth is that this story is narrated by a 25-year-old man suffering from pernicious anemia who is forced into a voyage to Earth's sister planet by his domineering, spiteful father. Van Humphries is not brave, he is not a pioneer by nature, he doesn't even have a clear vision of what he wants to do with his life. But he is tired of his father's iron fist, his father's ceaseless criticism, and so he voluntarily, tremulously embarks on a voyage that could very well kill him. In short, a reluctant astronaut. The reader will sympathize with any number of characters...and despise others. This is not an action-without-character-development sci-fi story. This a real story about people plagued by doubts and suspicions, who are looking for the truth, set against the backdrop of interplanetary exploration in the late 21st century. Van Humphries freely admits he's never been in love, he half-agrees with his father's disdain of himself (for he was sickly and weak from birth), and he rationalizes his fears and lack of ambition adroitly. But above all else, Van worships his brother, and he is determined to discover what killed him. For Van Humphries will be the second man to land on Venus--his brother was the first. And he never came back. Ben Bova offers an excellent Venus 101, sharing elementary facts about the planet without condescension. Each scientific fact is well laid out, and each scientific speculation is presented in a believable context. You feel the 900-degree-heat of Venus' surface. You choke on its sulfuric atmosphere. You wonder if you've discovered Hell itself. I recommend Ben Bova unreservedly; I remember his name from Omni Magazine (yes, I'm that old), but this is my first exposure to one of his novels. I intend to read more.
first of all, i love ben bova books. Venus did the trick to start my fasination with ben bova. the plot was good and in the middle of the story made me very mad. so in the end it was well. i recomend this book to anyone who loves sci fi
I have heard about Ben Bova's Mars and Return to Mars, but I tripped upon Venus and picked it up to start reading Ben Bova's books. It captivated me, keeping me interested and wanting to devour the book. Great storyline, great premise and very interesting presentation. I am now actively pursing Mars and Return to Mars and am sure I will be pleased.
After having read Bova's Mars saga, I couldn't wait for this one. I found it to be just as exciting, dramatic and suspenseful as the others were. I really identified with the main character and liked sharing his adventures and watching him change. If Venus has one downfall, it's that it focuses more on the characters than on a serious study of the planet. Still, it's a unique and engaging read for anyone.
Although this was a wonderfully written book and was jam packed with action and a fast read. I had to wonder if Ben Bova is getting a little too commercial. His previous book Mars was about serious scientists exploring the planet Mars and stories of character's personal lives were kept to a minimum. Mars focused on Mars. This book focused on a very self-absorbed character and his personal relationships and the science seemed more like a back drop. Also the brief look at potential life on Venus looked more like something out of Star Trek.
After having read Bova's 'Mars' and 'Return to Mars' books, I jumped to purchase this when I saw it on the shelf. I was not disappointed when I read it. I found the book to be exciting reading. I recommend it to all SF fans!!I was a Heinlin fan, but now that he has gone, Ben Bova has taken his place.
i really like this book, you should read it if you like sci-fi whatsoever