The more of a writer’s work you’ve read, the better able you are to evaluate both idiosyncracies and off-putting comments. Happily, I’ve read quite a bit of Ben Bova’s work. I’ve not generally found him to be racist, homophobic, or sexist, which means I was able to overlook some comments in this book which would suggest otherwise.
The book was written in the 70s, and is to some extent a product of its time. It’s also possible that Bova is intentionally associating some offensive comments with particular characters. However, had I not been familiar with his work, I’d have been even more taken aback with some of the commentary. It’s not pervasive, but the relatively few occasions are certainly striking. On the plus side, the narrator’s explicitly stated devotion to the Constitution is a pleasant change from some of today’s relativistic ‘torture for good is good’ storylines.
Lack of … tact aside, this is a fairly standard but well written politics-oriented SF thriller. The plot gimmick is, to a current reader, predictable virtually from the beginning; perhaps in 1976 it would have been more of a surprise. Still, it’s handled decently, and the supporting characterization is good. There’s one key character who seems to exist purely to manipulate the narrator’s emotions, and is neither consistent nor entirely credible, but it works well enough in context.
It’s a shame that Bova didn’t take advantage of the reissue to tidy a few key phrases away, but if you can suspend your sensitivities on occasion, this is a quick and engaging read.