I was never a huge fan of Ben Bova. As the editor of Omni, I had my doubts about him – the magazine was slick, but none of the stories stuck in my mind. As a writer, I mostly passed him by. But at some point, the first books of what became the Grand Tour series came to my attention. They were, in typical Bova style, dry and technical, but gripping in their own way, and I started buying them as they came out. The series is so convoluted that I’ve lost track over time, but I have at least 15 of the books in it.
Uranus – apparently the start of a new sub-trilogy – is unfortunately not one of the best parts of the Grand Tour. There’s just too much that’s not credible and glossed over, and the characters (never Bova’s best suit) are generally cardboard thin. Worse, they play pretty heavily into outdated stereotypes (e.g., men are ever ready to rape a woman, and woman are the only ones interested in fashion), and some of the moments of biggest potential emotional impact fall by the wayside pretty readily. It’s clear that Bova is interested here primarily in the hard SF side of the story, and making only minimal effort to provide a supporting cast for it. That SF element is interesting, and promises to play out on a grand scale in the next books of the trilogy, but the character side of the story is composed almost entirely of stock characters never taken out of their original wrapping.
Oddly, Bova also muddles the character perspectives, hopping from one head to another at random without much signaling, and not in the way of an omniscient or partially omniscient observer. It’s confusing at times. Equally confusing is the socio-politics. A major problem is solved through non-violent resistance, but aside from a token mention of Gandhi, I didn’t come away with any confidence that Bova understands how this works; his use of it in the story certainly didn’t convince me that the application was even credible. Equally odd, he seems to muddle some of the science – suggesting, for example, that an EVA suit radio could reasonably call Earth from Uranus.
All in all, an interesting scientific theme, but a disappointingly thin and dated-feeling entry from an author who can do much better.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.