Friday, September 6, 2013

Jupiter by Ben Bova

 I put some of the earlier books in the Grand Tour series on hold at the library, and the first to come in was Jupiter. I'm not quite sure how Bova fits in the Earth he describes as overrun by vast flooding caused by global warming in New Earth with the vision of an Earth run by the New Morality he envisions here. It seems a coalition of fundamentalists from all religions has banded together in the common cause of enforcing moral behavior and decency upon the entire world, and these fanatics are now in charge of government at all levels. Their antipathy to science is extreme, and their fears that scientists might discover something that disproves creationism or the puts into doubt the existence of God seems to drive all of the conflict in this novel.

The whiny little "hero" of this story is Grant Archer, a grad student in astronomy who is required to serve his four years of Public Service on a space station orbiting Jupiter, while his wife serves hers on Earth. He is recruited by the New Morality to spy on the scientists already on the station, who are suspected of the sin of finding intelligent life on another planet. Bova regales us with a vast data dump of interesting information about Jupiter and its environs, which I assume is mostly factual, though he certainly departs from terra cognita and takes us on a journey of the imagination as we explore deeper than any probes sent to date. You know (if you've read much SF at all in your life) how this has to go, don't you? Archer goes over to the "dark side", joins the expedition, finds the aliens, and broadcasts the truth far and wide so that it cannot be suppressed.

Hmm, is this how Bova creates the downfall of the New Morality and the rise of the government seen in later books? The truth will set you free?

I know that a good science fiction story often requires the willing suspension of disbelief, and yet I have a few quibbles with some of the themes in this story. Bova is cheating a bit with a cardboard cutout "anti-science" villainous entity here (he does the same with an evil corporate CEO in Venus, which I just started reading).

First, I cannot imagine a situation so dire that all of the fundamentalists of the world's religions would ever agree to cooperate for much longer than it took to stab one another in the back. Their fundamental beliefs, though it might not appear so to unbelievers, are not compatible. Not gonna happen. Ever.

Second, Bova seems to think that ALL, shall we say "religionists" are against science, and probably responsible for all of the funding cuts that our country's space program has taken recently (though he does mention in Venus that all NASA funds must be spent on studying climate change, not planetary exploration). Obviously Mr. Bova hangs around (or most likely doesn't) with a whole different group of Jesus Freaks from the ones I hang around with. It would be the exciting topic of many a Sunday afternoon coffee shop discussion if intelligent life was discovered on Jupiter. Do you know how many closet Trekkies go to my church?

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