- A standalone novel
- Part of the Grand Tour universe
- Published by Tor in 2000
- Hard SF
- 405 pages
Alex Humphries died on Venus, and now his brother is going to bring the remains home. But Van has more to worry about than one of the deadliest world in the solar system, because he is not the only one looking for Alex’s body . . .
After three Ben Bova books that proved to be thoroughly soothing and gentle explorations of both strange new worlds and the human spirit, I thought I knew what to expect from Venus. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Yes, the hard-edged science is still there. In fact, there’s an early chapter that is nothing more than three deeply engrossing pages of information about Venus. Bova’s love of science and exploration are both on display. But this book is anything but gentle and soothing. There’s more to Bova than just scientists being nice to one another, and it’s the pettier strand of society that’s on display here. The Grand Tour books have been universally interesting, but Venus is the first that I’d call genuinely thrilling. In fact, it’s my favourite Ben Bova book to date.
This is a book full of surprises, starting with the main character’s name. I assumed he was a man of Dutch origin called van Humphries. But no, Van is his forename, and he’s our narrator here as Bova shifts to the first person for this novel. As you’d expect from Bova, Van knows his science, but there are also personal stakes involved in his journey. The Humphries family has a messy background and while the family squabbling largely takes place off the page, it informs everything that goes on over the course of the next four hundred pages. Granted, none of the dynastic politics are the most intricate you’ll find in literature, but with space colonisation being run by deeply flawed billionaires, it’s hard not to be drawn in by them. Matters are soon complicated by a (somewhat inevitable) romance subplot, but this serves to illustrate the key difference between Van Humphries and previous Bova protagonists. Van Humphries is not a particularly nice man. Yes, he tried to do the right thing, but he’s also horribly self-obsessed. everything is filtered through his own warped perception, and he makes as many poor choices as he does heroic decisions. He is, in a word, fascinating.
As I delve deeper into the worlds of the Grand Tour, I am continually impressed with the universe Bova has built. There’s no central narrative to make this a series, but these twenty-something novels are already shaping up to be something incredible. As a long-time fantasy reader, I know how easy it is to burn out on longer series. That’s in no small part why I now gravitate towards science fiction. In having multiple standalones, Bova creates a universe that goes beyond a single story. Yes, there is some crossover between books. A certain Martian explorer pays a role here, for example. But the Grand Tour is incredibly accessible. Of the four books I’ve read thus far, three would have been perfect entry points. And the fourth wouldn’t have taken much explaining. I wish there were more universes like this. For now though, I have plenty more Ben Bova to spend my time with.
For me, Venus is the final piece of evidence I needed. Vindication of my belief that random book purchases are the way to go. I knew nothing about Ben Bova going into my first book of his, save that he had recently died. It turned out I’d been missing out on an author who seems almost tailor-made for me. Everything I want from science fiction, Bova offers in spades. So if you’re reading this, and there’s an author you’ve been thinking about getting into, go do it. That book with the interesting cover? Buy it! It could be the best decision you’ll ever make.
Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, by Isaac Asimov
Mars, by Ben Bova
Cold Welcome, by Elizabeth Moon