BOOK REVIEW: Moonwar, by Ben Bova

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • Moonbase (#2)
  • Part of the Grand Tour universe
  • Published by Hodder & Stoughton
  • First published in 1997
  • Hard SF
  • 531 pages

Moonbase. The future of humanity, or a waste of time and resources? An increasingly anti-technology United Nations is determined to see Moonbase brought to heel. But Douglas Stavenger is determined to see his father’s legacy succeed. Even if it means declaring independence . . .

Well, Ben Bova has done it again. Though its pre-2022 publication date renders it invalid for the Boundy Awards, Moonwar is a strong contender for my favourite book of the year. It has all the hallmarks of Bova’s Grand Tour, from a dedication to rigorous science to a diverse group of characters. What it lacks is the usual serene pacing that I’ve come to associate with the Grand Tour. This is not a bad thing, by the way. In fact, it’s the greatest strength. Because while most of this series has been focused on humanity versus environment in tales of exploration in far-flung frontiers, this one is about people versus people. It’s a thriller with both military and political elements. It’s also got some of the best pacing I have ever read.

Moonwar is split into three acts. The first is a countdown to the UN invasion of the Moon, told across chapters labelled with how many hours remain until the hostile troops’ arrival. Despite the length of the journey from Earth to the Moon, this is a fantastically tense section of the book. With a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, we get to see how the varied personnel of Moonbase react to the coming war. There are a lot of characters here, and not all of them have a lot to do. But that’s just the point. Stavenger’s rebellion goes beyond any one man, even the corrupt leader of the UN. The future being fought is not only that of Moonbase, but of humanity as a whole.

The middle act is told across the span of several weeks. Here, the difference in a lunar day and a terrestrial day is important to remember, because the Moon turns far more slowly than the Earth. Over the course of these terrestrial days, we see the slow build-up of forces on each side, even as the Moonbase crew remain steadfast in their non-military resistance. The more drawn-out nature of the middle act also allows for a return to diplomacy, and I dare say that Bova can make boardroom meetings more interesting than any other author I’ve read. Certainly there’s no one else who could so deftly balance the action sequences on the Moon with the dialogue taking place back on Earth.

Bova’s versatility as an author aside, this still bears the mark of what I like to see in science fiction. Particularly in hard SF, I like to see science and intellect triumphing. The regressive nature of certain Earthbound groups is clearly a danger to humanity’s long-term viability. And while Bova will be the first to acknowledge that technology can be put to less than savoury purpose, science in itself is never the enemy. That, to me, is the moral heart of the Grand Tour. We don’t know what’s out there. But the only way we can thrive, is by asking questions, and looking for answers.

A simply phenomenal book, Moonwar cements Ben Bova’s place as one of my favourite authors, and ensures I’ll be reading as many of his books as I can lay my hands on.

If you enjoyed this book, you might also like:
Stark’s Command, by Jack Campbell
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
Artemis, by Andy Weir

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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