July 16, 2021
I don’t have very many favorite authors. I have a tendency to jump around a lot. However, there are a few authors that I consider to be “must-reads” the second they release something new. Science fiction great Ben Bova is one of those writers, so you can imagine my excitement when I spotted a new novel from him on the shelf!
That excitement immediately turned to sadness when I saw on the jacket that Mr. Bova had passed away several months ago at the age of 88—yet another victim of the dreaded COVID-19. Despite the fact that he was an incredibly prolific author, and because of that I’ve only read a fraction of all his published work, the idea that there will never be another “new” Ben Bova novel is really sad.
Bova, who once served as the President of the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), wrote more than 120 novels and won the prestigious Hugo Award six times. He was most famous for his Voyagers series, which deals with humanity’s first contact with aliens, and the Orion series, which follows an eternal warrior named Jack Ryan who battled a dark lord through many different time periods.
But the series that hooked me was his Grand Tour books—22 novels set in a shared universe that explore the planets and asteroids of our own solar system. Each book is set primarily in one place or planet like Saturn, Neptune, or the Asteroid belt, and they deal with the exploration and colonization of the solar system in the 21st century.
The Grand Tour series is considered “hard science fiction,” which can sometimes be daunting for the average reader. However, Bova managed to balance that “hard science” with characters that deal with very human issues and vulnerabilities. In fact, I think that these books would make a great space opera. Some of the books comprise a story arc (The Asteroid Wars had four books), and some are standalones (Titan, Venus). However, even the standalones have some characters in common, and you will notice familiar names throughout.
Familiar groups like environmentalists, secularists, religious fundamentalists, and wealthy businessmen all inhabit this fictional world. This makes the events in the books feel very timely despite being set so far in the future. And the technology was not far-fetched either—based more in probable innovations rather than magical wormholes and Star Trek warp drives. That grounded reality is sometimes rare in science fiction, where more spectacular themes can often rule.
I’m truly going to miss The Grand Tour books, as well as the writer who created them, especially since I find it so hard to get attached to an author. I’m still shocked that I somehow missed the news of his passing. I usually notice when a famous author dies. Perhaps if it had been a different time, and not in the midst of a global pandemic, I would have been more aware.
Goodbye, Mr. Bova. I hope you are now traveling the stars!