I was a teenager when I first encountered the science fiction of Ben Bova and it was totally by accident.
A relative had stayed at our family cottage one summer and left behind a stack of paperbacks including a copy of Bova’s Millennium, a 1976 book about orbiting American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts working together to prevent a nuclear war between their homelands.
Perhaps it was because the story was set in a future that wasn’t so far away and the plot seemed completely plausible that it left such an impression on me or maybe it was just Bova’s easy and entertaining writing style that hooked me. I don’t really know what it was, but I became a Bova fan ever since and have been particularly attached to his Grand Tour series of books. Set in own solar system in a not-too-distant future when corporations and governments vie for control of its resources, a series of strong and interesting characters keep seeming to find life on just about every moon and planet where it has even the slightest possibility of existence. I kind of have a secret hope that is truly the case so maybe that’s another reason why I like the stories.
Neptune is the latest book in the series, which now spans 28 titles, and could potentially be the last as the American author passed away late last year at the age of 88 due to COVID-related pneumonia.
While Neptune won’t be remembered as a classic of the genre, it’s a fine example of Bova’s straightforward storytelling style which will you keep you entertained and turning the pages.
Bova’s Grand Tour books are loosely connected with characters appearing in multiple volumes, but you don’t have to read them all in order to enjoy the series, although some of them are connected in sub-series, like this one which is the second part of the Outer Planets Trilogy and is a follow-up to Uranus. I hadn’t read Uranus and a bit of the background from that story flows into this one which would have been nice to read, but it didn’t really lessen my enjoyment of the book.
The plot of Neptune is about a rich Hungarian baroness who is looking for her father who was lost in an expedition in the oceans of the gas giant. She hires an experienced space explorer with knowledge of the outer planets and a younger scientist to accompany her on her expedition.
They never do find the missing father, but they do make an Earth-shattering discovery which they share with the incredulous powers-that-be who force them to return with another scientist to confirm their findings.
Various bumps and obstacles are thrown in their way during their adventures which Bova skillfully weaves into the story to keep you reading. I found myself wanting to keep reading whenever I came to the end of a chapter, which is a sign of a book that has been well written.
While I occasionally rolled my eyes at some of the science in the story, I gave Bova the benefit of the doubt and let him transport me with his words to yet another distant destination in our solar system.
If you’re a fan of space exploration stories that have a touch of realism and harken back to science fiction’s earlier days, then Ben Bova’s Grand Tour books are worth discovering and Neptune is a worthy addition to the series. The only shame is we might never get to voyage to Pluto and beyond with Bova.