Book lovers, we are back with our second installment of Gilligan’s Barks and Books book reviews!
Ever since Gilligan arrived in his new forever home, one of his favorite pastimes has been to curl up next to Papa while he enjoys a good read. It didn't take too long before Gilly started nudging at Papa to include him somehow in whatever activity this was. One thing led to another, and Papa found that Gilligan actually enjoys sitting quietly while the book is being read aloud. And thus, the tradition of "Gilly's story-time" was born.
Last time in our first installment, we kicked off this segment by bringing you back-to-back reviews of Cosmos by Carl Sagan and Mars by Ben Bova. We left off by telling you that we were in the middle of reading one of Ben Bova’s other novels in the same series as Mars, namely Ben Bova’s Saturn.
After the excitement of reading Mars, and Papa’s enthusiasm over the other books in the series that he had read, there was a lot of hype going into reading Saturn. Did it live up to this hype? Well…
Ben Bova’s Saturn
In this novel, we’re taken to a future where mankind has already set up successful colonies on the Moon, on Mars, in orbit around Jupiter and its moons, and across the asteroid belt for the purposes of mining.
After a series of major disasters has befallen humanity, society is persuaded to accept the idea that they must lead a life guided by more morally perfect structure, and votes into power a theocratic coalition of organizations representing the world’s major religions. The most prominent of these religious organizations, the Christian New Morality, teams up with the foremost science Academy to fund a scientific expedition to mankind’s newest frontier of Saturn that entails sending a colony populated by 10,000 people out to the ringed planet.
These 10,000 people are mostly engineers and scientists, but more notably most of them are selected based on the fact that they are too liberal to accept the strict rules of the New Morality and similar governments. In this sense they are in a way being exiled from the main society on Earth. And thus the main plot of our book unfolds.
Here is a quote from the book describing the colony’s live-in space vessel, habitat Goddard:
…the habitat [was] an ungainly cylinder hanging in the emptiness of space… it was rotating slowly… the spin created a feeling of gravity inside the cylinder.
…[from inside the habitat:] Stretching out in all directions… was a green landscape, shining in warm sunlight. Gently rolling grassy hills, clumps of trees, little meandering streams… [a] curving path that led down to a group of low buildings… There was no horizon. Instead, the land simply curved up and up, hills and grass and trees and more little villages with their paved roads and sparkling streams, up and up on both sides…
If the image of a cylindrical orbital habitat lined on the inside with an idyllic landscape that has no horizon because it’s on the inside of a tube sounds eerily familiar to you, it’s possible that you may be recalling a certain major motion picture from 2014 that featured a strikingly similar habitat. Just keep in mind that the writers of this certain major motion picture’s screenplay began writing it in 2007, and Ben Bova’s Saturn was first published in 2003. Just an observation. 😉
All notes about the novelty of this sci-fi concept aside, the novel in fact spends most of its time focusing on exploring how these characters struggle to establish an independent government on this habitat. The most prominent character, a former inmate who goes by the name of Malcolm Eberly and is released from prison by the New Morality to head the Human Resources department of the habitat, quickly makes political connections and sets in motion a rally for independence that culminates in the free election of a leader… a position for which Malcolm himself ensures that he is the major candidate through various illicit means.
There are interesting sub-plots including a charming daredevil’s mission to walk on the surface of Titan and dive through the rings of Saturn in a heavily armored suit; the use of nano-technology within the habitat; mystery surrounding the motivations of the New Morality in funding the mission to Saturn; talk of an independent Saturn economy, and more. These sub-plots introduce a whole set of character stories which, while they do add a richness to the world of the book, dilute a sense of having one clear protagonist somewhat.
That said, critics often describe Ben Bova as becoming a more skilled character author over time, and this rings true (no pun intended) with the fact that Saturn reads as more of a political thriller in a science fiction setting, as opposed to a science fiction novel with strong political commentary. The character writing and plot are very well conceived and delivered, but in summary we would just note to the reader to prepare for a book that is primarily about exploring the political intrigue and power struggles involved with an exiled/isolated society’s attempt to establish a new government.
Our Rating* for Ben Bova’s SATURN:
*Note: Moving forward we will be using a 5 paws rating scale. Our first installment featured grades on a 5 wags scale.
Saturn is just one of 21 novels in the Grand Tour series by author Ben Bova. For the most part, each novel is dedicated to a different planet, moon, or location in our solar system, and brings us to a place in the maybe-not-so-distant future where mankind has mastered his surroundings and technology just enough to expand human civilization to the rest of the solar system.
Gilligan’s Papa has read the books Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Saturn, and has enjoyed them enough to also have picked up three more titles by Ben Bova: Farside, Leviathans of Jupiter, and Able One (this last title is not part of the Grand Tour series). He’ll be reading these to Gilligan and we’ll provide reviews here in the future.
Our next Barks and Books installment will review our current story-time feature, Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics: Third Edition*, which we quoted and mentioned a bit about during our post this past Martin Luther King Day. With its commentary about the ethical treatment of animals, it has already been a fascinating book for Gilligan.
See you next time!
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*Updated Disclosure: As of 2/11/2015, links in this article that lead to books will bring the user to that book’s page on Amazon.com. The links themselves are generated using the Amazon Affiliate program, which means that the author of this site will earn a small sales commission on any purchases of the book through these links. Book and other product reviews on WagsAhoy.com are always the honest opinion of the author.
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