Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club
exploring the planet Venus
book in the Grand Tour of the Solar System series
Tor science fiction paperback - 405 pages
Cover art by John Harris
Ben Bova - Venus
Van Humphries is small and anemic. His admired older brother, Alex, was lost on a mission exploring the planet Venus. Their rich father, Martin "Hump" Humphries, announces a reward of $10 billion dollars for anyone who can return Alex's body from Venus. He also informs Van, whom he never liked, that he's cutting off his allowance.
Van decides to organize a mission to Venus. Initially, he asks his dilettante friends to come along, but then he is forced to limit and reexamine the crew. First, Van chooses ex-astronaut Tomas Rodriquez to be his Captain, but his powerful father appoints spacer Desiree Duchamp to be his Captain. Both go. Just before departure, Captain Duchamp brings along her clone daughter Marguerite, who is a trained biologist. Hump Humphries makes sure Van knows there is a competing Venus mission lead by Lars Fuchs from the asteroid belt. Fuchs was defeated and humiliated in the Asteroid War by Hump Humphries.
Van's crew takes a freighter to Venus. There, they transfer to a smaller, zeppelin-like, ship in Venus orbit, named Hesperos. Although they know the position of Fuchs's ship Lucifer, Fuchs doesn't answer any of their communications.
Corrosive elements in the upper clouds of Venus severely damage Van's ship. Forced to abandon ship, the survivors are reluctantly rescued by Fuchs. Van didn't bring his medicine and needs blood transfusions to survive. Tough Captain Fuchs is the only person with a compatible blood type.
The constant dangers of the hellish heat of Venus are making Fuchs's crew of Asians mutinous. Van and Marguerite rise to the new challenges aboard. They learn to respect Fuchs. Van goes down to the surface of Venus to retrieve his brother's body, and barely survives. Van proves that he can do more than he thought previously possible.summary written by
10 Wow! Don't miss it
8-9 Highly recommended
5-6 Mild recommendation
3-4 Take your chances
1-2 Below average; skip it
0 Get out the flamethrower!
U Unfinishable or unreadable
- Skipped or no rating given
Ben Bova - Venus
Ben Bova is not a subtle writer and, aside from permitting himself a few references to John Milton and Jack London, he doesn’t try to be. In Venus, this is at times a strength but often a serious weakness.
Bova’s tendency to excess serves him well in describing conditions on the planet Venus. There’s no need to exercise restraint in painting a picture of this world, which he accurately compares to Milton’s vision of Hell. Even with its flaws, this book is worth reading for the first-hand view it offers of our nearest neighbor, and the peculiar, zeppelin-like spaceships best suited to navigate its dense cloud layers. I also enjoyed Bova’s over-the-top portrayal, bordering on satire, of the future life of the wealthy on Earth and the Moon in the first portion of this book. The first chapter amusingly describes a party thrown by Van’s father that would put any ancient Roman orgy to shame, and Van’s group of friends are delightfully pompous.
As I worked my way into the book, however, Bova’s heavy-handed prose became less effective for me. The story is not going to carry the reader along; it’s just an excuse to get us to Venus, and not a very convincing one. (Doesn’t Van ever wonder why his father would offer a huge reward for whoever makes it to Venus, when he knows the leading contender will be someone he despises?) Bova tries to add to the planetary exploration formula by peppering his narrative with tidbits about the past histories of the main characters, but I found these revelations contrived and predictable.
The formulaic plot can work only if the reader comes to identify with some of the central characters. Unfortunately, the characters are all twice-baked clichés from some buccaneering adventure story: the domineering father and his timid son, the ruthless ship captain and his crew of ruffians, and the beautiful lady who is inexplicably drawn to the powerful captain. Bova follows the clichés so faithfully that he even makes all the sailors stocky and muscle-bound, never mind that they live in the asteroid belt. By far the worst offender in my view was the protagonist Van. He follows the literary tradition of pampered boys who grow to manhood on the high seas, but Bova takes it too far. Through most of the novel, Van is such a contemptible weasel that I found it impossible to sympathize with him.What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to