Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Venus book cover Venus (2000)

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

From the back cover:
       The surface of Venus is the most hellish place in the solar system.  The ground is hot enough to melt aluminum.  The air pressure crushes spacecraft like tin cans.  The sky is perpetually covered with clouds of sulfuric acid.  The atmosphere is a choking mixture of poisonous gases.
       This is where Van Humphries must go.  Or die trying.
       His older brother perished in the first attempt to land a man on Venus, years before, and his father has always hated him for surviving when his brother died.  Now his father has offered ten billion dollars to the first person to land on Venus and return his oldest son's remains.
       To everyone's surprise, Van takes up the offer.  But what Van Humphries will find on Venus will change everything -- our understanding of Venus and of Earth, and Van's own knowledge of who he is.

Read for group discussion on October 10, 2001

Amy's summary  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

How we each rated this book
Dan 7 Amy 6 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    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
Cheri 7 Barb -
Aaron 5 Cynthia 5
Jackie - Ron 5

Aaron's Commentary  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.

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Ben Bova (1932-    ) is a U.S.  writer and editor.  He is the former editor of Analog and Omni.

1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979 - Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor
2007 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Titan

Grand Tour books:
Bova's planetary exploration books, in order of publication:
-- Mars (1992)
-- Return to Mars (1999)
-- Venus (2000)
-- Jupiter (2000)
-- Saturn (2003)
-- Mercury (2005)
-- Powersat (2005)
-- Titan (2006)
-- Mars Life (2008)

The Asteroid Wars sub-series:
-- The Precipice (2001)
-- The Rock Rats (2002)
-- The Silent War (2004)
-- The Aftermath (2007)

The Moonbase Saga sub-series:
-- Moonrise (1996)
-- Moonwar (1997)

Chet Kinsman books:
-- Millennium (1976, people and politics in 1999)
-- Kinsman (1979)
-- The Kinsman Saga (1987), a reworking of Millennium and Kinsman

More books:
The Voyagers space opera series:
-- Voyagers (1981)
-- The Alien Within (1982)
-- Star Brothers (1990)

Privateers (1985) and its sequel Empire Builders (1993) have entrepreneurs conquering space.

The Orion series:
-- Orion (1984)
-- Vengeance of Orion (1988)
-- Orion in the Dying Time (1990)
-- Orion and the Conqueror (1994)
-- Orion Among the Stars (1995)
-- (As on a Darkling Plain (1972) is related to the Orion series)

The Exiles trilogy are YA science fiction.  The books - Exiled from Earth (1971), Flight of Exiles (1972), and End of Exile (1975) - tell of a world government and exiled scientists.

Watchmen young adult space opera novels:
-- Star Conquerors (1959)
-- Star Watchman (1964)
-- The Dueling Machine (1969)
-- The Watchmen (1994), omnibus of Star Watchman and The Dueling Machine

Death Dream (1994) and Brothers (1995, biomedical breakthrough) are SF thrillers.

Other novels include The Weathermakers (1966, weather control), Out of the Sun (1968, Soviet agents), Escape! (1969), When the Sky Burned (1974), The Starcrossed (1975, TV satire), City of Darkness (1976, a dome over deserted New York City), Colony (1978, toward the stars), The Winds of Altair (1983, terraforming a planet), The Peacekeepers (1988, nuclear terrorist), Triumph (1992, alternate history), Cyberbooks (1989, electronic books), The Multiple Man (1976, presidential plot), Test of Fire (1982, revision of When the Sky Burned), and The Green Trap (2006).

Collaborations are: Save the Sun (1992) and To Fear the Light (1994) written with A.J. Austin; The Trikon Deception written with Bill Pogue (1992), and Gremlins, Go Home! (1974) written with Gordon R. Dickson.  Hour of the Gremlins (2004) is an omnibus edition of Gremlins Go Home (1974) by Dickson & Bova, and Dickson's The Hour of the Horde (1970) and Wolfling (1969).

Story collections are Forward in Time (1973), Maxwell's Demons (1978), Escape Plus (1984), The Astral Mirror (1985), Prometheans (1986), Battle Station (1987), Sam Gunn, Unlimited (1992), Challenges (1993), Twice Seven (1998), Sam Gunn Forever (1998), and Tales of the Grand Tour (2004).  Future Crime (1990) contains stories plus the novel City of Darkness (1976).

Nonfiction science books include The Seeds of Tomorrow (1977), The High Road (1981), Assured Survival: Putting the Star Wars Defense in Perspective (1984), The Beauty of Light (1988), Welcome to Moonbase (1987), Immortality: How Science Is Extending Your Lifespan and Changing the World (1988), The Story of Light (2001), and Faint Echoes, Distant Stars: The Science and Politics of Finding Life Beyond Earth (2004).

He edited many anthologies including The Science Fiction Hall of Fame volumes 2A and 2B (1973), The Best of Omni (1980), and Best of The Nebulas (1989).

Bova wrote the movie tie-in book for THX 1138 (1971) based on the script by George Lucas

Ben Bova official site
Ben Bova - Wikipedia
Locus Online: Ben Bova Interview (excepts)

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