Written by: Ben Bova
Reviewed by: Rob Leicht
Ben Bova is a pretty big name in science-fiction, or at least he used to be. Our world has changed a lot since his career began, and our fiction has changed along with it. Many of the old sci-fi tropes don’t resonate as much anymore. And one result is that Bova and his ilk have experienced a decrease in recognition among many readers. Yet kudos to him, he has kept the releases coming at regular intervals into his late 80s. Obviously somebody is reading them. His most recent, Uranus, does not bring anything new to the table and certainly won’t be praised for an epic scope. It’s not terrible, but it is formulaic.
Uranus takes place on Haven, a habitat orbiting Uranus and run by a preacher who designed it as a refuge and second chance for Earth’s castoffs. However, the financier behind the operation has different plans in mind, including drug manufacturing and prostitution. The main protagonist throughout the book is a former sex worker who is trying to gain influence and adjust to life on Haven, while simultaneously personifying the hooker with a heart of gold trope. Sound cliché to you yet? It should. For a science-fiction novel, Uranus is rather light on the science. What little there is comes in the form of a newly arrived scientist who has received funding to probe Uranus for signs of intelligent life and is easily the highlight of the book. While minimal, the sci-fi elements are well done.
Bova’s prose is unadorned and sometimes lacking description. No one would describe it as flowery, but it is crisp. The first third of Uranus lags for lack of action. Once the plot becomes more heavily invested in the scientific search for extraterrestrial life, the main conflict becomes apparent and the book hits a groove, but it is too little too late. And between the short chapter lengths and Bova’s concise writing style, any tension that is built is often mitigated. Thus it definitely is a more character-focused novel than hard sci-fi, but the characters are under-developed with unclear motivations. Poor to average.