Like my movie reviews, here’s how I review books I’ve read: I tell you the basic details and then what I liked and didn’t like and then my overall thoughts. It’s then up to you, the reader, to decide for yourself from there whether you want to read it. No Roger Ebert snootiness, no thumbs up or down. I find critiquing to be extremely subjective and seldom on target, so I take the modest approach. What works for me might not work for others, and vice versa.
Jupiter, by Ben Bova, is a science fiction novel about Grant Archer, a young, recently-married scientist who must complete his four-year public service at a space station orbiting Jupiter while his wife Marjorie remains on earth doing her service. Archer has no choice and is depressed once he arrives. As a Believer (presumably what Christians and other adherers of religious faiths will be called in this futuristic tale), he’s also sent by the New Morality to spy on what’s happening at the station.
Archer, who grew up in a Christian home, feels very conflicted as a scientist. He’s also very frustrated, feeling being stuck at Jupiter’s a waste of time when his field is astophysics.
Archer soon learns the station’s doing secret manned missions into Jupiter (something that’s absolutely impossible today due to the unimaginable pressure of the Jovian atmosphere and its oceans that make human existence out of the question) to look for intelligent life. This has New Morality very angry. Archer is eventually recruited into one of those missions.
This is an example of what one artist thinks Jupiter’s “surface” looks like. (Actually, Jupiter is thought to be one gargantuan ocean).
What I liked about this book: Wow. Just about everything. Bova does an outstanding job of pacing: he gives you enough technical details to set the scene and give you a mind’s eye of what’s happening but not so much so that you get bogged down and bored. He’s also not afraid to use his imagination and come up with some very ingenious ideas about entering Jupiter. The action is also very fast-paced with a few surprises here and there and a very satisfying ending. There were a few nights I stayed up well past midnight reading because, well, I had to know what happened next. I also took the book with me and read as I walked outside. I can’t remember the last time I did that.
Christians and religion are often portrayed with hostility in science fiction. I remember trying to read Contact and quitting in disgust over Carl Sagan’s horrific caricature of both Christianity and anyone who dares to be skeptical of evolution and ask questions. I don’t know Bova’s spiritual beliefs, but I believe he was very tasteful in his approach.
And, best of all, this wasn’t a corny space opera like Robert L. Forward’s Saturn Rukh. No cheesy metaphors for female breasts, no clichés like “body of a Greek goddess”, no space crews passing around herpes or some other STD. When Bova mentions sex a few times in the book, it’s used tastefully and to set the scene and little more.
What I disliked about this book: Very little. Nothing comes to mind.
The book poses a question: can you be a Christian and believe in evolution or extraterrestrial life? While I’m a firm believer in creationism and intelligent design, my answer to both is yes. One fellow Christian named Bob, who’s the brother I never had, leans towards evolution, as does his brother.
As far as ETs, my feeling is this: it’s a big universe. How do we know God didn’t create life elsewhere? There are many mysteries about God, and I suspect that the extrasolar planets are one of them.
Overall, Jupiter by Ben Bova was an excellent book that I loved. I will definitely read more of Bova’s books.