Saturn–Ben Bova

I was first introduced to Ben Bova about a decade ago by a friend at University. She lent me a book, I read it, gave my feedback, “seems fairly mediocre space trash soap opera” (I was insufferable, I know), and that was that. I knew that he was a purveyor of fairly popular space-themed science fiction. For a somewhat more detailed biography check out either his Wikipedia page or his Amazon page. He is ridiculously prolific, having written more than 120 works.

Summarising the blurb: “Earth groans under the thumb of fundamentalist political regimes. Crisis after crisis has given authoritarians the upper hand. Freedom and opportunity exist in space, for those with the nerve and skill to run the risks. Now the governments of Earth are encouraging many of their most incorrigible dissidents to join a great ark on a one-way expedition, twice Jupiter’s distance from the Sun, to Saturn, the ringed planet that baffled Galileo and has fascinated astronomers ever since. But humans will be human, on Earth or in the heavens-so amidst the idealism permeating Space Habitat Goddard are many individuals with long-term schemes, each awaiting the tight moment. And hidden from them is the greatest secret of all, the real purpose of this expedition, known to only a few….”

This was the paperback thrown in my bag whilst traveling last month (whilst I do prefer my Kindle Paperwhite 3G, sometimes you need a dead-tree backup). It was secondhand, and I recognised the author name, and that’s about all the motivation I need. Actually, sometimes that’s even more than I need!

The book was reasonable, but nothing exceptional. My rather rude comment about space trash soap opera probably holds true–we have a bunch of caricature characters who don’t really develop as the story progresses, a background of a space ship that doesn’t really add to the story it seems to only be present to provide a backdrop to the events that unfold. The story isn’t bad, but is rather a stretch to believe at times.

It’s light reading, the denouement proceeds fairly much as once would expect (with one rather small, jarring exception). It didn’t feel like time wasted, reading this, as I really don’t get an opportunity to read much hard science fiction.

It is available, of course, in a wide variety of formats via Amazon. For some inexplicable and rather irritating reason, I can’t link directly to the Kindle version. Here’s the paperback, and you can find the other versions from there.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers #1)

We have a slight problem here; the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series is very possibly one of the most beloved series to me. There is absolutely no way that I am able to review this in a fashion that is anything approximate to impartial. Though, since this is a blog purporting to be about my love of books, and my subjective opinion, I suppose that it will be okay.

A little on Douglas Adams: (he’s brilliant…. wait, you need more?) His Wikipedia page and his Amazon page have some fairly standard biographical detail: he was an author and a technophile, a lover of music, a visionary, and passed away 11th May, 2001, at the gym. Hence, don’t go to the gym. It leads to dead authors. (Sidenote: 11th May is now International Towel Day in Adams’ memory.) He wrote the radio play, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the subsequent trilogy-in-five-parts of books that are tangentially related to the radio series, the TV series with the same name (also, tangentially related to the radio series and the books), was a writer for Dr Who, as well as a gifted public speaker and advocate on environmental issues. In fact, whilst I love and adore the Hitchhikers series, it is his work (Last Chance To See) with zoologist Mark Carwadine that I rate most highly. He is also responsible for Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and its sequel The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul.

“But the plans were on display . . .”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a torch.”
“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”

Arthur Dent is about to have a very bad day. He is attempting to stop the local council from demolishing his house to build a new bypass, when he discovers that his friend, Ford Prefect (a name chosen to be “nicely inconspicuous”, a joke that makes a whole lot more sense when you know that the Ford car company made a car named the Prefect) is not, as previously suspected, human, but from a small planet near Betelguese. This is terribly helpful, as the Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.
A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value — you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble‐sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand‐to‐hand‐combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might have accidentally “lost.”. What the strag will think is that any man that can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

Hence fans celebrating Adams’ death by declaring it Towel Day.

Arthur and Ford are rescued, and then flung into space to die (after being subjected to the third-worst poetry in the Universe), only to be rescued by Galactic President, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Tricia MacMillan (“an awfully nice girl that Arthur completely failed to get off with at a party”.)

Same as you, Arthur. I hitched a ride. After all, with a degree in maths and another in astrophysics it was either that or back to the dole queue on Monday. Sorry I missed the Wednesday lunch date, but I was in a black hole all morning.

That really concerned me when I first read the novels, given that a degree in mathematics was the Big Plan.

We are introduced to Marvin, the Paranoid Android, brain the size of a planet, and only ever needed for menial tasks. Together, in a stolen spaceship based on an Infinite Probability Drive (there’s a good quote here on the extension of a finite improbability drive to an infinite improbability drive, but I’m going to make you read the book yourself!)

The books other main influence on popular culture, and it’s a big one, is that 42 is important. Like, really important.

“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm. “The Answer to the Great Question, of Life, the Universe and Everything”

That quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.

“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”
“But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything,” howled Loonquawl.
“Yes,” said Deep Thought with the air of one who suffers fools gladly, “but what actually is it?”
A slow stupefied silence crept over the men as they stared at the computer and then at each other.
“Well, you know, it’s just Everything … Everything …” offered Phouchg weakly.
“Exactly!” said Deep Thought. “So once you know what the question actually is, you’ll know what the answer means.”

(We find out later what the question is, in another book. It’s … well, that would spoil the surprise.)

I read these novels so much that my first copy wore out. I love them to pieces (literally!)

Douglas Adams books on Amazon

(Usual rant about Amazon and not allowing me to link to the Kindle version…)