Remembering Ben Bova (1932-2020)

Ben Bova was one of my entry points to broader science fiction. I found out about his passing last night. I was struck by the loss, because he was an author who’d had a massive impact on my life and enjoyment of reading. I want to tell my story of how I discovered Bova and how his works continued to guide my enjoyment of science fiction.

As a kid, my family would frequent a Hallmark store where my mom and sister would look at the greeting cards and gifts. This Hallmark, however, was remarkable: it had a bookstore at the back. I still don’t know if it was a fluke of the way Hallmark does licensing or what, but there was just this awesome bookstore at the back of a greeting card and gift shop. The owner/franchisee clearly loved science fiction, fantasy, and heavy metal. It was where, in my teens, I would buy magazines featuring the latest pull out posters of the nu metal bands I got into. I bought bookmarks there with dragons and other fantastic creatures on them (I still own a couple!). And, I walked the stacks. The science fiction & fantasy section was huge, too. There was one set of shelves that covered about a third of this warehouse-sized Hallmark. It was filled with speculative fiction. It had a facing set of shelves also filled with more stories of spaceships, dragons, heroes, and heroines.

It was here that I discovered Ben Bova. A book on the shelf, simply titled Moonwar, called to me with its cover (pictured above). It said something about the author winning a Hugo Award. I had no idea what that was, but I knew that I had enjoyed some Newbery Medal winners (a prominent award for children’s literature). Awards were clearly A Good Thing. (At the time, and for many years after, I had no idea that his Hugos were all for his editorial work. My experience with him was–and mostly is–exclusively based on his novels.) I begged my mom to buy the book for me, and she, always supportive of my reading addiction, did so.

I devoured it. I had no idea that the book was the second in a series. It didn’t impact my enjoyment of it at all. Up to this point, the only adult science fiction I’d read was Star Wars novels and some additional Timothy Zahn books I’d grabbed at the library (I was very confused those weren’t also Star Wars novels–I didn’t know authors would write their own books and Star Wars books–but I did love them.) Bova’s imagination of the future of human society branching out from Earth and fighting a war over the Moon was vivid and captivating. I couldn’t help but think about current astronauts and how they might help set us up for a moon base that could help us get new resources and explore new horizons.

Every time I visited that Hallmark from then on, I scoured the shelves to see if there were any new books by this Ben Bova guy. Then, one day, there was! A bright red-orange cover showing me a sunrise on Mars with the title of the book, simply called Mars splashed across its cover. And there was the name I’d been waiting for–Ben Bova. I didn’t even bother to read the blurb on the back cover, I ran it over to my mom, who once again indulged my reading. As she shopped the shelves, I dove in. When I got home, I kept going, and going, until it was done.

Mars awakened me to even greater possibilities of the future of humanity. It was a humanity in which we still had major problems–tokenizing minorities was just one of them–but it was one that was also hopeful and capable of greatness. And it was a humanity capable of discovery on the grandest scale. When a major plot point revealed a monumental revelation, I felt my heart bursting with pride and joy. Bova had awakened in me a deep love for science fiction and the possible. More than that, reading Bova spurred me to read at higher levels, learn bigger words, and learn about new ideas.

From then on, I read anything I could from Bova. It continued into my college years, when I read his Asteroid Wars books. Once again, I was blown away by his use of science in the novels, and it had never occurred to me how many problems there could be attempting to get rights and wage wars for those rights in space. It was a new awakening for me in college. I hadn’t been reading much of anything apart from books for school, and reading Bova again made me realize how much I still loved science fiction. It was in those years when I began to start truly branching out and finding how much I loved the genre. And, as it had been years before, part of that beginning was due to Ben Bova.

I continued to keep up with his Grand Tour novels as an adult. After some time away from them, I saw one on the shelf at the local book store and grabbed it. The book was New Earth and I was deeply moved by it. It depicted humanity going far afield from our own solar system and discovering the unexpected, along with the discovery of a great terror out in the cosmos. It moved me so much that I even wrote three blog posts about the book on my main blog dedicated to theology and philosophy (see, for example, this post about humanity on the brink). It had been a few years, but Bova once again struck a cord in me as a reader.

I have spent more than 20 years in the universe Bova made. I have learned about the planets from him, as his books sent me online and to libraries to read about the planets he discovered. He was a great light in the world of science fiction, and he will be deeply missed.

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Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Humanity on the Brink in Ben Bova’s “New Earth”- I write about Ben Bova’s New Earth and what it says about humanity’s future.

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SDG.

Science Fiction- One of my loves.

Science fiction is, in my opinion, the most malleable genre for writers to play with. One can hypothesize about the science of the future, or make up magic; one can explore the stars, or have the stars come to destroy you; one can contemplate the human condition, or ignore it and charge forward to meet one’s destiny. It is beautiful and frightening all at once.

This was a long time ago... I look much different 😉

I love science fiction. I don’t often read anything but philosophy, but when I do, sci-fi is my genre of choice. (Okay, so I’m not exactly the most interesting man in the world.) I have read almost every Star Wars novel which is post-movie canon. I love Orson Scott Card anything. He is a simple genius with words and worlds. I know he’d cringe to be grouped with Star Wars because I met the man once, and he is one awesome guy [proof in the picture!]. David Weber is also growing on me of late, I find his military sci-fi fascinating. Ben Bova is also captivating. His speculation about the future of our technology and expansion across the solar system is gripping. I recommend his works highly. I remember still the day that I picked up Moonwar and couldn’t stop reading it.

I’ve been writing my own science fiction novel, playing with the malleability I’ve already noted. One can speculate not just about future technology, but also about future theology. Writing sci-fi, one can speculate on the “What if?” questions that we so often ignore. Thus, in a way, it seems to me that science fiction just is philosophy. Authors frequently contemplate the big questions, and their stories and characters are their answer to these questions. This, I think, is what makes science fiction so great. It’s not just storytelling; it’s future-making. Science fiction strives to point humans in the direction the author thinks is best. The genre is worldview-laden. Authors cannot write without a worldview, and the fact that science fiction tells the future means that authors frequently inject their worldview into the story. Their vision for the future is the ideal society; the author’s fears are reflected in a dystopia.

For all these reasons, I say that science fiction is one of my loves. Perhaps one day I’ll finish the book I’ve been working on for years (at one point it was over 80 pages–I’ve since edited it down to 30) and then I’ll be able to offer my own vision of the future. Until then, I’ll enjoy the masterworks others have created.

Do you love sci-fi as well? If so, who do you read? Why?