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    Review of THE GREEN TRAP by Ben Bova (see his website)

    Forge, November 2006

    When his brother claims to be on the trail of millions of dollars, college professor Paul Cochrane is tempted to laugh it off--research scientists aren't known for getting rich. But his brother insists and Paul agrees to visit him. When he arrives at his brother's office, however, Cochrane's brother is dead--murdered and his research missing. It's pretty clear that whatever project Cochrane's brother was working on really was important. It becomes even more clear when an oil billionaire sends a thug to demand the secrets--and offer a ten million dollar payment.

    Cochrane hooks up with beautiful industrial spy Elena Sandoval and the two of them try to find the secret. Eventually Cochrane realizes that his brother had made a breakthrough. The cynobacteria he was working with had been modified to produce extra hydrogen. The dawn of a new economy, one based on hydrogen, seems at hand. But the oil billionaire is making record profits and isn't in a big hurry to let the secret out before he's ready. And he'll do whatever it takes to make sure Cochrane doesn't spread his brother's secret.

    Author Ben Bova's THE GREEN TRAP could hardly be more timely in a world which has seen dramatic increases in energy prices and which is facing ever-higher levels of greenhouse gasses. Some solution is necessary but, with current technologies, hydrogen is not the answer. Hydrogen must first be produced, which absorbs more energy than it will eventually release (thanks to the law of entrophy). Bova's hypothesised genetically engineered cynobacteria will resolve this issue. Bova enhances his story with news clippings, discussing various approaches currently being explored that use renewable bio-energy sources.

    THE GREEN TRAP deals with a very real set of issues, but the book is not without problems. First, the characters didn't have much depth. Cochrane lost his brother, fell in love, and had a chance at millions of dollars, but it was hard to get any sense of emotion out of it. The falling in love thing seemed undermotivated and the dialogue, and especially internal monologue was often clunky.

    I also had some problems with the science. It's easy enough to believe that a cynobacteria could release hydrogen. After all, splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen is a major part of what cynobacteria do. But there needs to be an energy source. You can't just put bacteria in a pail of water, in the dark, and expect hydrogen. Presumable sunlight would be added as the energy source, but redesigning cars to flow the little bacteria into sunlight would be a lot rougher than the simple garage shop operation Bova described. Plus, the environmental risks of releasing a new cynobacteria without understanding how it would affect the environment when released in the wild is never discussed. Would the lakes and oceans be split into oxygen and hydrogen, leaving us a dry and dead planet. Finally, I think Bova cheated on the wrapup. I don't think that Cochrane's solution would really get around the patent problem.

    Because the story is timely and interesting, I'm going to give it two stars. But it's not at the high end of the rating.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 1/23/07

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    What do you think? Too generous? Too stingy? Or did I miss the entire point? Send your comments to Give me the okay to use your name and I'll publish all the comments that fit (and don't use unprintable language).

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