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    Review of TITAN by Ben Bova (see his website)


    TOR, March 2006

    Despite religious bigots on earth, mankind continues to explore space. A large colony has been set up in Saturn orbit--the farthest settlement from Earth. A key part of the mission is scientific. Scientists have created a massive and intelligent probe to explore Titan, Saturn's giant moon. Another scientist believes she has detected some form of life within the rings that surround Saturn--despite the near-zero temperatures of deep space. A colony of ten thousand inhabitants, however, is not made up of scientists alone. So, when the probe goes silent, there are plenty who are interested in mining the rings of Saturn as a reliable source of that most precious substance--water. And colony chief executive Malcolm Eberly is quick to latch onto that politically popular position.

    When Eberly blows off her questions about when to end the colony's zero population growth position, human resources director (and sister of retired billionaire Pancho Lane) Holly Lane decides to run against him in the upcoming election. She believes the scientists who claim there are life-forms in the rings Eberly wants to mine and is certain he's making a mistake. But Eberly manages to outmaneuver her at every turn. Even as the scientists recruit retired stuntman Manuel Gaeta to confirm the life-form in the rings (and maybe even to attempt a repair on the Titan probe), it seems that Eberly has worked the angles and that Holly faces certain defeat.

    Author Ben Bova (see more reviews of novels by Bova) continues his exploration of a near-future when religious zealots of various faiths join together to control earth, forcing the creative and questioning into space. There too are scientists, exiled because their research contradicted faith, or because they experimented with nanotechnology in ways that the zealots fear.

    The Titan probe, Alpha, may be a mechanical entity, but it is an interesting character nevertheless, and its inspection of Titan is a creative guess at what might actually exist on the solar system's only moon with a significant atmosphere. The command problem that leads to troubles is a bit simplistic, but nevertheless interesting.

    Bova does less well with his human characters. Eberly is a cartoon-bad-guy, lying when he doesn't have to and offending those whose help he needs. Still, facing only inarticulate and disorganized Holly in an election, it's no wonder he's the odds-on favorite. Despite assistance from her retired-CEO-sister Pancho, Holly fails to predict even obvious political decisions and promises that Eberly will make, weakening her own position. Meanwhile, Holly is distracted by a love that might or might not be doomed as the engineer she loves hopes to return to New Jersey.

    Flaws and all, TITAN moves right along with plenty of action and with enough scientific questions to appeal to serious Science Fiction readers. Following an old tradition of SF, Bova's writing is highly approachable, making TITAN the kind of story that will appeal to the young adult reader as well as to the veteran SF buff.

    Three Stars

    Reviewed 4/30/06

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