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Ben Bova

Ben Bova

     Scientist / Author

LibertyCon 22 Author Guest of Honor (2009)

US writer and editor who worked as technical editor for Project Vanguard 1956-1958, and science writer for Avco Everett Research Laboratory 1960-1971, before being appointed editor of Analog following the death of John W Campbell Jr in 1971. The magazine had become creatively moribund - although it remained commercially healthy - during the last decade of so of Campbell's editorship. Bova maintained the magazine's orientation towards technophilic Hard SF but considerably broadened its horizons. In doing so he alienated some readers, who shared Campbell's puritanism - such stories as "The Gold at the Starbow's End" (March 1972 Analog) by Frederik Pohl and "Hero" (June 1972 Analog) by Joe W Haldeman, inoffensive though they might seem in the outside world, brought strong protests - but he revitalized the magazine, perhaps most notably with the 1972-1974 Haldeman sequence that began with "Hero" and became The Forever War (June 1972-January 1975 Analog; fixup 1974). In recognition of this, he received the Hugo for Best Editor every year 1973-1977; although he missed out in 1978 he gained it again in 1979 for his work during 1978, his final year as editor. Bova also involved the magazine's name in other activities, producing Analog Annual (anth 1976) - an original anthology intended as a thirteenth issue of the magazine - initiating a series of records and inaugurating a book-publishing programme. In 1978-1982 he was editor of Omni. From both journals he extracted several anthologies (see Checklist below). He served as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America 1990-1992.

Bova was active as a writer for many years before his stint at Analog, his first published sf being Young Adult novel, The Star Conquerors (1959), which began the Watchmen sequence also comprising Star Watchman (1964) and The Dueling Machine (May 1963 Analog with Myron R Lewis; exp 1969), the latter two assembled as Watchmen (omni 1994). He continued to concentrate on this market until THX 1138 * (1971), based on the George Lucas screenplay (> THX 1138). His next sequence, the Exiles series - Exiled from Earth (January-February 1971 Galaxy; 1971), Flight of Exiles (1972) and End of Exile (1975), all three being assembled as The Exiles Trilogy (omni 1980) - is also children's sf. Considerable work in shorter forms followed over the next decades, the best of it being assembled as Forward in Time (coll 1973), Viewpoint (coll 1977), Maxwell's Demons (coll 1979), Escape Plus (coll 1984), The Astral Mirror (coll 1985), partly nonfiction, Prometheans (coll 1986), Battle Station (coll 1987) and Twice Seven: Stories (coll 1998). Other early novels of interest include The Starcrossed (1975), a humorous example of Recursive SF whose protagonist is a thinly disguised Harlan Ellison (> The Starlost), The Multiple Man (1976), a suspense-thriller built on the concept of Clones, and Privateers (1985), which - along with its sequel, Empire Builders (1993) - succumbs to an assumption common to US hard sf: that governments will sooner or later fail to conquer space, and that individual entrepreneurs (vast multinational corporations exercising Japanese foresight [in the twenty-first century, Chinese foresight] need not apply) will take up the slack.

Bova's best-known stories, those about Chet Kinsman, an astronaut during the latter years of the twentieth century, were assimilated into the Kinsman Saga, whose internal ordering is Kinsman (fixup 1979) and Millennium (1976), the two volumes being assembled as The Kinsman Saga (omni 1987); Millennium, his best early novel (and perhaps his best altogether), is a tale of power-Politics in the face of impending nuclear Holocaust as the century ends. Colony (1978), set in a Lagrange-5 habitat in the same universe, carries the story - and humanity - further towards the stars, embodying the outward-looking stance Bova has held throughout his writing life, along with an ever-ready cynicism about government initiatives of any sort. More tellingly, the Voyagers sequence - Voyagers (1981), Voyagers II: The Alien Within (1982) and Voyagers III: Star Brothers (1990) - treats humanity's expansion within a framework of Space-Opera romance, with technology-dispensing Aliens establishing First Contact with emergent humans, star-crossed lovers, biochips and a great deal more. The Orion sequence - Orion (1984), Vengeance of Orion (1988), Orion in the Dying Time (1990), Orion and the Conqueror (1994) and Orion Among the Stars (May-August 1995 Analog; 1995) - puts into fantasy idiom a similar expansive message. Early novels and sequences like this, and the more recent Tales of the Grand Tour (see below), unfailingly advocate a private-enterprise based movement of humanity toward the stars; on this subject, Bova is consistently eloquent.

The more recent Triumph (1993), based on the somewhat precarious premise that Winston Churchill poisons Stalin in 1943 with a radioactive ceremonial sword, is an Alternate History tale which posits a more favourable outcome to World War Two. Technothrillers like Death Dream (1993) are stiff with earnest exposition of material not perhaps suitable for a thriller format or audience; Bova's most sustained and interesting work continues to focus on relatively Near Future scenarios of human frustration/expansion into space. The best instalments in the loosely-structured Tales of the Grand Tour (for books included in this retroactive rubric, see Checklist below) are those, like Mars (1992) (> Mars), which describe with lovingly detailed verisimilitude various crunch points in the crusade outward; in this case, he focuses on the first manned flight to that planet. The series novel Titan (2006) won a John W Campbell Memorial Award. Tales of the Grand Tour (coll 2004) offers a guide to the sequence, which is described by Bova with sufficient flexibility to be associated even with the Kinsman Saga, a series so outpaced by history that it reads as though set in an alternate universe (> Alternate History). The straightforwardness of Bova's agenda for humanity may mark him as a figure from an earlier era; but the arguments he laces into sometimes overloaded storylines are arguments it is important, perhaps absolutely vital, to make. [JC/MJE]

(From Mr. Bova's page at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction)