Voyagers, Ben Bova (TOR, 1981 {Blackstone Audio, Narrators: Stefan Rudnicki})

(Science Fiction, Hard Science Fiction, Alien Contact)

Grade: Ε — (Epsilon) Readable in genre, but you could probably do better.  

In brief:

Voyagers by Ben Bova is an alien contact book that serves as both volume one in the Voyagers series, and as a stand-alone(ish) novel. Set in the 1980’s, and somewhat dated by its politics and technology, it is a first contact novel that focuses on the personal and political wrangling that occurs when an alien object is detected heading towards Earth.  Though it had great potential, the somewhat two dimensional aspects of the characters, and the blatantly sexist depiction of one in particular, diminished my enjoyment of what otherwise could have been a superb book.

Setting:

Earth in the early-to-mid 1980’s.  Mostly the United States, but with scenes in the USSR and elsewhere.

In Depth:

Voyagers by Ben Bova really had great potential, and it is a pity that this is the first of Ben Bova’s books that I am reviewing, because I remember truly enjoying many of them.  He is a good writer with a vivid imagination.  Unfortunately, this one had flaws that undermined my ability to read it with much pleasure.

Set at the present day at the time of the writing, its basic premise and storyline are fascinating.  It is an alien contact book that is not so much about the aliens, as it is about the personal and political wrangling that occurs when an alien object is discovered coming towards Earth.  The conflicts, particularly those of the academics, are well portrayed, though they devolve somewhat into melodrama as the power hungry University Head of Department grows in influence and lowers in believability. Even so, from my experience, this kind of pathetic power play drama is not that uncommon.

Yet, the book fails to deliver on a number of levels.  First off, let’s just say that the ending is a bit of a disappointment.  I can’t say how as that it will be a spoiler, but in part it is a bit of a cliffhanger, and in part because that cliffhanger’s resolution at the start of second volume is not really all that great.  In short, let’s just say that if you were expecting to see lots of aliens, don’t read this book.  Or the sequel.

More to the point, the way women are portrayed in this book is… well… I hate to use the term misogynistic, but it certainly borders on it.  It’s not just the presence of the horrible, shrewish KGB thug of a wife of the Russian scientist, nor the beautiful sex-object of a graduate student who serves as the principal female lead.  No, it is what they do in the book, particularly the graduate student.

Oh, I understand how an author might want to make an attractive, bright young thing of a romantic female lead in a novel. I even understand how one might want to push the social taboo and have her sleep with the heroic astronaut professor male lead.[1]  There is a point, in this book, however, where she goes from having sex with a man she has a crush on, to having what is really a demeaning sexual relationship with his rival that really just amounts to prostitution.  I mean really.  She’s a hooker for a good recommendation.  Really.  EEEEEEYUUCKKK!!!

What’s more, she’s in no way condemned for this kind of behavior.  It all turns out alright for her and, well, in the end, it is almost implied that this is what women do in order to get ahead; that to be powerful and successful as a woman, this is a totally valid course of actions.  Now, I could be reading into this[2] but I certainly walked away feeling that this was a really grotesque portrayal of professional women.  Had this been countered with any other kind of sympathetic female, this might have been excusable, but it wasn’t so I was left feeling a bit ill.

So, having said all that, this story had great potential and was in many ways less a Science Fiction novel than it was a novel about power and its abuse, but it failed to live up to what it could have been.

It’s readable, has some very good parts, and portrays academic and governmental departmental politics reasonably well (minus the sex bits… that would just end up in a dismissal these days), but is not on the top of my recommendation list. 

Notes about the Audio Edition:

Blackstone Audio produced an excellent version of this book, very well narrated by Stefan Rudnicki. I will note, however, getting an uncomfortably self conscious feeling when listening (via earphones thank God) to the somewhat graphic and at one point degrading sex scenes while in a public place.  That, however, can only go to credit the narrator’s skill.


[1] Even though, for me, this totally alienated me from respecting either character, particularly the professor.  This is a totally inappropriate behavior that is exploitive and demeaning in a professor.  Yet, the circumstances do not have her doing this for a grade, and are almost, but not quite, excusable. Well, they would be had the scene not been such a male power trip, but considering what comes later…

[2] After all, I’ve also read the sequel where this is much more clearly spelled out. That’s another story though…

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Alien Object, Chronicle, Hard SciFi, Part of A Series but can be Read without reading previous volumes, Political Drama, Present Day Sci Fi, Science Fiction, Series, Space Exploration, Stand Alone Novel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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