Tentatively, Convenience's Reviews > New Earth

New Earth by Ben Bova
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did not like it
bookshelves: sf

review of
Ben Bova's New Earth
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - December 27, 2015

This is the 1st bk by Bova I've read. Despite that, his is not a new name to me. The cover of New Earth proudly proclaims him a "Six-time Winner of the Hugo Award". Since I generally have enjoyed & respected the work of Hugo & Nebula award winners that boded (s)well.

HOWEVER, I found this completely mediocre. I'll probably read something else by him eventually to give him a 2nd chance but I'm definitely nor in any hurry b/c there are so many other writers whose writing is higher priority for me.

On p 12, Global Warming is mentioned: "Coastlines around the world were no longer recognizable: the sea was inexorably conquering the land. / "This wasn't supposed to happen," Chiang insisted, his voice a painful rasp. "We've stopped burning fossil fuels. We've removed gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.""

I don't have much of an opinion about Global Warming. When I was a kid, say 55 yrs ago, it seems to me that every Xmas had 3 ft or snow for the kids to play in in the Baltimore area where I lived. Today, 2 days after Xmas, it's 62ºF outside here in PGH & I wore my Hawaiian necklace to brunch this morning where I was told that this Xmas was the warmest on record in N America or some such. It seems to me that the sheer quantity of microwaves from cellphones wd be enuf to heat up the atmosphere but what do I know? I don't have a PHD from some overpriced gateway to the upper classes or nuthin'. At any rate, I've had a slightly bad attitude toward naysayers of Global Warming ever since I read Michael Chrichton's highly objectionable State of Fear (see my review here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15... )

Having Global Warming be a partial theme of the bk is ok but not exactly inspired - esp considering that the bk was published in 2013 when the topic was already rather 'overworked'. By p 17, I was finding the writing to be pretty generic: "He opened his eyes slowly. / His eyelids felt gummy. Slowly he reached up with both hands to knuckle the cobwebs away. My name is Jordan Kell, he told himself. I've been asleep for eighty years." (p 17)

Last night I watched a pritty shitty SF movie called Escape Velocity in wch the psychopathic bad guy is cold-storaged for 15 yrs. One of the only things that I mildly enjoyed about the story was that that 15 yrs was perceived as a long time - that's appropriate in this age of highly elevated pre-planned obsolescence. Just think! Yr iPod might be an embarassment in 15 yrs (if you hadn't already thrown it away b/c it ceased working after the 1st 3).

""Anything metal in your pockets?" Yamaguchi asked.

"Jordan pulled the phone from his shirt pocket and handed it to the physician, who placed it on her desk. Funny, he thought. This instrument links me with the ship's communication system, it's a computer, a camera, a personal entertainment system, and a lot more, yet we still call it nothing more than a phone. The old name hangs on, despite all its varied functions." - p 38

I did find the spin on who got picked to go on the outer space mission somewhat interesting:

"Brandon turned away slightly, but he answered, "It's true, isn't it? None of us are the best and brightest of their professions, are we? I'm certainly not. There are a dozen planetary astronomers who are better than I: better reputations, recognized leaders in the field. I'm just an also-ran."

""But the IAA picked you for this mission! Of all the people in the field they picked you."

""Because I'm expendable," Brandon repeated stubbornly. "Because nobody's going to miss me for a century or two."" - p 43

The things that bothered me about this bk aren't exactly subtle but they might seem so to other people. Take, eg, this passage showing the 'advanced' nature of the civilization that the Earthlings find on another planet: "Not a vehicle in sight, Jordan noticed. Pedestrian traffic only. And genetically engineered animals." (p 167) Advanced? Maybe not from the perspective of the animals who're genetically engineered to be more efficiently enslaved.

So much of what Bova writes about is infused w/ a very 'normal' philosophical perspective that I have to wonder whether all of his bks are like this or whether this one's 'special' in that respect. There's not much vision here, it's sortof let's-take-the-banal-to-another-planet. I'm reminded of Orson Scott Card & Kathryn H. Kidd's Lovelock (see my review here: "LoveLessLock": https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ) wch I described as: "This bk isn't Space Opera, despite its largely taking place off-Earth, it's Soap Opera that isn't selling soap."

Perhaps it's therefore appropriate that the "REVELATIONS" section begins w/ this quote from Knute Rockne: "Most men, when they think they are thinking, are merely rearranging their prejudices." (p 227) Using Rockne, a famous football coach, to provide a quote re thinking & prejudice is an interesting choice given that for people such as myself there might be sd to be a prejudice against the notion of football coaches as very inclined toward thinking - if only b/c of the commonness of head injuries in football.

"During Rockne's 13-year coaching tenure, Notre Dame beat Stanford in the '25 Rose Bowl and put together five unbeaten and untied seasons. Rockne produced 20 first-team All-Americans. His lifetime winning percentage of .881 (105-12-5) still ranks at the top of the list for both college and professional football. Rockne won the last 19 games he coached." - http://www.und.com/trads/rockne.html

Then again, such a quote appeals to me precisely as something that provides an exception to my own stereotyping. After all, I look for exceptions-that-disprove-the-stereotype. Making matters more awkward, the movie version of Rockne's life starred conservative eventually-to-be-president actor Ronald Reagan as one of the football players. So what's up w/ that? Was Rockne full of incisive philosophical observations? If I'd found this bk to be less banal I might be convinced of that but I'm not.

Basically, I found this bk so boring that my interest was somewhat desperately perked by little things like an evocation of Hollow Earth (Planet) theories in a new context:

"Looking almost embarrassed, de Falla said, "The model of the planet's interior that the program draws up is hollow."

"Jordan blurted, "Hollow?"

"De Falla nodded morosely, "It just doesn't make any sense."

""How could a planet be hollow?" Jordan asked.

"Brandon laughed. "Maybe your computer was programmed by one of the Hollow Earth kooks back home." - p 249

In case you're unfamiliar w/ people who discuss the idea of Earth as hollow, you might want to check out this list of 12,400 relevant entries: http://www.ignaciodarnaude.com/ufolog... . I find Hollow Earth theories entertaining & I organized the "Sinnit-Nut Hollow Earth Symposium". For a brief description of that see the April 21,1984 entry here: http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/MereOut... .

Another trivial perk to my interest was this: ""Well," he said, as brightly as he could manage, "perhaps you've run into a new kind of planetary structure. You might become just as famous as that fellow who discovered continental drift." / "Wegener,"" (p 262) & what about the International Stop Continental Drift Society? I was a member of that. Here's a link to a website about its founder: http://www.johncholden.com/about.html .

Somehow, even tho this bk wasn't completely devoid of any originality, it just struck me as so banal that even things that interest me, like nanotechnology, just seemed ho-hum:

"When handed a lemon, make lemonade. The inhabitants of Goddard, permanently exiled by their governments on Earth, worked out their own society. And they worked out a way not merely to survive, but to grow wealthy enough to begin to build new habitats to house their growing population.

"They mined comets for their ices and sold the precious water and other volatile chemicals to the burgeoning human settlements on the Moon, among the rock rats of the Asteroid belt, and the research stations on Mars and in Jupiter orbit. Originally they had started to mine Saturn's brilliant rings, but soon found that the chunks of ice that composed the rings were strewn with nanomachines: millions of virus-sized machines that maintained the rings, kept them from falling apart—and sent signals into deep space." - p 284

Ultimately, what was most 'interesting' to me about New Earth was its very banality:

"Then he remembered an old admonition. H. G. Wells, he recalled. Wells was the one who said that when kindly aliens visit Earth and say they've come to serve Man, we should ask if they intend to serve us baked or friend.

"Nonsense! Jordan scoffed. Xenophobia, pure and simple." - p 291

Why I consider this so banal might not be so obvious to non-readers of SF. Did Wells really say that? I'll assume Bova's correct. Still, the main Wells novel that I can think of that has invaders-from-outer-space is War of the Worlds & there's no subterfuge of apparent kindliness on the invaders' part in that one. It's just that the theme of whether extraterrestrials will be hostile or not is such a basic trope & Bova domesticates it even further. In the end, maybe it's just the writing that seems so unremarkable:

""Friend Jordan," he said, gliding across the polished tiles in his floor-length gown, both hands extended.

"Jordan grasped Adri's hands in his own, once again surprised by the old man's strength.

""Adri, I sincerely hope you are my friend."

"The alien's smile wilted slightly; his pale blue eyes focused directly on Jordan's own.

""We must be friends, Jordan," he said, his normally faint voice taking on some iron. "Nothing can be accomplished if we are not." - p 296

""And you expect us . . . ?"

""To join us in the search for intelligence. To work with us to save as many as possible from destruction."

""I see," Jordan said. "I understand."

""Will you do it?"

"Almost, Jordan smiled. "I'm only one man, sir. I can't speak for the entire human race."" - p 306

The typical criticism of SF is that it's not literary enuf, that while the ideas may be interesting the way they're written about is bland. Bova seems to exemplify this. However, there're plenty of great SF writers who don't. When Bova adds descriptive details that might come out of a romance novel they're so generic that it wd be camp if Bova seemed inclined that way - wch he doesn't:

"Twenty minutes later Jordan entered the dining hall, wearing a fresh pair of light blue slacks and an open-collared white shirt." - p 326

Have you ever watched a cheap SF movie & marveled at the astronauts smoking in their space craft while they lounge on their couch? In other words, laughed at how little the moviemakers bothered to do anything but transplant ordinary life into a shallow SF context?

In a bk I like I'm at least stimulated to do a little research on something that's mentioned that I'm not familiar w/:

"["]The field exploded in the late twentieth century with the discovery of extremophiles, didn't it? When Tommy Gold proposed a deep, hor biosphere of bacteria living miles underground, the biologists laughed at him, didn't they?"

""But evidence proved he was right," Meek admitted. "Eventually."" - pp 346-347

I can just see it now, the tv show adaption: XtremoPHILES!! ""Extremophiles" are organisms with the ability to thrive in extreme environments such as hydrothermal vents. Since they live in “extreme environments” (under high pressure and temperature), they can tell us under which range of conditions life is possible." ( http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/ex... ) Is that like living in BalTimOre?

Finally, New Earth seems to set up the reader for a sequel. I won't be reading it.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
November 14, 2015 – Finished Reading
December 28, 2015 – Shelved
December 28, 2015 – Shelved as: sf

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