Audiobook Review: Mars by Ben Bova

17 03 2011

Mars by Ben Bova (Part of the Grand Tour Series)

Read by Stefan Rudnicki

Blackstone Audio

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: A well developed Hard Science Fiction novel well written, with excellent narration.

Grade: B+

First off, I am not a scientist. Not in the least bit. But, I enjoy sciency things. One thing that has always fascinated me is space exploration. In fact, I always enjoyed visiting the Air and Space museum, and taking its Grand Tour. Now I discovered that Ben Bova, an author who I have heard a lot about but never read, created a loose series of novels called The Grand Tour which documents the exploration of our solar system. Interested in the tour, of course, I decided to check it out. My first concern though was where to start. I researched it, and found a bunch of suggestions, then threw them all out and decided just to start with Mars, which wasn’t the first story chronologically, but for some reason it seemed a natural starting place. So, I began to listen to Mars, with a bit of trepidation. You see, I haven’t always done well with Hard Science Fiction novels. Often they can be dry, full of lifeless characters, endless supposition and used more as a bully pulpit for whatever view the author deemed it necessary to espouse. Often times the main character is just an idealized version of the author, just better looking and lucky with the ladies. This is what I feared when I began Mars.

I think for Hard Science Fiction to truly work, the science needs to become almost a character. In Mars, Ben Bova does an excellent job with this. Although seen through multiple disciplines, the scientific exploration of the unforgiving Mars planet, indeed became another character of the novel. Yet, Bova didn’t stop there he also allowed us to see the politics of science as the true antagonist of the story. There wasn’t a truly evil character hell-bent on stopping the Mars program, but a system of political manipulation, whether for good or evil, that causes problems for the crew. Bova also did an excellent job developing the human characters of the story. Through nonlinear storytelling we saw a glimpse of the character, and then saw how they became what they were. I thought the main character, Jamie Waterman, was excellent as a POV character, although personally at times he came off as petulant and self focused, which as a scientist is probably accurate, but as a main character in a novel, can be a bit annoying at times. Altogether, the novel offered some thrilling moments, along with some intriguing science, a brutal, yet beautiful landscape, and characters you could cheer for.

If you really want your Hard Science Fiction novel to work as an audiobook, there is no better narrator than Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki has a deep, sultry voice. Typically, I prefer lighter, crisper voices as narrators, but Rudnicki does such a good job, not with just the narration, but creating believable well voiced characters, that he is easily an exception for me. Rudnicki seems to understand the material he is dealing with, and it comes out in his reading. The rhythms when he reads works so well, that even the long bits of exposition that you find  in novels such as these becomes almost a scientific poetry. While I need to take my Hard Science Fiction in sporadic doses, I look forward to listening to more of the Grand Tour series, with excellent guides in Bova and Rudnicki.

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