It was announced yesterday that science fiction author and editor, Ben Bova, passed away on 29 November due to complications arising from a Covid-19 infection. This is truly grievous news.
Ben Bova published his first novel in 1959, The Star Conquerors, but I did not discover him until 1978 when I happened across his novel The Dueling Machine in my school library. In this novel, The Dueling Machine has been invented as a way to settle disputes. The two parties can inhabit any world of their choosing and following a set of rules proceed to duel until there is a victor. The duels are imaginary until someone finds a way to kill for real with the machine. The story then follows a young Star Watchman as he proceeds to unravel the mystery behind these killings. Later, in the 80s when I started reading cyberpunk novels like William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Bruce Sterling’s Schismatrix I couldn’t help but make comparisons to my reading of The Dueling Machine. Yet for my nine-year-old self it was heady stuff and I’ve been a fan of Bova’s ever since.
Bova also had the distinction of taking over as editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact from John W. Campbell, Jr. after his death in 1971. He continued as editor until 1978 during which time he proceeded to win no less than six Hugo awards as editor. I was too young to appreciate his work as editor at this time directly, but his influence during those years certainly had an effect on the future of science fiction as a genre.
In the 1980s, Ben Bova began the series’ Voyagers, about humanities first contact with aliens, and Orion, about an eternal hero set in many historical and mythical contexts. In 1992, he published Mars, the first novel that was to become his Grand Tour series of our solar system. Bova used hard science fiction to highlight and elevate each of the planets in our solar system. The series grew to twenty-two books, the latest of which is Uranus. The Grand Tour series has since been copied and emulated, but never duplicated either in scope or quality.
Bova was one of those authors I grew up with and regard as part of the old guard of science fiction. Whenever I think of Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, Pohl or others of that era, Bova is intertwined. He wrote well imagined and entertaining stories in a style that was uniquely his own. Bova’s writing about our solar system felt as if he’d been to the planets, moons, and asteroids and wasn’t so much telling a story, but reporting what he saw and felt while there.
Mr. Bova’s contribution to science fiction cannot be understated and with his untimely passing we are deprived of a great storyteller. I can only console myself with the fact that I’ve not completed The Grand Tour yet and can look forward to sharing some time with Mr. Bova through these books still. Ben Bova will be missed, I fear, for many years to come.