Wednesday, August 17, 2005


I started reading Ben Bova's Mercury a few days ago. I'm only a few chapters into the book, but I have to say that were it not for the fact that this book was written by Ben Bova, I would probably have put it down by now. Bova is one of the best "hard" science fiction writers around, so I know it will get better, but so far, I'm struggling to maintain an interest in the story at all. Bova uses third person omniscient point of view, so he jumps in and out of all of the characters' heads throughout the story. The result of that is that I don't really feel a connection to any of the characters. None of them are particularly nice people, and so far, I'm not finding a lot of emotional depth to the characters, etiher. I'm not even totally sure who the protagonist is supposed to be (there are two candidates so far). Oddly enough, he seems to breaking all of the guidelines (I won't call them rules) we've been discussing here for some time. That would be okay if the story worked because of (or in spite of) these issues -- but so far, it doesn't. Bova seems to rely on vivid descriptions of the landscape to hold our interest (much as Kim Stanley Robinson did in his Mars trilogy), but in the case of Mercury, I'm not sure we know enough about the planet to make it seem real. There is a huge amount of exposition and very little dialogue so far. The characters seem to talk to themselves a lot (actually, it's the narrator talking about them), which starts to get a bit old after a while. I'd like to see some interaction between the characters! Let me learn about them through seeing them in action, not through the author's telling me about them (even if I'm being told what they are thinking). These are almost rookie mistakes

Bova is no rookie, however. He was editor of Analog for a long time and has published dozens of novels. This novel is part of a long-running series in which Bova is writing a story about each planet. While I've read the first couple, I haven't been keeping up with the series (which is indicative in its own right). Bova does need these stories to stand on their own, so I realize that he's got a lot of background material to present to get us up to speed -- there's already been two dream sequences in the first five chapters. I think I could have lived without the background info, though, and had it introduced to me later. Right now, the book is almost painful to read.

I feel as though I have no right to criticize one of the grand old men of science fiction, but this book reads like a first novel. I'd encourage you to grab a copy and read it critically. I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts!

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