How would you react to the discover of intelligent extraterrestrial life?
John Campbell, arguably the best known editor in the history of science fiction, once demanded of his writers, "Write me a story about an organism that thinks as well as a man, but not like a man." Probably the best known successful response to that challenge was Stanley Weinbaum's pseudo-ostrich Tweel in "The Martian Odyssey". It's only my opinion, of course, but I believe that Hal Clement's Mesklinites, the bizarre natives of a world of frozen methane and ammonia crushed with a gravity over 700 times that of earth also completed Campbell's imaginative challenge.
But, that was then and this is now. If John Campbell were still alive, I'm sure he would agree that Leviathan, Ben Bova's sentient colossus swimming the storm tossed globe-girdling oceans of Jupiter, a planet so massive that it is within an ace of self-igniting into a star, would also qualify as a winner in his alien life-form fiction sweepstakes.
As part of the continuing "Grand Tour of the Universe" series, "Jupiter" is certainly high falutin', rootin' tootin' space opera replete with all the high-tech gadgets, personalities, heroism and skulduggery that one would expect of any self-respecting member of this venerable sci-fi sub-genre. The basic plot idea is simple. It's the story of mankind's establishment of an experimental space station orbiting Jupiter, the development of research programs investigating Jupiter's large moons - Io, Ganymede, Europa, Callisto - and, ultimately, the first tentative exploration of the amorphous surface of Jupiter, the discovery of Jovian lifeforms and the realization that at least one of these species is sentient, intelligent and capable of communication. Bova has transformed a very basic scientific idea into an exciting plot-line with plenty of edge of the seat moments and lots of imaginative science that isn't entirely off the radar screen of credibility.
But, for me, what really pulls "Jupiter" into the 5-star range is Bova's portrayal of the ultra-right wing religious opposition to this basic scientific research and the philosophical discussion of humanity's conflicted reaction to, first, the possibility and, finally, the reality of sentient extra-terrestrial life.
Bova's "Grand Tour of the Universe" series is a continuing joy. Naturally, with such an extended series, some of the novels are much better or much worse than their siblings. "Mercury", for example, was much more soap opera than space opera. But "Jupiter" definitely fired on all cylinders and was an all out success. Highly recommended.
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