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Leviathans Of Jupiter by Ben Bova

1/04/2011. Contributed by David A. Hardy

Buy Leviathans Of Jupiter in the USA - or Buy Leviathans Of Jupiter in the UK

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pub: TOR/Forge. 477 page small hardback. Price: $24.99 (US), $28.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1788-9.

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I should point out here that while it is perhaps not essential to have read Ben Bova’s other ‘Solar System’ novels and in particular ‘Jupiter’ (2001), this book does involve many of the same characters and settings and is in effect a sequel. As SF, it’s pretty old-school – I’ve even seen it described as ‘young-adult’ – and certainly the plotlines and characters do seem pretty familiar…

‘Leviathan’ is our name for the species of massive kilometres across whale-like creatures who live in the ocean which Bova postulates, thousands of kilometres below Jupiter’s colourful cloud belts and known to themselves as ‘the Kin’. The name Leviathan is also the name of the individual who takes a special interest in the human craft, which it calls ‘the alien’, that invades its territory. It does so largely because in the previous volume a manned human vehicle saved him from an attack by a shoal of ‘darters’ – predators which the humans call sharks – and in return, he lifted the human craft which had sunk dangerously deep, enabling it to return to a safer environment. As a reward, the vehicle emitted a jet of super-heated steam and scalded the leviathan. This scenario is repeated, with variations, in the book under review, but this time some sort of communication is achieved between the two species. This is rendered difficult because the leviathans communicate via light displays along their massive flanks.

Leading the cast of characters is scientist Grant Archer, now director of the research station Gold, in orbit round Jupiter. His only interest is in proving that the life-forms on Jupiter are intelligent. Decades of unmanned probes have failed to do so and many have been lost, so he has decided that only a manned submersible can achieve this. If he succeeds, one of his rewards could be to be appointed Chairman of the International Astronautical Authority (IAA); though since this would mean returning to Earth, he actually doesn’t want this honour. The archetypal villain of this piece, diminutive but powerful and wealthy Katherine Westfall, who is also a member of the IAA’s governing council, doesn’t know this and is determined to do anything she can to ensure that she becomes Top Dog. She has already infected one of its crew, the young and beautiful Deidre, with genetically-engineered rabies in order to control and use her as a spy and is even willing to destroy the Faraday probe and its crew of four by using nanomachines, banned on Earth by the New Morality. By doing so, she hopes to discredit Archer, proving that manned missions are too dangerous and that his own ambition has murdered his crew.

The other members of the crew are Dorn, who is half-cyborg and has a violent past which he’s trying to conceal and forget; engineer Max Yeager, a leering would-be but harmless Casanova who designed the submersible; and Andy Corvus, a young scientist whose main passion, like Archer’s, is to communicate with the leviathans and prove them intelligent. He also fancies the pants off Deirdre, but is too callow and shy to do anything about it. It has to be said that Bova is not at his best when trying to write romantic scenes, but fortunately these are brief! The science, though, keeps within the bounds of plausibility and he tips his hat to Arthur by naming another of Jupiter’s indigenous species ‘Clarke’s Medusas’.

As you may have gathered, this novel tends to be predictable, but if you are a fan of Bova’s work you will find enough here to interest and entertain you. Enough loose ends are also left (eg Katherine Westfall’s avowed revenge on humiliations she has suffered) to suggest that we have not heard the last of this saga.

David A. Hardy

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This book has 15 votes in the sci-fi charts

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