February 2004
2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Tales of the Grand Tour by Ben Bova
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0765307227 PubDate: 01/05/04
Review by Ernest Lilley

384 pgs. List price $ 24.95
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Ben Bova Interview (SFRevu 05/2002)

1) EMPIRE BUILDERS (Tor Books, 1993)
2) MARS (Bantam Books, 1992)
3) MOONRISE (Avon Books, 1996) (see review)
MOONWAR (Avon Books, 1998) (see review)
5) RETURN TO MARS (Avon Books, 1999)
6) JUPITER (Tor Books, 2001)
(see review)
7) THE PRECIPICE (Tor Books, 2001) (see review)
8) THE ROCK RATS (Tor Books, 2002) (see review)
9) SATURN (Tor Books, 2003)
(see review)
10) THE SILENT WAR (Tor Books, 2004) Scheduled for May 1st publication.
VENUS (Tor Books, 2000)

For the past decade, Ben Bova has been writing stories about the Grand Tour: humanities expansion into the solar system. He's used the results of the latest planetary probes to craft the most realistic environments possible, and I don't think there's another SF author alive with a better grasp of planetary science, nor one that can match Bova's storytelling experience, so it's no surprise that this is one collection of tales worth telling.

Every story needs a conflict, and for the most part that need has been served by the insatiable greed of multi-zillionare Martin Humphries on the one hand, who pretty much wants to own the universe, and a cast of freedom loving folks like Dan Randolph, Pancho Lane, and Lars Fuchs who want to open space up for all mankind. Governments don't seem to play into this a lot, probably because the Earth has gone over the edge of environmental disaster (The Precipice) due to greenhouse warming, and its just a fragmented mess of folks hanging on.

There are plenty of loose ends to tie up, or just good stories worth revisiting, in a series of this size, so it shouldn't have been too hard for the author to put together this collection of stories to flesh out some of the sparser parts. Even so, several of the entries in Tales of the Grand Tour are excerpts from novels, which work well either as standalone tales or as enticements to read the full work.

Some of the stories bring characters I didn't associate with the "Grand Tour" into contact with those I did. The first story in the collection, "Sam and the Flying Dutchman", for instance pairs Bova's Samm Gunn character who has appeared in numerous short stories, with characters from The Precipice and The Rock Rats and adds some dimension to the tragedy that drives the geologist turned asteroid pirate, Lars Fuchs. In the last story, "Sepulcher", he goes so far as to tweak the character names to make it fit the series, as he explains in a preface, because it became clear in retrospect that the evil zillionaire was an early manifestation of his Martin Humphries character. He even includes a story from another series altogether, part of the Kinsman saga, because it has the same feel as the Grand Tour series. I'm certainly not complaining, as "Fifteen Miles" is an example of the best of lunar survival fiction.

We get a look at just how bad things are back on Earth in "Greenhouse Chill", where the author congratulates himself for anticipating the coming of an ice age as the result of greenhouse warming, and a look at what the moon might offer to an aging population in "The Man Who Hated Gravity". Bova holds out hope for space as a popular initiative if only it could be packaged so that enough people could feel the adventure in "Appointment in Sinai" and what it means to be a daredevil stuntman when all the Solar System is your playground in "High Jump".

All in all there are a dozen stories and each of them makes you wonder what happens next. Fortunately, what happens next is contained in the novels of the Grand Tour and you can go out and read (or re-read) them. The tour isn't over yet either, and you can look forward to The Silent War coming out this May.

2004 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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