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Apes and Angels (Star Quest Trilogy) by Ben Bova
Cover Artist: John Harris
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765379528
Date: 22 November 2016 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

The metaphor, Apes and Angels, refers to humans and aliens. In some cases, the intelligence of humans, the Angels, is far superior to the other intelligent life, the Apes. Yet, in other cases, the intelligence of aliens, the Angels, is far superior to humans, the Apes. Apes and Angels, by Ben Bova, is about humans' first contact with alien life.

In Apes and Angels, the research spaceship Odysseus has traveled 200 light years from Earth to save an alien species from a giant gamma energy burst, or death wave, which is emanating from the center of the universe, and will destroy all life in its path. No knowledge of the two previous novels in the series is necessary to understand Apes and Angels, but the novels New Earth and Death Wave include the back story of the death wave, and how the people on Earth learned of it. Both novels are wonderful and worth the read.

A few themes intertwine to make the story of Apes and Angels. The first is the basic plot. A group of scientists and crew are aboard the starship Odysseus and have just arrived at the Mithra solar system. They have been in cryonic sleep for the 200-year journey. After their five years at the Mithra system and their ride home to Earth, they know the Earth to which they will return will not be the same home that they left. All are on Odysseus for the adventure, the scientific curiosity, and, in many cases, to sort out their own thoughts.

The Mithra system consists of three primary planets: Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. Beta and Gamma are in long elliptical orbits, and Gamma has the intelligent life that the humans will save from the death wave. The Gammans are pre-industrial, but intelligent. In this case, the Gammans are the Apes and the Humans are the Angels. The scientists aboard Odysseus are there to study the Gammans and to install the energy shield to protect the planet from the death wave. The technology for the shield was given to the humans on Earth by aliens called the Predecessors, who were ancient intelligent machines. In that case, the humans were the Apes and the Predecessors were the Angels.

Over the course of Apes and Angels, the scientists study the Gammans, learn part of their language, and learn about the physical characteristics of the Gammans and their planet. The scientists have philosophical debates on whether to bring a Gamman aboard Odysseus and dissect it and how, and whether or not, to make first contact.

The second theme is the politics that go on among the ship's crew. Politics are inevitable, even among humans in the future who are traveling in space. Very early in the novel, the lead scientist Adrian Kosoff invites a young biologist named Felicia Portman on a dinner date. Felicia is obviously uncomfortable, and her friend and a fellow young scientist, Brad MacDaniels, comes to her rescue saying that he had already invited Felicia to dinner. Kosoff is angry at Brad for this, and banishes Brad to a shuttlecraft to orbit and study the planet Alpha. This backfires in many ways. Brad is able to study the sea creatures that live in Alpha's oceans and discovers they have a language, and that they are a much more advanced life form than previously thought, and Brad becomes a hero. Brad, as a junior scientist, ends up driving many of the political battles between Kosoff and the various department heads as they figure out how to perform their mission effectively.

The third theme is the character Brad MacDaniels, and all the issues and actions that surround him. Part of the reason that Brad volunteered for the Odysseus was to address the remorse and guilt he feels over the death of his family. Brad's family died in a terrible natural disaster, and he feels terrific guilt that he was unable to help them. Brad's a rebel, and his intelligence and lack of fear to speak his mind have both good and bad consequences. He continually pushes the boundaries of his authority, and angers Kosoff even more by his assertiveness, especially when Brad is right. Brad helps the mission in the long term, and fortunately, his department head backs him up. Too much more about Brad will spoil the plot, but he is a key player in the events of Apes and Angels.

I enjoy reading techno SF, and I love to try and understand the advanced technology present on the Odysseus. Brad is a very interesting character to me. Brad's a rebel and I respect that. I am an engineer and, like Brad, I am always the person that raises the contrary argument in the workplace. The issues need to be addressed, and I am not afraid to bring them up. In the long term, it makes our engineering decisions better. I think, however, that Brad pushes the envelope too far. I am not involved in any decisions as grand as making first contact with an alien species, but I would exercise more caution in my envelope pushing than Brad does when the stakes are so high.

Overall, I enjoyed Apes and Angels. I love the expression as a metaphor, and I think of it often when I compare things every day. The end of the novel leaves plenty of room for a follow-on novel, and I am looking forward to it.

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