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Titan: Planet Novel #5 (The Grand Tour) by Ben Bova
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0765304139
Date: 21 February, 2006 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Titan picks up more or less where Saturn left off. Malcolm Eberly is still chief administrator of Goddard Colony, ten thousand scientists and political undesirables shipped off from Earth to study Saturn and its Moons. Holly Lane is now the head of Human Resources, a considerable improvement over being dead and frozen at the series start. She now has a second chance at life thanks to her sister Pancho, whom followers of this series will recognize as the scrappy pilot who rose to the head of Astro Corp, the biggest space firm in the Solar System. In the last book she grew out of an infatuation with Eberly, and the two graduate here from master and thrall to equal players in the same game, though it takes Eberly a while to realize it.

The rest of the cast is back too, including Pancho, who's stopped by to see her sister, bored by running a corporation and looking for a scrap to get into. Manuel Gaeta and Chris Cardenas are sorting out the romantic stresses between a man who lives on adrenaline and a woman who's blood is full of nanomachines, and Holly is trying to get something started with the tanker pilot they picked up in the last novel...but he's conflicted about life so far from Earth. Bova has set up a cauldron of emotional conflicts for his characters, which make his stories very un-Clement like, though unfortunately his strengths lie in the space stuff, descriptions of the planet's surface and the drama of spacewalks though the rings of Saturn.

The colony is facing political and economic pressures too. There's a zero population growth mandate in effect that's trying the patience of a generation ready to create the next, and before they can allow more colonists to show up, they need a way to support them. The best plan looks to be water mining the rings of Saturn, made up of ice crystals, but there are complications there, including the possibility that the rings are home to microscopic life forms.

The good news about Titan is that it fulfills my hope that the author's previous story with this cast would set the stage for something more than just religious and political upheaval in a space habitat. We get some of that, at least on the political side, but it's well balanced by science and adventure. All in all, I found Titan quite satisfying in a Hal Clement sort of way.

Indeed there are a number of elements that would have felt at home in Clement's Mission of Gravity, where scientists on a space station monitored the progress of explorers (though alien then) to recover a probe that had landed and fallen silent. Here though, the probe, a cybernetic tank like affair, seems to be working just fine, though for some reason it's not talking to the scientists in the colony and there are no bugs on the surface to enlist in getting it fixed. Well, no useful bugs anyway. If they're going to get it fixed, somebody will have to go down there and fix it firsthand.

I liked Titan fairly well, though its not brilliant storytelling. Bova suffers from too much knowledge of the science he's writing about and too little of the passion his characters would like to feel, leaving them accurate but wooden. Besides that, the plots feel surprisingly recycled, from the Mission of Gravity feel to an undeniable echo of Clarke's 2001, moved one planet out. All in all it's a memorable stop on the grand tour, but not the place to join the cruise.

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