New Earth by Ben Bova. (SF novel, 2013).
I felt in the mood for a bit of ‘hard science’ via space exploration. Considering the author, this looked like a good bet. After all, Bova is a true veteran (a respected writer/editor in the field with 6 Hugo Awards to his credit). I’ve enjoyed his work consistently (and on occasion loved his very best). Alas, this isn’t even close to his best. He’s too much of pro to produce something totally unreadable, but still….
A dozen allegedly handpicked experts are sent off in cryogenic sleep for an 80-year voyage to explore a newly discovered, impossibly Earth-like planet orbiting Sirius. The moderately near-future Earth that sends them is faced with recurrent Climate Change disasters and upon waking they learn it’s gotten so bad while they were in suspended animation that planned backup missions have been cancelled–so these few are on their own.
Our dozen ‘heroes’ almost immediately set to arguing (as they do inconclusively and repetitively, not to mention often childishly) about various aspects of their mission.
Down on “New Earth,” they encounter a tiny native population of highly developed aliens that seem to be (gasp) HUMAN. Like the planet they call home, these folks have no business even existing. But it seems none of our 12 space travelers have read any fiction by (oh, for example) Mr. Bova or most any other SF writers, or even watched enough on TV or film to quickly recognize (as your humble reviewer did) that the planet was Constructed (probably by some super-advanced aliens) and the locals were similarly bio-engineered from DNA samples obtained long ago from “old” Earth.
And as for these very human aliens: We only really get to know 2 (the local head of government and the babe who quickly becomes the love interest of the exploration team’s nominal leader). Their culture is developed only thinly.
When the various big ‘secrets’ are fully revealed–with looming cosmic disaster threatening–solutions are too clearly and easily offered. Everybody suddenly makes nice (not that some haven’t been doing so anyway, in between the often quite silly arguments). Meanwhile, back in our star system, things also come together too easily, neatly and (gag) cutely.
There are, to be fair, some interesting passages here–much of the big science/technology is pretty intriguing, if never wildly original. (The very brief single chapter illustrating the tragic death of a less-advanced alien species is actually moving and for my money the most original bit in the whole book.) But overall: This one feels old-fashioned (not in a good way) and maybe even just a little slapdash. Bova has done much better in the past, and the multiple themes addressed here have also been handled far more compellingly by others.
If you’re a huge Bova fan, you may enjoy this somewhat–but even so, I think most will be disappointed. I was–SIGH.