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Jupiter by Ben Bova
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312872175
Date: December 2000 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

When Grant Archer, an astrophysicist from a good Christian family, is sent to a research station in orbit around Jupiter to spy on the scientists, it is not the adventure he was hoping for. He wanted to go to the farside of the moon and study the creation of the universe with frequent trips back to Earth and his new bride, not infiltrate a bunch of scientists searching for god-only-knows-what in the high-pressure seas of the giant world.

Image of Jupiter's UK Cover

The rulers of Earth, various factions of religious fundamentalist sects known as the New Morality, don't want certain types of research conducted, research like SETI or anything else that would challenge man's place in the universe. Although they have an agreement to fund the Jovian station as part of an atmosphere-mining operation that gathers precious fuel for Earth's fusion power, they don't like the rumors that are getting back to them about what the focus of that research is and they'll do anything they have to to stop it.

Jupiter is a tremendous novel, scoring direct hits on a number of levels. It is a fast-paced piece of hard SF, full of a broad spectrum of players whose interplay generates a compelling storyline. Tension is provided by the religious-political struggle between the scientific administration on the station, searching for intelligent life in the superheated ocean layer of the Jovian atmosphere, and the New Moralists who control Earth, trying to maintain man's solitary position as God's chosen and their power.

Ben Bova has written a novel to challenge and inspire followers of all faiths. Do zealots believe in their faiths? Bova's story ultimately leads you to ask if the faith of the fanatic isn't actually the weaker kind, while a more open-minded approach has resilience. Grant Archer is the variety of scientist that causes so much trouble to "true believers". His faith is personal, and the exploration of the universe serves to expand his understanding and appreciation of his creator.

Grant had married his college sweetheart just before going on the four-year mission at the behest of the New Morality council. Rather than the posting on the far side of the moon where he could study the birth of stars, he is exiled to Jupiter to uncover scientific sedition.

When Grant arrives at the Jupiter station, he is confronted by the feared and forbidding Dr. Wo, the director of the research station, a man driven by his desire to find life on Jupiter. Wo had commanded a crewed mission to the giant world that ended in near disaster, killing crew members, crippling him and leaving psychic scars on the survivors. But he's determined to go back to pursue the faint signs that might be intelligent life, the discovery of which would loosen the grip of New Morality. For all these reasons he suspects Grant of being exactly what he is, a New Morality spy, but as the story unfolds Grant struggles with his own beliefs about science and religion. He also meets Lane O'Hara, the station's marine biologist, and gets to struggle with his beliefs about fidelity as well.

Space station stories are about an ensemble cast, but they need a mission to drive them. Research works just as well as warfare for SF, especially since it often carries the power to destabilize the status quo.

Humanism, religious fundamentalism, science, spirituality and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. That's a lot to cover in one book, but not only does Ben Bova accomplish it, he combines an engaging philosophical dialog with adventure and a cast that really holds your attention. Not only does the conflict between his role as a scientist and his mission as a spy force him to examine his beliefs, but he's a newlywed stuck half a solar system away from his bride for a four-year stretch, and he finds himself attracted to Lane, the biologist who works with the aquaculture that feds the station and is continuing dolphin research as part of the clandestine SETI project. He develops an even closer relationship with Sheena, an augmented gorilla, when Dr. Wo orders him to spend time with her to continue her development. What with one thing and another, Grant has his hands full.

Even though I'm a humanist without a strong specific faith, and Bova's story and characters appeal to me, I smell a hint of condescension. I don't know if mankind is inherently cooperative enough to survive without a set of rules proscribing right and wrong.

Religious fundamentalism seems to have a lot of overwhelming negatives, not the least of which being the subjugation of women. So I'm not lobbying for anything like that, but without moral structure, even though I think it is ultimately arbitrary, I don't have faith in either the nobility of man or the right to bear arms to keep us off each other's throats.

What I can't quite figure out is whether the author is promoting the combination of religion and scientific inquiry because he believes it can illuminate a glorious spirituality or because he believes it will ultimately erode the remaining religious. By forcing the faithful to deny dogmatism, is he hoping that they will fall prey to empiricism and humanism? (See the afterword.)

I'm certainly recommending Jupiter, both for the science adventure and the spiritual conflict. A few other books you might read afterward are Poul Anderson's Three Worlds to Conquer and Mary Russell's The Sparrow.

Afterword: Reading Jupiter left me with a few questions that I wondered about, so I went to the author and asked. The author was gracious enough to provide me with his comments.

SFRevu: Is there really a water ocean at some level on Jupiter?

Ben Bova: Back in the 1950s, when I first began to get interested about the planet Jupiter, it seemed to me that the planet's tremendous gravitational force would squeeze its atmospheric gases into liquids, below the clouds that cloak the planet. Current planetary physical theory agrees that there is probably a layer of liquid water below the clouds, pretty much as I've described it. See THE NASA ATLAS OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM if you're interested in more detail.

SFRevu: I know liquid-filled flight suits have been experimented with for dealing with g forces, and Joe Haldeman used something along those lines in The Forever War, but in Jupiter is the first time I've seen it suggested for high-gravity planets. Would it really work?

Ben: Benthic fishes live quite comfortably at the huge pressures of the deep oceans on Earth because their internal pressure is equal to the pressure outside their skins. It occurred to me that humans might be able to face the high pressures of the Jovian ocean if they could be immersed in a high-pressure liquid and breathe perfluorocarbon (which has been done on an experimental basis). I certainly fudged the details by "designing" a ship that is built of shells within shells, so the humans don't have to face the exact pressure of the ocean outside the outermost shell of their ship.

SFRevu: Do you think that religion and free scientific inquiry are compatible, or does the latter erode the former and does knowledge of the universe ultimately cause the death of faith?

Ben: I think religion and free scientific inquiry are certainly compatible, but -- as I tried to point out in Jupiter -- when religion gains control of the political apparatus, then the struggle is over power, not inquiry or faith. As we learn more about the universe Out There and within our own bodies, religious ideas will change, but I doubt that they will disappear altogether.

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