The Future Is Now

by Philip K. Jason

SCIENCE FICTION MASTER Ben Bova is a man of many distinctions. He is the author of over 115 titles, both “what if” novels and nonfiction books. These include his well-regarded ‘Grand Tour’ series—including such works as Titan, Moonrise, and Mars Life—which explore the ways in which humans might populate the solar system and the consequences of their expansive enterprise. Mixing adventure, romance, and scientific veracity, Bova’s works insist that readers learn something even while they are enormously entertained.

A recent thriller, The Green Trap, shows Bova’s versatility. A murdered scientist had been working on bacteriological processes that convert water to its component elements, allowing for the possibility of mass-produced hydrogen fuel. Who will control (or undermine) this new technology as the fuel crisis grows and the petroleum industry tries to protect its turf? Industrial espionage, political chicanery, awareness of global environmental issues, and intriguing speculation are cooked in a stew at once savory and bitter as Bova’s page-turner fiction teaches and terrifies. In this novel and many others, the future is now.

At Temple University, Bova prepared for a career in journalism, and that career prepared him for his later endeavors as a science writer and science fiction specialist. He comments, “Writing for newspapers taught me to write clearly, and clarity is important in science fiction and science nonfiction. Newspapering also taught me to deliver on deadline, which is important for all kinds of writing. Publishers trust writers who deliver on time.”

The science bug bit Bova when he was 11. He recalls,” I went to the Fels Planetarium in my native Philadelphia for the first time. When they turned out all the lights and turned on the stars, I got turned on to astronomy.” The director of the planetarium, Dr. I. M. Levitt, became Bova’s mentor. “From astronomy, I became interested in astronautics (this was in the 1940s, when only dreamers thought about rockets to the Moon). Then I found that there were stories about what the future might be like: science fiction. These interests eventually led me to join Project Vanguard, the first U.S. satellite program, and a lifelong connection with space efforts and science in general.”

While developing his voice and building his audience as a science fiction author, Bova stayed close to the world of science, particularly applied science, by working for various technology and research companies. He was an award-winning editor and an executive in the aerospace industry. As a young novelist, he enjoyed reading Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frederik Pohl, and “many other wonderful writers, many of whom became friends and colleagues.”

Ben Bova is known not only as a stellar (pardon the pun) practitioner of his craft, but also as a mentor and facilitator for other science fiction authors. As editorial director of Omni magazine and, earlier, editor of Analog magazine, he helped other writers find their way into print and build their readership. He received the Science Fiction Achievement Award (the ‘Hugo’) for Best Professional Editor six times. “The basic challenge of an editor,” Bova believes, “is to help inexperienced writers learn how to produce salable fiction. The rewards are their successes: Spider Robinson, Orson Scott Card, Vonda McIntyre, Joe Haldeman. I’m proud and happy to have been able to help them succeed.”

In 2001 Dr. Bova was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He received the 1996 Isaac Asimov Memorial Award, was the 1974 recipient of the E.E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction, and the 1985 Inkpot Award recipient for his outstanding achievements in science fiction. In 2000, he was Guest of Honor at the 58th World Science Fiction Convention, Chicon2000. President Emeritus of the National Space Society and a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America, Dr. Bova received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation in 2005. His 2006 novel, Titan, received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel of the year. At the Omegacon 2008 science fiction convention, Dr. Bova received the first annual Ben Bova Award ‘For Outstanding Achievement in Science Fiction Literature.’ He is a member of the Board of Governors of the National Space Society, a charter member of the Planetary Society, and a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society. In 2005 Dr. Bova received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lee County Reading Festival.

“My novels,” says Bova, “are entertainment based on reality. They all have a point of view, certainly. In general, my novels say that we can build a brilliant future for the human race if we make use of the knowledge and tools we have in our possession, and never fear to seek new knowledge and new capabilities.”
Ben Bova and his wife Barbara have made Naples their home for many years. Both write columns for the Naples Daily News while keeping busy with other writing and, in Barbara’s case, running a literary agency.

To add to Ben Bova’s many honors, the Naples Press Club is hosting a luncheon ‘Salute to Ben Bova’ on January 25 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples. Mayor Bill Barnett and Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala, as well as many members of the writing community, will be among those on hand to celebrate Ben Bova’s achievements. Several of Bova’s books, including the latest addition to the ‘Grand Tour’ series—Mars Life, will be available for sale and signing. For information about this event, call 593-1488. •

from the January-February 2009 issue

"My novels say that we can build a brilliant future for the human race if we make use of the knowledge and tools we have in our possession."