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Ben Bova - My FavoritesI still recall where I first came across the name Ben Bova – it was in a short story (which impressed me hugely) called Stars, Won't You Hide Me, which was included in one of these door-stop sized collections of short SF stories.
I also know where I was when I learned of his death from COVID-related pneumonia/stroke – exactly where I am now, in my study, at my desk, in lockdown.

Ben's introduction to the collection at hand points at that he's published more than 1000 works of short fiction, nearly 150 novels, anthologies, plus books of non-fiction.
I don't think he expected this selection, called My Favorites, to be his final book, not from how he sounds.
But he points out that his stories are like his children, and that these are his favourite ones.

The book contains 14 stories, each with a short introduction by the author, and all published before. The introductions add something to most of the stories I felt, even if I'd have loved to get more background, more extra info. One piece of information that I would have found helpful would have been when these were originally written and/or published, it would definitely have helped to place them better, and appreciate them as products of the time, of where the world and he was at the time.

Still, this is an interesting and much varied selection, and I shall forgive him for not including Stars, Won't You Hide Me. He had a lot to choose from, and he knew them better than you or me.

Is this an essential book? No, not in my opinion. It is interesting, entertaining, but also something aimed at fans and completists I feel. Recommended within these caveats.

Below is a run-through of the stories in the book, with short capsule reviews. If this spoils your enjoyment of the book and you've already decided that you want a copy then stop now.

Monster Slayer
The story of Harry Twelvetoes, an Indian, builder with a head for heights and a mind for drink, finding his way in the world after being pushed off the reservation by white settlers. We follow him to the high frontier, constructing habitats in space to house the people fleeing the weather changes and raising sea levels (this is incidential to the story, though it is not cli-fi).

Muzhestvo
This story ties in with his Mars trilogy, with a Mars trainee, during his first time in Russia, being taken on a surprise ride/flight to look for Muzhestvo by 4 burly Russian instructors.
This one surprised me with it's ending – all the more so as I should have seen this coming from miles off, given the title. Great storytelling, evidently

We'll Always Have Paris
Casablanca tie-in/follow-up. Lost on me I'm afraid, I've never seen the film

The Great Moon Hoax, or, A Princess of Mars
So - Roswell is real, the Martians are here, and they are pacifist eco-freaks. And now someone needs to convince J. Kennedy to stop Apollo, to protect them.
As unrealistic as it is fun, with a great final throw-away surprise. Not Fredric Brown level, but I don't think that's what he was aiming for anyway!

Inspiration
A time traveller, trying to guide the development of the world through the right choices in some kind of multiverse, with the aim of ensuring humanity's survival (it does not look good in most time lines, unsurprisingly if you know humanity...). In this case by a young Albert Einstein being exposed to Lord Kelvin and H.G. Wells.
Neat. If this was longer then the world/universe structure would need more work, though - it felt barely sketched in here.

Scheherazade and the Storytellers
As the title suggests – a rendering of the backstory from 1001 Nights, with the Vizier hiring storytellers to aid Scheherazade, who then organise themselves and form a Guild (Scheherazade's Fables and Wonders Association, short SFWA) – it's all very entertaining, and very Pratchett (the story is from 2010, so we cannot exclude cross-pollination here). And I would not want to speculate who his fellow writers are that he portrayed in the story...

The Supersonic Zeppelin
The story of the SSZ, thought up as a ruse to avoid being laid off by a group of Engineers, and the political hype cycle and coat-tail riding that ensues.
Very entertaining, and I suspect all too realistic. I don't think a Supersonic Zeppelin was ever on the cards, though...

Mars Farts
We're going all Andy Weir here, with a crew of Astronauts stranded on Mars, McGuivering their way out of their predicament.
Cute.

The Man Who Hated Gravity
The Great Rolando, greatest of Trapeze artists, defying Gravity. And his fall, literally as well as figuratively, leaving him with a bionic leg and fighting Gravity, or that's what he thinks.
Weird, and weirdly affecting

Sepulcher
The solar system's richest man, and the solar system's most famous artist arrive at the asteroid on/in which an Alien Artefact has been dicovered.
Standard trope, with a rather soppy ending. Not my favourite here.

The Cafe Coup
A futile attempt to travel back in time and change the history of the 20th Century to keep the USA from being overrun by its own Barbarians in the future.
All to prescient – we are living in the future, it seems.

The Angel's Gift
A very different take on Watergate, with it being part of a deal Nixon made for his soul - with an Angel. I don't know what to say.

Waterbot
A man and his water-harvesting ship out in the Asteroid Belt. Their interactions start somewhere between 2001 and Dark Star, and then turn into something else entirely.
A rather enjoyable little tale!

Sam and the Flying Dutchman
A Sam Gunn story, one of many Bova has written. Somewhere between classic Gumshoe territory (although there are none here) and Golden Era SF adventures – full of derring-do, plot somersaults, and breathless action scenes.
Splendid, a fun read.

Afterword: 1491
A few thoughts on where humanity stands at this point in history, SF's part in charting a course into the future, and the parallels to the history leading up to Columbus' trip in 1491.
An interesting thought I find, even if some of the ramifications are not all that palatable to me.


Ben Bova died on 29th of November, aged 88. He was involved in science and high technology from the very beginning of the Space Age (he was technical editor on Project Vanguard!), and in his books combined romance and adventure with the highest degree of of scientific accuracy. He taught SF at Harvard University and at the Hayden Planetarium in NY City, he edited Omni and Analog magazine, and he received the Hugo Award 6 times. I shall miss his writing, and his optimism in humanity's future path.


More Ben Bova

Title: My Favorites
Author: Ben Bova
Series:
Series Number:
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Black Stone Publishing
Publisher URL: http://www.blackstonepublishing.com
Publication Date: 13 Oct 2020
Review Date: 210117
ISBN: 9781094000923
Price: $24.99 (USD)
Pages: 338
Format: ePub
Topic: SF
Topic: Short Stories

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

 

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