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Survival
by Ben Bova
A Tor Book, 2017; HB $25.99, 335 pages
Published: December 2017

No matter how good
the programming, or the man,
one must be watchful.

In the Space Age, Alexander Ignatiev is a very old dog, and everyone, including Igntiev himself, assumes his glory days are done. It also assumed his is good enough for one more mission, as the senior XO of the scoopship Sagan he is sent out to explore the viability of several planets in the so-called Goldilocks zone - it should be Baby Bear zone - around a distant star. It's a voyage of 80 years roundtrip, and Alexander does not expect to survive, as there are limits to the effectiveness of age extension treatments. Then a discrepancy between projected calculations and physical reality puts the survival of the entire crew at risk. Unless Alexander can monkey-wrench the ship's AI program, finesse Earth's bureaucracy and solve a few other insurmountable problems, Sagan is going to turn into a deathship.

That's just book one of this three-part epic of a modern Ulysses, who leaves the home of Earth for the home of space. Ignatiev's seeming liabilities of age, irrelevance, and non-conformative thinking make it easy for people to forget that he is a Strong Man - is the original, best sense of the term, with no ironic or dismissive connotation.

The reward for success is another assignment, of course. In two subsequent missions, the ability of humans to survive beyond the solar system is put to hard tests. Time and again, it takes original thinking motivated by love to solve the nth generation of Gordian Knots. 

In several ways Alexander is an older, Slavic version of Bova's maverick hero/anti-hero Sam Gunn, my absolute favorite character in SF, after the Vorkosigan clan. If Sam Gunn is a Tom Sawyer of Space development, Ignatiev is the temperamental opposite, but both have a knack for getting the job done that no one else even realized needed doing or could be done. The biggest difference between the two is that Sam is an extraverted agent of constructive chaos, while Alexander is an introverted leader, orderly and responsible, and much more of a romantic. Yet both are extraordinarily aware of other people's inner landscapes, and they can leverage this awareness. Sam does so to help individuals and to shove the space program forward despite all the inertia and obfuscation the universe and stupid men can throw in his way. Ignatiev is more complex.  It is an education and a privilege to see the world through his eyes.  

This is thoughtful, humanist SF with a finely sharpened scientific edge, an absolute gem of the genre. Whether you like your speculative fiction psychological or technical, you will find a great deal to love in Survival. - Chris Wozney

For reviews of other titles by Ben Bova click here

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