Farside by Ben Bova – an extremely flippant review

FARSIDE by Ben Bova
2014, Tor, 367 pages, 9780765363596, Mass Market Paperback, $7.99

Genre: Science Fiction

I’m not really going to hold back on spoilers, here, so if you read this, you might very well figure out who did what before it’s all over. Also, as stated above, flippancy. And lots of it.

When I decided to read Farside, it was to join in on my local library’s speculative fiction book club. Knowing that Ben Bova was the writer of this novel, I assumed to find a fascinating tale of science fiction excellence, and to be able to discuss its truly amazing points with the rest of the club.

What I got, instead, was a cautionary tale about love, sex, and assholes.

Welcome to the moon, where everyone is a self-centered, misogynist piece of crap, including the introductory character, Trudy Yost, an astronomer who more or less hates herself and, from chapter one, is mooning over men instead of, I don’t know, doing science.

The first man she becomes infatuated with is, of course, the adonis (her words, not mine) Carter McClintock, the scion of a wealthy and powerful family, who is only deigning to be around science because his father is forcing him to do community service. In reality, he couldn’t give less of a crap about ground-breaking discoveries because, frankly, all he’s interested in is sleeping with women and inheriting the fortune. No, seriously, he scopes out every woman who comes to the base, and if he isn’t doing that, he’s thinking about checking out the ones he hasn’t met yet. And he’s only in it for the one night stand because, seriously, what woman could handle all of his awesome for an extended period of time? Plus, he’d be bored.

Carter McClintock is an utterly disgusting individual, and I say that without reservation. He has zero redeeming qualities, is blind as a rock (figuratively, as opposed to Professor Uhlrich who is, literally, blind), and also has a big mouth that won’t stop running, ever. His backstory didn’t make me like him. At. All. It really only exacerbated the problem.

Meanwhile, Professor Uhlrich, called the Ulcer by the other people working at the Farside science base (where science is a second thought), welcomes Trudy with all of the pleasantness of a sandpaper wash cloth. This man has no interest in anything except winning his precious Nobel prize by beating everyone to getting full images of and definite information about the Earth-like planet Sirius C. He’s completely histrionic and prone to spouting melodramatic dialogue anytime something upsetting happens. Nevermind when something tragic happens, because he’s totally delusional and so focused on that Nobel that he’d just as soon let everyone else die horrible deaths in space rather than stop his research.

Uhlrich’s backstory doesn’t really explain anything about his obsessive need for the Noble prize. All it really does explain is that he told a pretty female student to use a dangerous element in her projects, and as a result, she dies in a fire and he’s blinded. Nice job, Uhlrich. Best teacher ever. Also, the best boss ever, because we actually see him thinking about the fact that he needs to work Grant Simpson as much as possible before he dies of drug overdose–drugs he uses to treat the problems caused by the conditions he works in (radiation, basically). So, you know, cyclical, that.

Grant Simpson is the only likable character in this entire book, to be perfectly frank. He’s not a whiner, he does his job well (too well, which is how he ended up taking steroids), and he only thinks about girls peripherally, for the most part. He’s stuck on the moon and can’t go back to Earth because of something that was ultimately not his fault, but there you are.

For the sake of time, I’ll summarize the rest of the characters.

Nate Oberman: A sniveling little snake. From the get go, you know he’s going to be in on whatever plot is going down. Regardless, you hope in vain that he disappears after chapter two and never returns.

Anita Halleck: Don’t even get me started on this woman. She’s self-serving and willing to do whatever it takes to get revenge because some rich jerk broke her heart. Oh, boo hoo. I’m so sorry. Her story is about as interesting as the idiotic romantic basis for the Wicked Witch in Oz the Great and Powerful.

Dr. Kapstein: This doctor secretly prescribes steroids to people so they can go outside and work longer in the radiation. Even though it’s totally illegal and ultimately results in deaths. Best doctor ever.

Dr. Cardenas: This woman is incredibly angry all the time, and with good reason–she deals with morons every day. If anyone is even slightly likable after Grant Simpson, it’s Dr. Cardenas. She can’t leave the moon because her body is full of nanos, and nanos are illegal on Earth. But her husband won’t come to the moon with their kids because he’s a colossal ass who would rather stay on Earth and muck about with his mistress, most likely. Even though his lovely wife, who is decades older than she should be but barely looks in her 30s, is a renowned scientist in line for a Nobel. Because why would he want to live with someone famous and/or show solidarity to his family? That’s crazy talk.

Josie Rivera: Who is such an idiot that she almost gets everyone killed. And, also, stop sleeping with the entire base, please (not shown, but implied). Not that I’m against anyone who has a healthy sex life, and I’m sure it gets boring in space, but come on.

No character in this story develops except for Trudy, whose development equals marriage, because that’s what women are good for. Even women with scientific brains need at least a decent boyfriend to keep them, you know, focused. On science.

Now, if you can get past reading about the dregs of humanity as characters, then you’ll realize there’s a plot beyond who’s sleeping with whom. A shallow, plodding plot, I grant you, but a plot nevertheless.

Professor Uhlrich is trying to create three large telescopes before Anita Halleck so that he can look at Sirius C first and write a bunch of papers (or rather, have Trudy write them and then stamp his name on them) and win a Nobel prize. We covered this, right? Right. Well, disasters start happening, starting with a break in his first mirror, because idiot Nate Oberman did his job all wrong, and the mirror fell off a truck during transport. Big surprise.

Fast forward a bit, we learn some useless backstory, people moon over each other, nothing much happens, and then oh someone dies.

Somehow they end up with a nanobot infestation–and if you’ve been catching all of the very obvious clues in the book, then you figure this out long before the characters get around to it.

So, yes, some people die, the station starts coming apart, and in a relatively short time from the end, you find out who’s responsible. Which is interesting, because the character gave no indication of evil-doing in any of the scenes–just generally ass-hattery. Until, you know, the character is caught, and then s/he also displays a complete lack of sense and understanding of what death means. Also, cowardice. And, in a mirror to Professor Ulrich’s obsession, absolutely refuses to help stop the infestation because everyone else is wrong and it’s just not fair that s/he doesn’t get to win.

So, yes, your basic, run of the mill corporate-style plot.

The reasons for the attack? Self-centered and ridiculous.

And really, that’s all.

So, yes. An excellent book if you’re trying to teach someone not to be a jerk (like those guys). But I suspect the kind of person who would need that kind of lesson would very likely walk away with the wrong message anyhow.



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