Book Review – Farside by Ben Bova
A blind astronomer in charge of an observatory being built on the far side of the moon sacrifices safety in his obsession for winning a Nobel Prize.
A highly competent engineer falsely convicted of negligent homicide on Earth tries to redeem himself on the moon by taking performance-enhancing drugs.
A beautiful woman seeks revenge for a broken heart, heedless of the collateral damage she may cause.
These are just a few of the flawed characters populating Farside.
In some ways, this book feels like a 1950s detective novel—but without the detective. The characters and prose seem more suited to that genre than a modern space opera. When, in the first chapter, a young post-doc reflects on what a hunk the guy sitting near her on the rocket ship is, I began to regard it as such rather than as serious science fiction. If you look at it this way, this is a fine story. There is intrigue, mystery, believable characters with understandable (although often juvenile) motivations… Unfortunately, none of these things fit well in this setting.
The observatory station feels like a regular office complex (but with airlocks). The characters seem like average people.
And that’s the problem. This isn’t most places. It’s an observatory being built on the moon. It includes the largest interferometer ever constructed, which is intended to make observations of what may be the first truly earthlike planet ever discovered, and which all known laws of astrophysics say should not exist in orbit around Sirius. In other words, it’s an important place from a scientific standpoint. One would expect that only the best and the brightest would be working there. The characters in this book are clearly not that exceptional.
This is still an engaging story. The characters, although not well suited to this setting, would be believable in others. They may not be exactly likeable, but each has some attributes most of us can identify with. But there is no ‘sense of wonder’ you get from the best science fiction.
This book may be intended to set the scene for Bova’s next novel in his Grand Tour series, New Earth, in which a human expedition is sent to the mystery planet orbiting Sirius. I’ll probably read it.
It’s not great science fiction, but I can recommend Farside to readers looking for a serviceable story about ambition, revenge, and redemption with a bit of space science thrown in.