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Worlds to Conquer

review of science fiction books:

reviewed by Deane Rink,

Deane Rink, writer, producer, and project director, is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes. He sends us short, provocative reviews, introducing us to fascinating books that otherwise might pass unnoticed. He has worked for PBS, National Geographic, the American Museum of Natural History, Hearst Entertainment, and Carl Sagan. From his involvement in numerous projects about science, he has remarkable insight into present-day scientific endeavors and their implications, and in-depth knowledge of specialized fields (like Antarctica from his two "Live from Antarctica" PBS productions. But he also savors provides illuminating commentary on literature, fantasy, biography, and popular fiction. Links to Deane's other reviews. You can reach him at

Colonization of the Moon and Mars has been a mandatory science-fiction cliché for decades, and even Jupiter has become a commonplace outpost world for hard S/F writers.  Clement and Bova extend this tradition to Saturn, specifically highlighting the lush bio-promise of Saturn's satellite Titan.  These two S/F/ masters imagine two very different futures, and this contrast
nicely demonstrates the plasticity of science-fiction, the secret reason for its enduring popularity.

Clement's cast of characters is limited to thirty surviving crewmen of an original complement of one hundred, all consumed by a desperate race to find on Titan some antidote to the viral plagues that are decimating the home planet, Earth.  The entire mission is infused with a fatalism, an expectation of ignominious death paralleled by the bleak prospects back on Terra.  Their mission is to locate primitive life forms on Titan and determine if any of these can be useful in forestalling the takeover of Earth by viruses.  They explore the icy oceans of Titan, seeking tectonic hotspots where the microbial life flourishes, and begin the slow familiarization required to operate in a new world.  Even for a reader not buying the Earth-in-peril premise, the level of detail about the anticipatory intelligence required to successfully negotiate an alien terrain makes the novel worth reading.  A strategy that may have worked for Jupiter's moon Europa or Io could well be inappropriate for Titan, whose icy oceans are comprised of different compounds than Jupiter's satellites.

Bova's mission to Saturn and Titan has distinct differences from Clement's.  In Bova's future, the fundamentalists have triumphed on Earth and have "exiled" some 20,000 of its dissidents.  Clearing out the terrestrial jails by colonizing Titan through a one-way ticket in a gigantic habitat roughly parallels the Great Transportation (of convicts from England to colonize Australia in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries).  But some embedded fundamentalists have a secret agenda, to not allow any of the colonists to establish a new society without ensuring that the fundamentalist God reigns supreme there too.

Both novels take the colonization of Titan as their subject, but HALF LIFE is really about the daunting technical challenges to such an undertaking, whereas SATURN is more a meditation on human nature and the seemingly never-ending rivalry between science and faith.  Choose according to your rational/emotional predilection.

Reviews by Dean Rink

Dialogue on favorite books with Deane Rink before and during his latest trek to Antarctica, with a note from Bill Ransom and a digression about Frank Herbert (a.k.a Bookbabble 101) -- a very long and rapidly growing document:

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