Ben Bova books are all over the place: second-hand bookstores, libraries, Goodwill among other locations. I haven’t read any Bova titles until now, out of my general avoidance of hard-SF books, or post-1980 books that look they would be hard SF. However, The Trikon Deception (1992) has an intriguing co-author, the astronaut and space mutineer Bill Pogue (1930-2014).
Bill Pogue was part of the final crew aboard the space station Skylab, the first American space station. The demands of their mission, in which every hour of every day was tightly scheduled, were the result of expectations built by previous Skylab crews. The Skylab 4 crew struggled to match the productivity of their predecessors, falling behind schedule and concealing Pogue’s “space sickness” from NASA medical officers. Morale broke after several weeks, and the crew shut off all contact with Ground Control, spending the day watching Earth through the station’s windows. After re-establishing contact and adjusting the workload, the rest of the mission passed without incident. It’s not a dramatic story of labor strife, but it represents the first and only mutiny in the history of space travel.
Bova, of course, has an enormous number of publications to his credit as author and, especially, as editor. Besides TTD, Pogue also has an author credit for the non-fiction How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?, so I was expecting a decent mutiny and descriptions of bodily functions in zero-G to liven things up.
TTD describes a space station (Trikon Station) jointly managed by a large corporation named Trikon International and a multinational consortium. Besides the man in charge and his cautious love interest (the station’s medical officer), just about every other character is operating by a hidden agenda. Plenty of them start having sex with each other, and subsequently murdering one another, midway through the book, following a long set up period of introductions and threats. However, readers looking for sophisticated characterizations or subtle plot twists are going to be disappointed.
Bova and Pogue portray a deeply cynical picture of international scientific efforts. One Indian-British antagonist has a dark and criminal past, but through some corruption of the senior ranks of Trikon, he has been placed on board the space station as a lead scientist. The Japanese team of scientists have stolen data files from one of the Americans, following instructions from their supervisor. Europeans are shown to be constantly arguing with each other. The American scientists seem to be a jumble of glory-chasers, pretenders and personnel in no psychological condition to be anywhere near a space station. These characterizations are all made unambiguously and with the regular aid of some very tired racial stereotypes. I think every woman in the entire book gets used sexually in some coercive fashion.
The scientists of Trikon, when not pursuing their own agendas, are purportedly looking for a way to reverse an ongoing ecological disaster sweeping the planet – the phytoplankton in the oceans are disappearing, leading to an unbounded accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Plausible enough, but why, midway through TTD, does a TV journalist get sent up into the space station?
The action does pick up in the second half, and considerable effort was made to show vivid details of life inside a zero-gravity environment, but the book is much more a shallow techno-thriller than SF. The writing is clear and simple to follow, so when I did finally get interested in the goings-on TTD was a long, easy trip to the end. I’d describe it as undemanding entertainment, professionally written but with a very shallow and stereotyped view of the people that spend their lives in research. 4/10.