Novel Review: Survival, Ben Bova

Survival, the most recent by Ben Bova, continues his Star Quest series. It’s a contemporary take on a familiar kind of SF, with some grounding in credible science.

Title: Survival
Author: Ben Bova
First published December 2017

ISBN-10: 0765379554
ISBN-13: 978-0765379559

Available from,,, and as a kindle.


Human explorers encounter an advanced machine intelligence whose planet lies in the path of a destructive wave. Our relationship with these ancient aliens takes a rather dismal turn.

High Point:

Bova has always distinguished himself with plausible SF ideas, and grounded science. His crew may be boldly going, but space-handwavium is in short supply.

Low Point:

Gita distinguishes herself among some problematic characterization. She’s a “delicate-looking oriental” (103) biologist whose laugh sounds like “the tinkling of temple bells” (165) who falls in love with the older male hero. Despite being compared regularly to a child and a sylph, Gita has resources we might not initially expect. Overall, however, her depiction in this novel induces cringing.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 If you read a lot of older-school SF—certainly, if you’ve read Bova—you won’t be surprised by anything in this novel. With some changes and simplifications, the basic plot would have served as an episode of Star Trek.

Imagery: 4/6 For all of Bova’s descriptive power and focus on detail, this novel suffers from a curious lack of strong, memorable imagery.

Story: 5/6: The story takes a long time to get going, but the plot works. Should we ever encounter alien intelligences, we would be wise not to assess and predict their decisions by our own standards.

Characterization: 4/6 Bova remains a strong writer of ideas, but he’s been criticized before for shallow characterization and pedestrian dialogue. You will find little in Survival to contradict those criticisms. Indeed, he’s done better in other novels.

Emotional Response: 4/6 This is the third book of a “trilogy,” but I suspect we may see more. Survival leaves us with implications that have not been fully explored.

Editing: 5/6 Bova remains readable.

Overall score: 4/6 Bova ranks among the most prolific and influential SF writers alive today. This just isn’t one of his best books. If you’re a fan of old school SF, you might like Survival. If you’re into less conventional SF, try another book.

If you’ve never read Bova, don’t start with this one.

In total, Survival receives 28/42

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