BOOK REVIEW: Venus, by Ben Bova

Alex Humphries died on Venus, and now his brother is going to bring the remains home. But Van has more to worry about than one of the deadliest world in the solar system, because he is not the only one looking for Alex’s body . . .

After three Ben Bova books that proved to be thoroughly soothing and gentle explorations of both strange new worlds and the human spirit, I thought I knew what to expect from Venus. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Yes, the hard-edged science is still there. In fact, there’s an early chapter that is nothing more than three deeply engrossing pages of information about Venus. Bova’s love of science and exploration are both on display. But this book is anything but gentle and soothing. There’s more to Bova than just scientists being nice to one another, and it’s the pettier strand of society that’s on display here. The Grand Tour books have been universally interesting, but Venus is the first that I’d call genuinely thrilling. In fact, it’s my favourite Ben Bova book to date.

This is a book full of surprises, starting with the main character’s name. I assumed he was a man of Dutch origin called van Humphries. But no, Van is his forename, and he’s our narrator here as Bova shifts to the first person for this novel. As you’d expect from Bova, Van knows his science, but there are also personal stakes involved in his journey. The Humphries family has a messy background and while the family squabbling largely takes place off the page, it informs everything that goes on over the course of the next four hundred pages. Granted, none of the dynastic politics are the most intricate you’ll find in literature, but with space colonisation being run by deeply flawed billionaires, it’s hard not to be drawn in by them. Matters are soon complicated by a (somewhat inevitable) romance subplot, but this serves to illustrate the key difference between Van Humphries and previous Bova protagonists. Van Humphries is not a particularly nice man. Yes, he tried to do the right thing, but he’s also horribly self-obsessed. everything is filtered through his own warped perception, and he makes as many poor choices as he does heroic decisions. He is, in a word, fascinating.

As I delve deeper into the worlds of the Grand Tour, I am continually impressed with the universe Bova has built. There’s no central narrative to make this a series, but these twenty-something novels are already shaping up to be something incredible. As a long-time fantasy reader, I know how easy it is to burn out on longer series. That’s in no small part why I now gravitate towards science fiction. In having multiple standalones, Bova creates a universe that goes beyond a single story. Yes, there is some crossover between books. A certain Martian explorer pays a role here, for example. But the Grand Tour is incredibly accessible. Of the four books I’ve read thus far, three would have been perfect entry points. And the fourth wouldn’t have taken much explaining. I wish there were more universes like this. For now though, I have plenty more Ben Bova to spend my time with.

For me, Venus is the final piece of evidence I needed. Vindication of my belief that random book purchases are the way to go. I knew nothing about Ben Bova going into my first book of his, save that he had recently died. It turned out I’d been missing out on an author who seems almost tailor-made for me. Everything I want from science fiction, Bova offers in spades. So if you’re reading this, and there’s an author you’ve been thinking about getting into, go do it. That book with the interesting cover? Buy it! It could be the best decision you’ll ever make.

Moon Knight review: Oscar Isaac shines in Marvel’s scariest series to date | Digital Trends

The suggestion that a new film or series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe breaks fresh ground for the franchise gets thrown around a lot in the lead-up to each project’s release. While it’s been true for some — such as WandaVision or Thor: Ragnarok, which each pushed the boundaries of the MCU in bold and different ways — most additions haven’t strayed too far from the thematic center of Marvel’s movieverse.

Given how reliably entertaining the MCU has been so far, that’s fine — but when the studio does take some risks, the results have made a great storytelling universe even better.

That’s where Moon Knight comes in.

Moon Knight, led by head writer and executive producer Jeremy Slater (The Umbrella Academy, Death Note), casts Oscar Isaac as Steven Grant, a mild-mannered museum gift-shop cashier whose world begins to fall apart — sometimes literally — when he discovers that he’s suffering from dissociative identity disorder. This would be troubling enough on its own, but he soon learns that his alternate persona is a mercenary, Marc Spector, who’s pledged himself to an ancient Egyptian god with an affinity for meting out violent justice. Soon, Steven finds himself on a globe-hopping adventure to prevent a charismatic cult leader played by Ethan Hawke from resurrecting another, even more dangerous deity.

Sure, a lot is going on in the Disney+ series, but that’s intentional. In fact, it’s all part of the fun. Much like the aforementioned WandaVision, Moon Knight leans into the frantic, fascinating mysteries at the heart of its story. Where WandaVision took a quirky, surreal approach to exploring its lead character’s psychological struggles, though, Moon Knight goes all-in on escalating tension and scares to depict Steven’s experiences and his perception of the world around him.

Ominous clues, a chorus of voices in his head, and visions of terrifying entities work together to turn Steven’s seemingly deteriorating sanity into a nightmarish journey for the character. The end result is the the scariest MCU project to date, and the closest the franchise has come to outright horror.

Moon Knight also delivers one of the MCU’s most brutal series so far. While the series doesn’t reach the same blood-spattered level of violence as Marvel’s no-longer-canon Netflix shows, it comes pretty close on a few occasions — to the point where it becomes a little surprising to see it on a Disney-branded platform. The frequency and duration of the action sequences in Moon Knight are less than the average episode of Daredevil, and the camera never lingers too long on the gory aftermath of all that violence, but the implied brutality is shockingly potent. The series’ titular, spectre-like figure pummels, stabs, and slices villains in intense, but largely bloodless, brawls that still pack a visceral punch without the typical gore.

In the lead role, Isaac does a phenomenal job of juggling the multiple distinct identities at play within Steven’s (or is it Marc’s?) mind. Isaac’s a phenomenal actor, so his ability to do so doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but it’s still a joy to see him bumbling his way through Steven’s life, only to suddenly become a thoroughly believable, ice-cold killer when Marc takes control. He’s as fun to watch in this series as any of Isaac’s other roles, and that’s saying a lot for an actor who’s often the most memorable part of any project he appears in.

On the flip side, Hawke delivers a wonderfully creepy performance as the season’s primary villain. Part charismatic cult leader, part sympathetic counterpoint to Isaac’s protagonist, Hawke’s Arthur Harrow never quite hits the level of the top-tier MCU villains, but the quiet threat he poses provides a nice contrast to Isaac’s hero, who seems to revel in violence in comparison.

After getting a look at the first four episodes of the series’ six-episode season, it feels safe to suggest that Moon Knight delivers a standout story that pushes the MCU in some new, refreshing directions. With its more mature tone and horror elements, Moon Knight is unlike any other MCU project so far, and its talented star ensures that wherever the show is headed is worth watching.

Marvel’s Moon Knight premieres March 30 on Disney+ streaming service.

Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader (Star Wars) Review

Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader (Star Wars) is a 2005 science fiction space opera novel written by James Luceno, published by Del Rey Books. The story is set in the immediate aftermath of Revenge of the Sith and focuses on Darth Vader and his rise to prominence in the newly formed Galactic Empire.

When a contingent of clone troopers on the planet Murkhana refuses to open fire on Jedi Masters Roan Shryne and Bol Chatak, along with Padawan Olee Starstone, the Jedi with whom it has fought alongside during the war, Emperor Palpatine orders Vader to investigate the matter. Vader’s query soon becomes a hunt for the fugitive Jedi. Great, compelling story that has many twists and turns that concludes to a very satisfying ending. One of the main plots follows Vader’s transition from Anakin to Vader. The decisions he makes, his views of the universe, his “loyalty” to Palpatine is told in a very realistic, complex light that lead to a strong developing arc. He isn’t the only person with a developing arc. Also, there is the hunt for the Jedi that remains relentless. There are also, the various subplots that keep the things going outside of the main story, such as the effects of the Empire’s hold of the galaxy. A great, fantastic read. (4 out of 5)

The main protagonists are Jedi Masters Roan Shryne, Bol Chatak, and Jedi padawan Olee Starstone. Would’ve like to have seen more from Chalak but unfortunately she gets beheaded by Vader early on. Now, the one character who shows major development is Shryne. After Order 66 and the Jedi are hunted down, Shryne does lose his faith in the Force and the Jedi way, but does come around by the end of the book. Olee is a pretty good character. She’s ready to take the fight to the Empire and avenge the death of Chatak. Like how Shryne and Olee’s differing ideals conflict, especially when Shryne throws his hands up.

But make no mistake, the highlight of the story is Vader. He’s the ultimate badass and even though he’s doing a lot of terrible things he believes he’s doing the right thing. There’s the focus of Palpatine and Vader’s master/disciple relationship. We get a good look at this in Rule of Two, but for standout characters Palpatine and Vader, it feels more significant. Even though Palpatine is eager to train Vader it’s pretty evident that Vader is just as eager to kill him and take his place. There are other interesting characters that provide depth to the story. Hell, Grand Moff Tarkin and Obi-Wan Kenobi make an appearance. A great cast of well-written characters. (5 out of 5)

Gotta give a thumbs up to James Luceno for just taking the writing into an effective and entertaining direction. Reading this I was proud at the exposition of Vader’s character, both mentally and physically. Despite the events of Revenge of the Sith, he’s still developing into the badass we all know and love (and fear). Love how Luceno handles Vader’s transition pretty well. By the end of the book, nearly all traces of Anakin have dissipated. One thing I loved about Revenge of the Sith is how Palpatine manipulates Anakin throughout the story (done much better in the book than the movie) and despite wanting to train Vader it’s clear that he’s still manipulating him. And that Vader isn’t under Palpatine’s wing out of loyalty, merely a means to become more powerful so that he can later kill him. The action sequences are handled pretty well, especially the Jedi/Sith fights which can be really intense. All-in-all, a great complex writing. (4 out of 5)

The Verdict: In the end, Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader (Star Wars) is great read for fans of Darth Vader and a great addition to the Star Wars mythos. Yeah, at times it can get a little slow, but the great characters, awesome writing, great action, complex writing, great story, strong developing arcs, and a badass Darth Vader. Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader (Star Wars) gets 4 out of 5.