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Ben Bova

Man of the future

Ben Bova's latest prediction: 'Moonwar'

April 24, 1998
Web posted at: 5:00 p.m. EST (2200 GMT)

By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen

(CNN) -- Dr. Ben Bova, one of the preeminent science-fiction writers of our time, might seem like a 20th-century man on the surface. Born pre-World War II in south Philadelphia, he admits having trouble programming his VCR, and says he types with his two index fingers.

Though he enjoys reading books about the past, Bova is really a man of the future: he believes in the future and its possibilities as if they already exist.

Ask him about the destiny of the human race and he will point to the sky and tell you of space tourism, the colonization of the moon, the mining of asteroids. The future is out there.

Ask Bova about the legacy he will leave behind in the new millennium, and he will talk about his books, the sci-fi adventures set in the not-so-distant future that are written with the highest degree of scientific accuracy to create worlds that are nearly tangible. The future is in them.


The moon is waiting

"I write historical novels that haven't happened yet," said Bova during a recent book-signing at an Atlanta book store.

He was promoting the release of his latest effort, "Moonwar," the follow-up to his wildly popular "Moonrise," which depicted human colonization of our nearest neighbor in space.

"Moonwar" goes a step further in the conquering of the moon -- interplanetary conflict between humans, sparked by nanomachines: technology outlawed on Earth, but necessary for survival in the lunar world.

"This can happen," Bova says of his latest release. "The moon is going to be the industrial center of all the things we do in space. It truly is a frontier. There is incredible wealth out there."

""The moon is going to be the industrial center of all the things we do in space."
-- Dr. Ben Bova, author of "Moonwar"

It's a good time to be Ben Bova, sci-fi writer. Americans have shown a renewed interest in all things space: from space shuttle missions and the Mir space station, to the unprecedented coverage and interest in last summer's mission to Mars, and now the recent Tom Hanks docu-drama about the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"We're living in a tremendous era of exploration," Bova says.

South Philly, 1932

Bova has come a long way since his days growing up in tough south Philly. Born during the Great Depression in 1932, he jokes that his "school newspaper had an obituary page." He also remembers as a little boy hearing a radiocast from Germany before World War II. The Nazis, threatening a Third Reich world, were calling the Americans "drugstore cowboys" who were afraid to fight.

From "War of the Worlds" to "The Invisible Man", science fiction seems to know no boundaries. Authors let their imagination fly and give us new worlds, ideas, perceptions. Who's your favorite sci-fi author. Why?

Fast-forward from radio waves of impending doom to moonshots that united mankind: Bova, following his muse to the field of science, was on the fundamental research team that led to the development of the heat shield that protected Apollo 11 on re-entry following its historic mission to the moon.

"It's been a helluva century," he says. "It's been great being a part of it."

It wasn't the only time Bova had been on the cutting edge of science, which he describes as "the real world," because it is pushes forward human existence.

He has worked with leading scientists throughout his career on research projects dealing with high-power lasers, artificial hearts, and advanced electrical power generators. He has served as editorial director of "Omni" magazine and editor of "Analog" magazine, receiving the prestigious "Hugo Award" for Best Professional Editor six times.

Forecasting the future

And his experiences have made him amazingly accurate in foretelling what lies just over the horizon.

In 1949, he launched his career in science fiction with a book predicting the space race of the 1960s.

Since then, he has authored over 90 novels and nonfiction books, including sci-fi favorites "Mars" and "Death Dream".

His work features a number of predictions to see fruition, including the discovery of life on Mars, solar power satellites, virtual reality, cloning, the Star Wars defense initiative, and, in his latest "Moon" series, ice on the moon.

"If you know what's happening in the research labs, it isn't all that great a trick to predict what's coming," Bova says.

One Bova prediction that is still up in the air: sex in zero-gravity space.

It will happen soon, "if it hasn't happened yet," Bova jokes.

War in space?

Perhaps most interesting to Bova fans is his newest effort detailing the possibility of war breaking out over the moon.

"Moonwar" centers around the Stavenger family, seven years removed from their historical mission to build Moonbase, a lunar community that thrives with the help of nanotechnology -- microscopic machines that can both create and destroy life.

Problem is, the United Nations has voted to declare the use of nanomachines illegal and immoral, on the Earth or the moon. At the start of the novel, U.N. peacekeepers are dispatched to Moonbase to force an end to the technology.

Doug Stavenger, the leader of the community who is made up of nanomachines himself, instead asks the U.N. to declare the moon an independent state.

The premise escalates the novel to humankind's highest reaches of warfare, and leaves the ultimate question hanging in space: Will we learn from the mistakes of past wars to keep peace as we explore and eventually colonize new worlds?

Bova has no easy answers, but hopes our Cold War lessons have taught us that nuclear weapons are not the answer as we head into space.

"We have, I think, come through the big danger of a vast and sudden exchange of nuclear weapons," Bova says. "And I think the lesson we've learned is, if you have nuclear weapons, you probably don't dare use them."

Bova says he plans to write several more novels dealing with human establishments on the moon, and beyond. Perhaps the books will provide both blueprints and warning labels leading into our future existence.

"John Kennedy said, 'We are a great and powerful people' and we've been doing great and wonderful things. And we'll continue to do so," Bova says.

For Bova, the future is filled with possibilities.


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