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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

TEST of FIRE (audiobook) by Ben Bova

Read by Dean Sluyter
Duration: 10 hours, 46 minutes
Published by Blackstone Audio in 2013

Sci-fi legend Ben Bova’s 1982 book Test of Fire is a look at a near-future Earth struck by a giant solar flare that literally destroys all life in Europe, Asia and Africa because that half of the planet that was facing the sun at the time. North America is partially devastated by a limited strike of nuclear missiles from Soviet Union. Central America and South America do not figure in the story.

Photo by Gregory H. Revera
The near future Earth has a lunar base (for mining) and a fleet of space shuttles that regularly take off and land on earth from very long runways. The lunar base survived the solar flare unscathed but faces the difficult challenge of how to provide for all of its needs with little or no support from Earth.

The lunar base is led by a council and that council is led by Daniel Morgan and his scheming wife. Morgan leads an expedition to Cape Canaveral for supplies and to look for survivors. He returns with both but is struck by the pitiful condition of the people he left behind. Civilization has all but ended for them and he wants to make sure that thousands of years of art, philosophy and science are not lost. He wants to work with the people on Earth but is overruled by the council due to the behind the scenes machinations of his wife. They want to write off the Earth and focus on keeping the lunar base alive.

While Morgan’s wife schemes and sleeps with powerful members of the council to get her way and betray her husband, Morgan decides to return to Earth on a mission to retrieve fissionable fuel to power the base’s nuclear plants (the moon lacks those elements). Morgan retrieves the fuel and refuses to return to the moon, even though his wife is pregnant. He is considered a traitor and for twenty years his son, Alec, is taught that his father betrayed the base.

Alec is trained to lead a mission to Earth to retrieve the fuel and to get even with his father who is believed to have set up a kingdom among the “barbarians,” as the survivors are called.  Alec brings superior technology, including laser cannons, but far inferior numbers, including a member of the council who may want to kill him and marry his mother. Even though the earth soldiers are at a disadvantage when it comes to weapons, they have the advantage when it comes earth’s gravity, heat, humidity and viruses.

While this book is based on a tremendous premise and is filled with characters that feel as though they belong in a Greek or even a Shakespearean tragedy, it never lives up to its promise, which is odd considering that the book is basically a revision of a book he wrote in the early 1970s called When the Sky Burned, making this the second draft of the same story. Despite the revision, too many characters, such as Alec’s mother (who dominates the first half of the book), just disappear from the story as it goes along. Also, very few of the characters are even likable. Daniel Morgan is presumed honorable, but he is inscrutable. His wife is plain evil. At first Alec is a sympathetic character, but early on in the book he rapes a female doctor while on a dinner date in her apartment. Personally, I found it hard to root for rapists. In the end, I just listened to see how Bova was going to end the book all the while wondering what David Weber would have done with it.

Dean Sluyter’s reading of Test of Fire certainly did not help my enjoyment of the book. It is not that Sluyter has a poor reading voice – to the contrary, he has excellent diction and a nice deep tone. But, he reads slowly and tends to get a little William Shatner-esque in long passages with odd pauses and breaks. There was not much differentiation between the male and female characters and most of the male characters sounded very similar. It may be that his reading style is better suited for non-fiction rather than fiction where listeners (at least this one listener) place a premium on a more dramatic reading performance.

Note: I received a download copy of this audiobook from the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.
Reviewed on July 24, 2013.

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