Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews) Bookshelf compiled by David Howe
• part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section
selected from Starburst #270

Selected this month: Jupiter by Ben Bova and
Robert Holdstock's Celtika, Book One of The Merlin Codex

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In this issue's Bookshelf: David Howe talks to Robert Holdstock (the Fantasy author whose new novel is reviewed below), Sandy Auden gets book news from Stephen Baxter and Stephen Laws, best seller charts, New Year releases rounded-up, and five more reviews of the latest genre titles

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by Robert Holdstock
Published by Earthlight, January 2001 • 350pp, hardback

Celtika by Robert Holdstock

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‘As always, Holdstock writes economically and vividly. His spare prose seems influenced by epic poems such as The Odyssey’

In Book One of The Merlin Codex, Robert Holdstock takes elements from Greek and Celtic mythology and mixes, matches, and transforms them in his own, inimitable way.

Celtika’s startling premise is that Merlin was, for a time, one of Jason’s Argonauts who searched for the Golden Fleece. Seven hundred years after Jason’s death (he was entombed aboard the Argo at the bottom of a frozen lake), the wizard realizes that Jason is not dead after all and that his two sons, supposedly murdered, were merely sent forward in time. Merlin, being who he is, raises Jason from his watery ‘grave’ and tells him about the boys. And Jason, being who he is, mounts an expedition to find them, recruiting a new crew every bit as odd as the original Argonauts.

The goddess Hera inhabited the original ship, enabling it to actively help its crew. Unfortunately, haste mars its ceremonial rebuilding and antagonizes its new inhabitant: the Forest goddess Mielikki. As if that weren’t enough, among the new Argonauts is the unnervingly attractive and tricksy Niiv, a descendant of Merlin himself, who must be handled with care. Finally, Jason’s wronged wife, the sorceress Medea, has survived and hasn’t forgiven him yet. With three such strong, unpredictable women taking an interest in the proceedings, it’s a certainty that the voyage round the coast of Alba then overland to Delphi will be a fraught one…

As always, Holdstock writes economically and vividly. His spare, muscular prose style is slightly different from that used in Mythago Wood, and seems influenced, appropriately enough, by epic poems such as The Odyssey. The emphasis is on the grit and the shit, and the result is totally convincing, though it does mean most of the protagonists end up being rather unlikeable! A fascinating start to a highly original series.

Starburst rating: 8 / 10
Barbara Davies

By Ben Bova
Published by Hodder & Stoughton • 433pp, hardback

Jupiter by Ben Bova

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'Bova’s challenging hard-SF novel is an accomplished tale of determined scientists braving the unknown'

In a future dominated by religious zealots, newly-wed Christian-scientist Grant Archer is conscripted into public service. He’s separated from his young bride and sent to study, not on the lunar colony with astronomers, as expected, but a billion miles from home and his wife, to a space station orbiting Jupiter.

Grant’s lowly position is as dogsbody to the researchers, and the authoritarian New Morality order him to spy on the people that he works for. In the belief that all knowledge is inherently good, the community of scientists exploring Jupiter’s system of moons have begun a secret project to investigate signs of life in the vast pressurized ocean of Jupiter’s atmosphere. While powerful fanatics back on Earth fear that secularists like Dr Wo, chief of the Jupiter project, pose a threat to the faithful if intelligent life is discovered beyond the home planet.

Bova’s challenging hard-SF novel is an accomplished tale of determined scientists braving the unknown in an extremely dangerous mission to prove fascinating theories that frighten lesser mortals. It’s a strongly traditional story of the scientist as hero. The fact that Grant too is religious only makes the moral struggle at the centre of this adventure more personal and entirely believable.

With explorers like aquanauts instead of astronauts, forced to live and work in a cybernetic submarine filled with a liquid that humans can breathe (like the deep-sea diving scene in The Abyss), coping with advanced technology is a major part of Jupiter, though this should not deter fans in search of a good read, as this aspect never overwhelms drama and mystery or individual endeavour. In particular, the biosphere of gas-giant Jupiter is presented as a wondrous place but even that falls within the reach of imagination.

Starburst rating: 8 / 10
Tony Lee

Reviews © Visual Imagination 2001. Not for reproduction