Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Kinsman Saga

The Kinsman Saga is the 1987 re-working of 2 previous novels by Ben Bova. I find the concept odd and don't understand why authors can't move on, leave the books they've already written alone, and write new material. But no. This author has given us a rewrite of a rewrite. I've read Privateers by Bova and loathed it. I gave this book a chance because The Younger Son already had a copy and promised me that Bova is worth reading if you can get past the political ideology and misogyny. I realize I may be in a minority on this author -after all, he's published a kajillion books and won multiple awards- but I just get bogged down in the heavy-handed agenda-driven writing. "Them that like it speak well of it" as the saying goes.... This particular book is a fine and easy read and I don't at all regret reading it, but I'm just opposed to what I see as a beat-you-over-the-head writing style.

A separate issue for me is the author's Foreword, in which for 9 pages he tells us how prophetic his work has been. It seems important for him that we fully realize that, whereas I think the telling part is not that his work was prophetic but that it is so important that he tell us it was.

The Foreword then moves on to the symbolism in this book:
There are many symbols in Kinsman's story. I mention this mainly because most critics have been blind to them. Or perhaps they think of symbolism only in its psychological sense, where rockets are considered phallic and a wheel-shaped station is thought to be vaginal. That is not the sort of symbolism I am speaking of.

Kinsman himself is a symbol.
Bova then goes on to explain what the symbols are, explaining where "The Christian symbolism is at its plainest" and explaining how the "technological gadgets of the story also serve as symbols."

For one thing, I believe that if the critics have somehow missed something perhaps it isn't there. For the author to complain about the depths the critics have missed seems to me to show a lack of understanding of what critics do.

For another thing, I believe an author may be the least suitable person to tell us what a book's aspects mean. S/he may tell us what s/he hoped to impart, but it's up to the reader to decide what is actually in the book. If the author has to spell out what s/he meant to be using as symbols, then they weren't effective as symbols. If the symbols failed to serve as symbols for readers and if the author feels the need to point out what they were and what they meant... well, that says something to me about the author. Maybe he should just write political pamphlets instead.

Can you tell how annoying I find the Foreword?

All that is to say I find the author's attitude in his Foreword and the writing style in the two of his books I've read to be something I have to get past before I can try to enjoy the story. I probably won't make further attempts.

from the back of the book:
Nearly forty years in the making,
The Kinsman Saga
is Ben Bova's masterwork - it is a riveting epic
of politics and passion,
of war and redemption ... and of one man,
who in battling for his soul,
helps create humanity's boldest future.
Born to wealth and privilege, Chet Kinsman has abandoned him family's Quaker roots to become one of America's hottest Air Force astronauts. Kinsman is a schemer, a smug daredevil who embarrasses his superiors and believes that the world's ills cannot harm him... until, in a secret orbital confrontation, Kinsman becomes the first person to commit murder in space.
Shattered by guilt, Kinsman is grounded and barred from active duty. But Chet Kinsman is addicted to space, convinced that human survival depends on conquering this last frontier. Using all of the resources available to him, Kinsman embarks on a project to secure humanity's future -in a desperate gambit that will end in victory and peace... or execution for treason.
Kirkus Reviews describes it as "A massive but unoriginal tome; in fact, a rewrite combining two previously published works, Millennium (1976) and its later "prequel" Kinsman (1979), itself a rewrite of various short stories that appeared during the 1970's" and says it's for "Kinsman fans and true believers only."


  1. I totally agree: a writer should speak very little about his work. Particularly not about what it means. Very irritating. I think I might have liked this when I was in my teens, now I wouldn´t go for sci-fi of this kind. It looks like a many-paged thing.

    1. Maybe teens are his fan base. The plot itself is fine, but the trimmings are heavy-handed.

  2. I somehow thought I was reading a re-post, then realized the similarity to other stories I have read like Millennium. So glad you reviewed this. I'll probably pass on this one!

    1. I'm glad I gave him a second chance, but my opinion of him hasn't improved.

  3. A re-write? Why? The forward is enough to put me off. Thanks for giving me one to avoid. My reading list is so long I can't waste time on something like this.


    1. As a re-working/combination of Millennium (1976) and and Kinsman (1979), I'm just guessing he's never been satisfied with the previous 2 books... I found the intro online, and in it he says, "There are many differences between the original pair of novels and this new retelling of the Kinsman saga. For one thing, the human, emotional story of Kinsman and the woman he has loved all his life is told properly for the first time. Because the two novels were originally written the way they were, many details—and some larger aspects of the story did not blend smoothly, one book to the other. Now they have been reexamined, rethought, and rewritten. All the characters and themes now mesh properly, and you can read the story of Kinsman's life from beginning to end as a single seamless garment." He is a popular, prolific author, just not to my taste.