Thursday, May 16, 2013


Privateers is a 1985 science fiction novel by Ben Bova, whose science fiction credentials are impressive. I say that because I want to make it clear that I know what a big deal the man is.

I had a lot of trouble wading through this book. The oppressive misogynism is topped only by the blatant, heavy-handed preaching of far right-wing conservative political ideology. The man has an agenda and is not afraid to use it. Not a page went by that I didn't feel beat to death with it. Fine. I got it. Can we move on? No? Really? The characters were fine, the plot was fine, but they were drowned in the misogyny and the political dreck. Every time I got to thinking I might be able to get involved, Bova got out that stick again and I swear it's brutal. I hate books that serve as a tool to advance an author's agenda, and this seems to me a prime example.

2 examples from the book of the kind of material I'm talking about:

The first is from page 33:
A meek tapping at the door to the outer office caught his attention. His secretary did not wait for an answer, but opened the door a crack and announced timidly, "The maintenance man is here?" She was a strkingly lovely redhead, a stunning decoration for the office, but she made every sentence into a question, as though begging permission to exist. "To see about the leak"?

Dan nodded. "About time. Send him right in. I was just leaving anyway."

"The Hernandez reception?" the secretary said. "It starts at five?"

"I know. The phone just reminded me."

A potbellied, swarthy Venezuelan in grease-staned green coveralls frowned his way past the secretary. He waddled across the carpeting and went straight to the window, gazed down at the growing puddle, then looked up at the top of the window. He heaved a great wheezing, grunting sigh.

"I'm leaving," Dan said to his secretary. He patted her rump as he went by her, and she smiled compliantly.

"You're going to dress for the party?" she asked.

"Right." Dan glanced at his wristwatch. More than enough time. "Want to help me?"

She shrugged deliciously and wrinkled her nose for him. Without waiting to see if she were following, Dan headed for the private elevator that went down to his apartment, thinking happily of what the Russian's face would look like if he knew that Astro Manufacturing had just taken the first step toward tapping the mineral resources of the asteroids, resources that were thousands of times richer than the ores the Russians could scrape from the powdery surface of the Moon.

The secretary scampered after him and made it into the elevator just before the doors slid shut. She smiled sweetly for Dan. He wished he could remember her name. She had just started working for him a week ago. And she would be gone before long, he knew. Just like all the others.
The second example is from page 62:
"But how much profit do you make?" Malik [the Russian] asked, his smile looking slightly sardonic now.

"As much as the [Venezuelan] government allows."

"And how much is that?"

"Ask Senor Hernandez. He has the figures."

Malik would not be deterred. "Enough to feed the poor people living in those miserable hovels outside the city? Would you say that your profits could help to feed the poor, rather than making a very rich man even richer?"

"The operation makes jobs for thousands..."

"Of engineers and tax accountants."

"And butchers, bakers, telescope makers" -Dan found himself enjoying the challenge of argument- "cooks, babysitters, auto mechanics, salespeople of all kinds, gardeners, truck drivers -you name it. We bring money into this country, and every bolivar that space operations produces gets spent eight or ten times over, within the country's internal economy. That's a considerable multiplier, and it's fed more Venzuelans than all the damned welfare programs the government's ever funded!"

Malik laughed derisively. "And yet there are still many hungry people, while you live in luxery."

Dan started to reply, but held himself in check for a moment. He saw something in Malik's eyes, something crafty and dangerous. The other Russians were watching the two of them; even those who claimed they could not understand English could see the sparks that the two men struck off each other.

"You really want to feed those hungry people? Dan asked cooly.

"Yes, certainly."

"Then lower the prices you charge us and the other Third World space operations."

That caught Malik by surprise. "Lower the prices for the ores we mine from the Moon?"

"Right," Dan said with a grin. "All the Third World space manufacturers -even the Japanese- have to buy their raw materials from the Soviet Union. You control the lunar mines and you set the prices for the ores."

Malik nodded. The smile was gone from his face, replaced by a skeptical, almost worried expression.

"Lower the prices for our raw materials, and we can lower the prices for the finished manufactured products. That means we'll be able to sell more of our products. Which means we can increase production. Increased production means more jobs. So if you really want to feed those hungry squatters..."

"No, no, no!" Malik waggled a finger in Dan's face. "You would not hire those unskilled men and women to be astronauts or engineers."

"Maybe not. But we'd hire some of them to drive trucks and do maintenance work. Others would get all sorts of jobs in the city, working in restaurants, driving taxicabs, all sorts of things. And we could help to build schools for their children, so that they could become astronauts and engineers."

"Capitalist propaganda." Malik smirked.

Dan laughed. "Propaganda or not, friend, that system has produced more wealth for more people than all the Socialist planning in the world."

The Russian shook his head.

"Try it! Dan urged. "Try it for one year. Just twelve months. Lower the prices you make us pay for the lunar ores, and I guarantee you that those shacks on the hills will start to disappear."

"No," Malik said. "That is not the way to end poverty."
Page after page, chapter after chapter, without relief. I have another book of his in my TBR pile, so I hope it's better.

from the back of the book:
America Has Ceded The Heavens To The Tyrants - And The Renegades.

The U.S. has abandoned its quest for the stars, and an old enemy has moved in to fill the void. The potential wealth of the universe is now in malevolent hands. Rebel billionaire Dan Randolph -possessor of the largest privately owned company in space- intends to weaken the stranglehold the new despotic masters of the solar system have on the lucrative ore industry. But when the mineral-rich asteroid he sets in orbit around the Earth is commandeered by the enemy, and his unarmed workers are slaughtered in cold blood, the course of Randolph's life is changed forever. Now cataclysm is aimed at the exposed heart of America -a potential catastrophe that Randolph himself inadvertently set in motion. And the maverick entrepreneur must use his skills, cunning, and vast resources to strike out at his foes hard, fast and with ruthless precision - and wear proudly the mantle that fate thrust upon him: space pirate!
Kirkus Reviews calls it "One of Bova's best, then, and the fans by now will be familiar with his Cold War posture and anti-Russian rhetoric." SF Reviews says, "It's awful. There's exciting stuff happening - there's nothing particularly wrong with the plot (except its predictability) but the dismal writing steam-rollers along burying all characterization and subtlety."

The picture at the top of the post is from, where you can read more reviews.

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