Ben Bova picked his villains well for this fast-paced, popcorn-and-Milk- Duds matinee: Topping the playbill is our sister planet, Venus itself, which Bova matter-of-factly describes as "the most hellish place in the solar system." Sci-fi authors (Bova included) have all but colonized Mars by now, but few have boldly gone to the aluminum-melting, sulfuric-acid-soaked surface of the Morning Star. Venus proves a mighty, unthinking antagonist indeed--frustrating the efforts of sickly but likable rich kid Van Humphries to land there and recover the remains of his older brother Alex, who died two years earlier on another ill-fated mission.
Van gets pushed back and forth between the book's two lesser villains--his mean old cuss of a father, Martin Humphries, who's posted the $10 billion Venus Prize to the first person to return Alex's body, and Lars Fuchs, a belligerent asteroid miner and Martin's arch-nemesis, who's also decided to make a go at the purse.
Characterizations ride coach on this high-adventure flight, but remember that we're talking about Ben Bova here. It's hard to dispute the master's choices as you're following Van's well-researched, thrills-and-chills descent through Venus's pressure-cooker atmosphere. With solid science, a palatable environmental message (how could you resist commenting on greenhouse gases in a book like this?), and an inspiring character arc for unlikely hero Van, Venus delivers guilt-free, man-against-nature SF in a tight, page-turning package. --Paul Hughes