The Watchmen - Ben Bova (1964, 1969)

The Watchmen is a collection of two books by sci-fi great Ben Bova, collected into a single volume. Both deal with an Interstellar Terran Empire and the Star Watch which is charged with holding it together and keeping the peace. Both are interesting, but for different reasons.

Science fiction, as I've said before in reviews, can be a vehicle for writers to comment on issues which are of very real import in a way which provides a little distance and perspective. Star Watchmen, the first of the two short novels, is a fine example of this type of writing. Published in 1964, it is a pretty clear analogy for the proxy wars and colonial in-fighting that were flaring up in Southeast Asia. As an allegory for Vietnam (and other places), it works well. Bova renames the various parties involved, and without a real-world name as a peg to hang one's hat, it becomes a lot harder to tell who the "good guys are." The book is a little dated, but it's still a good read.

I remember reading The Dueling Machine back in the early 80s and thinking how cool it was. It bears up pretty well on this rereading, even though the whole book is essentially written around a single cool idea. That idea is sort of what has come to be called "virtual reality" - a machine which allows the participants to share a dream and fight to the "death." When the machine is used to cause actual death, investigations are spawned and the plot proceeds. However, the book revolves around the neat technological idea. It is handled deftly enough - and still makes our current VR look a little lame.

Bova writes well, and the books are entertaining. They both look a little dated, but that is not a bad thing. When one realizes that the books were written forty years ago, one cannot help but admire the vision of the writer. Taken together, they are a fine time capsule.

Overall Grade: B

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