This addition to Bova’s impressive multi-volume saga of humanity’s expansion through the solar system chronologically follows Saturn (2003).
Life aboard Goddard, the huge cylindrical habitat orbiting Saturn, continues apace. Chief scientist Eduoard Urbain’s pride and joy, the exploration module Titan Alpha, has touched down on the frigid surface of Saturn’s huge, smog-enshrouded moon Titan; unfortunately, though Alpha’s exploration of the surface proceeds as planned, the machine stubbornly refuses to communicate with its controllers or beam back information about what, if anything, it has discovered. Retired bigwig executive Pancho Lane arrives for a visit with her sister, Holly, Goddard’s director of human resources, only to arouse intense paranoia in the chief administrator, slimeball Malcolm Eberly: Holly, you see, is Eberly’s sole opponent in the upcoming election. Eberly’s big campaign promise is to make the colonists rich by mining Saturn’s rings for water. Exobiologist Nadia Wunderly, however, suspects that the rings contain lifeforms and hence should remain off-limits to human interference. Holly’s own platform involves a referendum to overturn the zero-population-growth rule and thus allow the colonists to have the children they are currently denied. To stop Eberly, Wunderly must prove that her lifeforms exist, so she engages Pancho Lane and retired stuntman Manuel Gaeta to go collect some samples for her to analyze. Another headache for Eberly is the inexplicable, intermittent peaks, troughs and surges that threaten Goddard’s power supply with inconvenient and conceivably lethal outages.
Clicks along like a well-oiled machine: smooth, precise and reliable, inching Bova’s grand design forward another notch or two.