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Ben Bova
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Ben Bova   Ben Bova is the author of over 120 books, including the Grand Tour series. Heís received the Hugo award 6 times, as well as the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, Robert A. Heinlein Award, Isaac Asimov Memorial Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation. Dr. Bova has been the president of the National Space Society and the President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Back in the 70's he was the editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine. He's appeared on many shows such as Good Morning America and the Today show.

Buy Ben Bova's Books at the following locations: (downloadable audio books) (independent bookstores)
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This episode originally aired on 01/07/2009 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with Ben Bova

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Bonus Question(s) that Didn't Air on the Live Radio Show

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it.

Matthew Peterson: So the bonus question... Iím going to ask you a couple, actually. First off, I understand youíve taught science fiction at Harvard University and at Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

Ben Bova: Yes.

Matthew Peterson: What advice would you give a new author of science fiction?

Ben Bova: Be yourself and write about the things and the people you know. Most youngsters coming into writing science fiction simply start copying the stuff that they like to read. Or worse yet, they copy television shows. That is a recipe for disaster. What the field has always lived on is new voices, new ideas, fresh points of view. So if youíre getting into science fiction, if you want to be successful as a science fiction writer, write about what you know and what you feel deeply about and write about real characters. Use the people around you as models for the characters in your stories.

Matthew Peterson: Good. I like that advice. I think thatís why people read... The story is very interesting, but the characters are equally. . .

Ben Bova: The characters make the story.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. The storyís not going to go anywhere without someone you actually care about.

Ben Bova: Mm hmm.

Matthew Peterson: You know, when I was in college I did a little bit of writing, but one of my two biggest regrets is that I didnít take bowling and fencing. [laughs]

Ben Bova: [laughs] Geez, I love fencing! I was fairly good at it when I was younger.

Matthew Peterson: When I heard that you did fencing, itís like, ďAh!Ē It just reminded me how, you know, I just worked, worked, worked in college and just didnít do anything fun. I got married like . . . I married the first girl I found in college. [Mattís note: this wasnít a bad thing. It was just unexpected. I dated many girls before college and never imagined Iíd find ďthe oneĒ so quickly.] Like the first day in college I met her and we got engaged really fast, [Mattís note: 11 days. I told you it was fast!] and so I didnít really have too much fun in college, in I guess the ďcollege lifeĒ sense. And Iím like, ďMan, I wish I would have taken fencing or bowling or . . .Ē I was just trying to get through college.

Ben Bova: Are you still married to her?

Matthew Peterson: I am, yeah. Happily married.

Ben Bova: Okay, well you chose wisely.

Matthew Peterson: I did, yeah. Happily married for over 12 years now.

Ben Bova: Very good.

Matthew Peterson: Well, I really do enjoy speaking with you, Ben. I think what we talked about is really great. I really did enjoy it. And I think right now thatís really important because weíre in the thick of these things, with the health industry and the . . .

Ben Bova: Yes.

Matthew Peterson: . . . Able One, I like that idea of using the lasers [to shoot down missiles] and I remember you spoke about lasers in the World Science Fiction Convention. You were on a panel once, and I poked my head in a little bit and I remember you mentioning that.

Ben Bova: Yep.

Matthew Peterson: Iíd forgotten that. So youíve worked with lasers quite a lot, and so thatís why you have a lot of experience to be able to write Able One. And youíve already predicted some of these things that would be happening, and itís already happening now. What are some of the other things that we could do with lasers?

Ben Bova: Lasers are a means of delivering a lot of energy over a long distance. And you can do many things with them. Weaponry is one thing. Long, long range communications is something else-- interstellar or interplanetary communications. We even looked at the possibilities of using lasers to help dig tunnels to the hardest kind of rock. If the laser beam could crack the rock, then a standard tunneling machine could bore it out. Lasers are in use all over your life. We donít think about it, but the checkout counter in your supermarket uses lasers to read the product code. Lasers cut materials in clothing factories. All kinds of things that lasers do for us: very good at measuring distance . . .

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah.

Ben Bova: . . .very precise. And every day lasers bounce off equipment left on the moon by the Apollo astronauts to measure the moonís motions and its orbit.

Matthew Peterson: I think I remember you mentioning some sort of way of using lasers for helping with an energy source . . .

Ben Bova: Oh! This is the idea of solar power satellites, where you put solar cells in orbit, convert sunlight into electricity, and then beam that energy back down to the earth.

Matthew Peterson: Beam it down.

Ben Bova: You can do it as microwaves or you can do it as laser beams.

Matthew Peterson: And thatís a feasible technology that hasnít been probably created yet, but you feel that it could be?

Ben Bova: It is perfectly feasible. You donít need any new technical inventions. We know how to make solar cells. We know how to make lasers and microwave transmitters. We know how to build structures in space. All we need is the guts and the ambition and a mad man to drive it through.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

Ben Bova: I wrote a novel called Powersat which is about the people who build the first solar powered satellite and the people who try to prevent them. And that novel has done fairly well.

Matthew Peterson: Well, you know, what you said, it requires a ďmad man.Ē I put quotation marks around that. I mean, someone with the ambition to sail around the world. [laughs] You know.

Ben Bova: Hyman Rickover to push the Navy into nuclear power, ballistic-missile launching submarines.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I donít know how much power you could create from this, but would this be . . .

Ben Bova: Gigawatts. You could deliver gigawatts of energy to the ground. One moderately sized solar power satellite could replace all the power generators in the state of Florida.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, wow. So this would, of course, be expensive to start, but then in the long run, all of a sudden, we have power.

Ben Bova: Well, it would be cheap to operate.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Ben Bova: And very clean. You know, your power plant is the sun. So what youíre delivering to the ground doesnít heat the atmosphere, doesnít pollute the air, doesnít require lots of water to cool it down. So itís a very, very environmentally friendly way of delivering electricity, electrical power. And I donít think it would be much more expensive than building a nuclear power plant.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Yeah, Ďcause I mean, thatís quite expensive in itself just doing that.

Ben Bova: And the benefits you get from it... You know, you would have to develop a whole infrastructure of launching rockets and technically trained people--construction crews--in orbit. If we start building solar power satellites, we will also be building the technology to take us wherever we want to go in space.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, because thatís one of the limitations, speed and power, as you continue going on for years and years and years.

Ben Bova: The cost of getting from here to a hundred miles up, thatís the big limitation.

Matthew Peterson: Ah.

Ben Bova: It would . . . a space shuttle would cost $10,000 a pound.

Matthew Peterson: A pound?

Ben Bova: And youíre never going to get anything profitable at that cost.

Matthew Peterson: Oh.

Ben Bova: You need to bring it down to $100 dollars a pound and then youíll see industry blooming in orbit, tourism, scientific explorations, the whole nine yards.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah. I didnít realize it cost that much just for... the fuel?

Ben Bova: Most of that cost is paperwork.

Matthew Peterson: Really?

Ben Bova: The fuel, hydrogen and oxygen, donít cost that much. The development costs of the shuttle have been paid.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah, because weíve been doing that for a long time.

Ben Bova: Astronauts arenít paid that much. But thereís a standing army of thousands of bureaucrats checking each other and double checking everything in the name of safety, but all it does is add delays and cost to launching payload and people into orbit.

Matthew Peterson: Wow. Well, I like your idea. Lasers are definitely... Itís one of the those things... I mean, the sunís not going away anytime soon. And I like what you said: itís very clean, itís very efficient. Yeah, I mean, this could be the future.

Ben Bova: Yep.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. And did you write a book about this yet? [laughs]

Ben Bova: Well, I wrote Powersat.

Matthew Peterson: You wrote Powersat, okay. Itís a great idea. Hopefully some politicians will read that book.

Extra Material That was Cut from the Show Because of Time Constraints

Note that you can also listen to this while you read it (you'll need to fast forward past the bonus questions).

Matthew Peterson: You know, I was just speaking with Terry Pratchett a while ago and he said, ďWe live in a science fiction age.Ē Everything that we are right now is just unbelievable. Weíre just this ball of rock, spinning through the universe and we exist on it and go down a few feet and weíll burn to death and go up a few feet and weíll suffocate. Just everything is just amazing how we are . . . I mean we live in this science fiction world. I think thatís great that you are delving into that so much.

* * * * * * * * * *

Matthew Peterson: So what can we do as a population, as a people, to help progress? You mentioned already that we have some political boundaries that are preventing some of it. I mean, what can we do as the populous to help this move along because, I like the idea of destroying a missile before it destroys a city. I like that idea.

Ben Bova: Yes.

Matthew Peterson: What are some of these obstacles that we [must overcome]?

Ben Bova: The most important thing we can do is elect people to political office who understand the technology, who understand what can be done, who are more interested in solving problems than getting themselves re-elected. I think one thing that we need is term limits on our politicians. Weíve got people sitting in the U.S. Senate, you know, for life! And theyíre totally out of contact with the real world.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Thatís a good answer, because thatís what the United States is built on, on the people. And itís who we vote into office who largely make the decisions.

Ben Bova: Yeah, and unfortunately, nowadays on the national level, incumbents almost always win. Itís very hard to unseat somebody whoís in the Senate or even in the House of Representatives. And they are the people who really run the government. The president gets a lot of the attention, but on Capitol Hill, those politicians there say the president proposes but the congress disposes.

Matthew Peterson: Ahh.

Ben Bova: Congress has the purse strings, and most of congress has been there for twenty, thirty, forty years at a time. Thatís much too long.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I agree. That is a long time, especially because the newer generations, even my generation, Iím not like the newest generation, but we have different perspectives and we see things differently. And weíre not, I donít know if I want to say stagnant . . .

Ben Bova: No, but youíre . . . I think younger people do have more flexible minds. Theyíre more open to new ideas. Itís very difficult to get somebody whoís got a sinecure--you know, a guaranteed seat in the Senate for the rest of his life--to open his mind to anything new.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Teach an old dog new tricks.

Ben Bova: I think it was Senator Everett Dirkson back in the 1950's who proposed Dirksonís 3 Laws of Politics: 1. Get elected, 2. Get re-elected, 3. Donít get mad, get even.

Matthew Peterson: Mmm. Yeah.

Ben Bova: This does not solve our problems. You take a look at the congress today. Theyíre bagging around this idea of health care. Theyíre not really solving the problem. Theyíre fighting each other for political gain. You know, we have a very good health care program for the United States Congress. Why not use that program for all of us.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah. Well I can definitely see your reasoning. You know, another thing I can see is that, like what you said, one of the main objectives for many political figures is re-election.

Ben Bova: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: And so their decision today . . .

Ben Bova: Not ďone of their main objectives.Ē It is their main objective.

Matthew Peterson: So if their main objective is to be re-elected, then that means thatís changing some of the decisions they make today, which might not be good for the people.

Ben Bova: Yeah. They have a completely different set of objectives and a completely different point of view.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

Ben Bova: Their objective is to get re-elected. Whatever else is on the table is in second place at best.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, you bring up some very interesting points.

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