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Millennial Review II: Millennium by Ben Bova (1976)


By Ben Bova 

17 Jan, 2000

Millennial Reviews


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Ben Bova
Del Rey Books 1976
295 pages

I’m cheating here: all the books I am reviewing are supposed to be set in 2000 but most of the action in Millenium is set in December 1999. Only about a page is arguably set in 2000.

Synopsis: In 1999, the predictions of the Club of Rome have more or less come true: the world’s population is 8 billion, resources are running out, and the two Great Powers, the USA and the SU, are beginning an unavoidable preparation for WWIII. As December goes by,events spin out of control, much as they did in August 1914

What makes WWIII thinkable is the existence of two partial orbital ABM networks. Although neither the Americans or the Russians have enough satellites in orbit to prevent the other side from nuking them, both are furiously working on completing their own networks and destroying elements of the other nation’s network. Thus far, the human casualties have been low and accidental.

The ABM networks are supplied from the Moon. Because China was a serious threat briefly in the 1980s, the Russians and American cooperated in a joint moon program in the mid 1980s, causing Lunagrad and Moonbase to be twin cities with interconnected life support systems.This has led to a certain amount of tension under the current circumstances.

Moonbase’s commander, Chet Kinsman, is guilt-ridden over having killed a Russian female cosmonaut in hand to hand combat in 1983. The prospect of being the chief supplier for something which makes a global thermonuclear war is too much for him and he decides to rebel against the US and the SU. Luckily the Russian commander of Lunagrad agrees anda fter it is pointed out to Kinsman that while neither the Russians or American have complete ABM networks, the pair of them together do, the plan is expanded to including taking over the six orbital command centers for the ABM networks. 

With some complications, including the opposition of a close friend, Frank Colt, the plan to take the moonbases and orbital command centers is successful. Once in orbit, a UNESCO researcher reveals to Kinsman that the researcher’s work could easily be applied to weather control. The plan to secure the recognition of Selene, the new lunar nation is modified: they will present the UN, powerless until now,with the ABM network and the weather control technology in exchange for recognition. It is expected that the minor nations will go for the deal.

Both the US and SU put into motion plans to retake the orbital command stations. Most of the focus is on the US effort, led by Frank Colt, Kinsman’s friend. They persuade Kinsman to come to NYC, to the UN, and for Selene to accept a rocket full of settlers. In reality the immigrants never leave; the rocket is full of soldiers. At last minute,Colt has a change of heart and the counter-revolution falls. Kinsman escapes NYC, leaving the UN building to be burnt down by the rioting mobs, only to die of heart failure once back on the Moon. His friends and allies promise to carry on and there is a strong sense that a new international order is soon to follow.

Obviously not our 2000, the main differences come from Bova accepting the models of the Club of Rome and a failure to anticipate the growth of technological ability, aside from space travel. The computer Kinsman uses is a terminal connected to a mainframe. The printer is a teletype-style machine. The clock is a digital clock [Digital clocks were still cool enough to mention in 1976].

Europe is barely worth mentioning, not a player in the SU/US conflict, rather like Pournelle’s Co-Dominium [Piper Paratimers would probably be able to point out the branch point between Millennium and the CD universe but they’re closer than either is to ours]. In general, the late 1990s are like the 1970s, but worse [Except for space travel, which got a big shot in the arm from the need to supply the orbital command stations]: fuel shortages, food riots, general reliance on government handouts, rising crime rates. 

The book itself is a competent enough work of the sort that used to populate the midlist. Bova was probably at the top of his form, such as it was, for Millennium. The characters are fairly simple, the plot is pretty linear and you can tell who the ‑real- antagonists are because they don’t get names but titles like The Nameless One. OTOH, it isn’t a bloodless Clarkeian coup and innocent people get killed. Kinsman’s boss, for example, ends up committing suicide rather than take the blame for the revolt on the Moon.

Bova does mention at least two new forms of music. Not the ones we got but at least he realised cultures change. This doesn’t extend to the dialogue, especially that of Frank Colt, Angry Black Man Working to Overthrow the System From Within, which comes frighteningly close to qualifying for the Superfly Memorial Unfortunate Dialogue, Baby, Award. Race relations have remained static in the US [Although the President is black] and if Kinsman were running a current day military base, he’d be in serious danger of a sexual harassment charge. 

I would be less optimistic about the long term outcome of handing the UN the two big sticks Kinsman gives them but I am a child of my times. One could make a strong case that the World Government in Colony [the sequel] is the same one as in the Exile Trilogy, suppressing certain lines of research in order to keep an increasing poor and unstable world functioning.

It’s interesting that Bova later went on to write Peacemaker [?]in which the Evil Russians achieve World Domination through an ABM system similar to the one in Millennium, exactly what the unsympathetic hawks in Millennium thought would happen if the Russians finished their system first.What a difference Afghanistan made to people’s perceptions of detente, eh? And did anyone predict an end to the Cold War in which space was utterly irrelevant?

Although it is strongly dated and Bova is not the best writer SFever had, Millennium was quite readable, an evening’s entertainment.