by Ben Bova

Bantam Books


434pp/$22.95/April 1996


Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Although Ben Bova's Brothers ostensible tells the story of Arthur Marshak's attempts to get approval for his research into organ generation, the scientific background Bova presents takes a back seat to the real story of two brothers engaged in sibling rivalry and jealousy. This is a theme Bova seems to be using in a lot of his work lately. His novel Moonrise also makes use of two brothers' rivalry.

In the case of Brothers, the siblings are Arthur and Jesse Marshak. While Arthur has built a comfortable life with his biotech company, Jesse has devoted his life to working as an internist at an inner city hospital. Extremely close to each other, their lives change when Arthur becomes engaged to Julia, a British Airlines executive. Shortly before the wedding, however, Julia and Jesse realize their love for each other and Julia marries Jesse, beginning the rivalry between the two brothers.

The novel opens with Arthur attending an Humanitarian of the Year dinner in honor of Jesse. The first time he has seen or spoken to his brother since Jesse's marriage to Julia. That evening, Arthur has an idea for a method which would allow the generation of replacement organs within the recipient's body. He calls Jesse to ask his opinions and help in the matter.

The remainder of the novel is a series of scenes which move backwards and forwards through time to give the whole story of Julia's involvement with the brothers and Arthur's research into organ growth. The culmination of the events is Arthur's decision to submit his research to a Science Court, in hopes that they will validate the work he is doing and protect that work from religious extremists, Luddites and congressmen. Bova informs the reader by means of a forword, that the idea of a Science Court has been in existence in the real world for years, but hasn't yet been carried out. Although the Science Court seems like a good idea, Bova (who seems to favor the concept) portrays the proceedings of the tribunal almost as a Kangaroo Court. Politics and relationships become as important in the decision of the jury as science.

Bova, of course, is a leading proponent of science. It is not surprising, therefore, that the majority of the people who oppose Arthur Marshak in this novel are shown as close-minded obstacles rather than individuals who have different agendas. Surprisingly, Bova's portrayal of a preacher, Simmonds, accepts that he has a deeply held belief in god and his own activities. When Simmonds is called upon to council Jesse and Julia Marshak, he accepts their differences in religious views from his own and tries to offer the best advice possible.

Bova also tries to tackle the big question of scientific morality. Although Jesse's love for Julia is one of the factors in the breakdown of Arthur and Jesse's relationship, Jesse's belief that Arthur does not pay enough attention to the moral implications of his research.

For all the shifting viewpoints Bova uses: Jesse's, Julia's, Pat Hayward's (Marshak's PR Flack), etc., the story remains Arthur Marshak's. The majority of the novel and the Science Court is seen through his eyes. By showing us the events through others' eyes, Bova allows us to see the folly of Marshak's actions as well as the success.

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