Communion Of Dreams

Ben Bova

If I published 4 books a year, for the next 25 years, I’d have accomplished in my 74 years what Ben Bova has accomplished in his life so far.

Yeah, it reminds me of that line from the short-lived series Crusade: “Whenever I get to feeling too proud of my accomplishments, I remind myself that when Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for six years.”

Bova is a legend in Science Fiction. Justifiably so. But he’s more than that. He’s a decent human being.

I say that for two reasons, both observed up close at the Heinlein Centennial. The first is summed up nicely by the James D. Miles quote which I have long appreciated:

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

During the Centennial, I was waiting for a friend at a rendezvous point before going off for some lunch. The session I had attended had wrapped up early, so I was just standing there in an entrance hall, minding my own business. From one of the adjacent corridors came a distinguished gent, walking towards me. As he got closer, I recognized him. It was Ben Bova.

He came up to me, peered down at my Centennial badge, and quietly introduced himself. There was no implication that I should be impressed or honored – he was just one guy introducing himself to another stranger who happened to be in the same place at the same time. A part of me, experienced with countless hours of public relations, took note and admired how smoothly and genuinely he did this. The other part of me tried not to stammer too much in response to his queries and comments. We chatted for a few minutes, him telling me that his flight up from Florida had been delayed, asking me why I was attending, et cetera, and then the person he had been waiting for came up (I’m embarrassed to say that I cannot recall his name . . . he was another ‘V.I.P.’ who knew Bova evidently as an old friend). Bova introduced us like I had been his old army buddy. We all chatted for a minute or two. My friend ML came up. Bova took the initiative of introducing himself and his friend to her. Then he glanced at his watch, and said to his friend, “Well, I suppose it’s time I should get in there.” With a smile to us, he asked, “Will you be joining us?”

My friend glanced at me as he turned to go. I nodded, said quietly, “Um, let’s roll with this.”

We followed a few paces to one of the empty meeting rooms. Just inside the door Bova and his friend stopped, Ben looking around somewhat confused.

“Um, perhaps you’re still on Eastern Time? There isn’t anything scheduled during the lunch break . . .” I volunteered.

“Ah, right you are,” he said, somewhat chagrined.

“You’re welcome to join us, we were just about to go get some lunch.” (Hey, lunch with Ben Bova? How cool would that be?)

“Oh, thanks, I really should go get checked in. I just got off the shuttle, and thought I was going to be late getting to this session.”

We (ML and I) slipped out, Bova said goodbye to his friend, and the three of us went one direction, Bova off towards the reception area for the hotel in the other.

Now, that was the first insight. And I concede that it could well have all been just a highly-polished act by an author long experienced with dealing with fans at Cons and whatnot. But the next bit provided the other reason for my assessment.

ML and I had our lunch, and I returned to the room where Ben Bova had thought that he was to be participating. I had planned on going to that session anyway, since the other speaker was Frederik Pohl, and the topic was “Editors in Transition,” about the early days of SF publishing.

And here’s the second thing. I haven’t a nice little quote at hand, but I can assure you that it is true: you can also tell a great deal about someone by how they treat the elderly, particularly if that elderly person is suffering some form of diminished capacity.

Frederik Pohl, to my eye, is still as sharp as a tack. But he’s pushing 90, has had some health issues, and is getting a little forgetful . . . nothing that should come as any kind of a surprise in someone that age. As the full-time care-giver of someone who has Alzheimer’s at 90, I can honestly say that there is no reason to think that he suffers from any kind of dementia or mental deterioration. He’s just evidencing the normal traits of age, and even that very mildly indeed.

The thing is, watching Ben Bova interact with Fred Pohl during the hour long free-wheeling discussion of ‘the good old days,’ I saw another side of Ben Bova that most people probably don’t. There was the usual deference and respect, but there was also a genuine warmth, what I would characterize as perhaps even a kind of love. It’s the sort of thing that allows a person to smile quietly and let slide an error or mistaken memory without the need to correct it or even bring it to the attention of the older person. It is, in my experience, a deep reverence borne of long understanding of another, and reflects that person’s own self-confidence and self-understanding. I didn’t know it until I started to do the background research for this post, but Ben Bova has long experience with the martial arts, and that was the quietude I recognized in him.

I did see more of Ben Bova in the course of the weekend – his giving autographs, accepting awards, making little presentations, interacting with friends and fans. I didn’t attempt to claim any more of his time or attention – no reason to be a nuisance. He had been very generous with me already in that regard. And besides, I’d seen enough to understand some things about him which I deeply respect.

Jim Downey

(Cross posted to UTI.)

4 Comments so far
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[…] This comprised lots of various and sundry awards – Centennial writing awards, SFRA awards, John W. Cambell Award ( later I’ll tell how Ben Bova, this year’s winner for his novel Titan, came up and introduced himself to me…a particular thrill, since I have most of the action in Communion of Dreams take place on the surface and in orbit around that moon.  OK, update – the story of that is told here.). […]

Pingback by The Gala « Communion Of Dreams

I chatted with him for a few minutes in the autograph line. Bova is a really wonderful, unassuming man.

Comment by Tina Black

[…] Bova,Constitution,Guns,Heinlein,Heinlein Centennial,RKBA,Robert A. Heinlein I mentioned meeting Ben Bova at the Heinlein Centennial a couple years back, and how I was impressed by his grace and humanity […]

Pingback by Another reason. « Communion Of Dreams

[…] I mentioned meeting Ben Bova at the Heinlein Centennial a couple years back, and how I was impressed by his grace and humanity […]

Pingback by Another reason. « Ballistics by the inch

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