Ben Bova is one of the more overrated writers in Science Fiction and Laugh Lines reminds you why. It’s two of Bova’s old satirical novels, The Starcrossed and Cyberbooks, boiled together in a single book with a handful of short shorts.
Science Fiction comedy is hard to do, and Bova’s approach is the wrong one. Starcrossed and stories like Crisis of the Month are written as over the top as possible. Characters are given names like Moneygrinder and Climber and the whole thing is written with the air of an author giggling over his own cleverness.
And that’s the worst possible way to write comedy.
Laugh Lines begins with The Starcrossed, which should never have seen print outside of a fanzine. It’s that bad. But it ends with Cyberbooks, which is a solid novel, and the best thing in Laugh Lines. Pity you have to carve your way through 200 pages of Starcrossed and a few short stories, to get to it. Even in the Kindle and iPad age, Cyberbooks is still timely and funny, because it concentrates on the industry and Bova restraints himself from naming every character, Moneygrubber or dressing them up like Byzantine warriors. The characters are human beings, presented in a believably futuristic New York, with a story you actually care about.
Laugh Lines is heavy and sells for more than it should. But copies of Cyberbooks are still available for a lot less. Ironically in eBook form.