After the first 8 books in The Grand Tour (Mars in particular), Jupiter feels a bit odd at the start. We’re not building up to the eventual discovery of life–the fact that there’s life on Jupiter is presented fait accompli in the first chapters. And not only life… intelligent life (or so is claimed). Jupiter isn’t really about the discovery of life or even really about the idea of life on a research station around Jupiter.
What Jupiter is really about the conflict between religion and science as humanity continues to expand outwards into the solar system. The New Morality controls the politics of the Earth and is doing everything it can to control the solar system. In doing so, they send Grant Archer–a believer and an astrophysicist–to spy on what in the world is going on far out in the dark reaches of the solar system. There’s conflict between science and religion, both on the large scale with the New Morality and the small scale within Grant himself, especially as he begins to settle in and befriend those living on Jupiter station.
The other core of the book is a mission into the oceans of Jupiter itself. It’s a strange but plausible feeling bit of technology, wherein the explorers are immersed in perfluorocarbon (an oxygen-rich liquid they can breath while allowing for much higher pressures) with implanted electrodes that allow them to connect directly to their ship and feel what it ‘feels’. We’re getting further into the future and from the science of today, but everything still feels reasonable enough (even life in the clouds of Jupiter…) to put Jupiter square into the realm of near future hard sci fi. Overall, very cool.
The weakest parts of the story are a combination of side plots that don’t really go anywhere and characters that seem to have no ability to say no. For the former, this could very well be the beginnings of what might bring uplifted gorillas or dolphins to the Grand Tour universe and I full expected them to be used on the mission at the very least… but nothing. In the case of the latter, there are several replacements to the very dangerous Jupiter atmospheric missions (which have already claimed lives) and… it doesn’t seem like anyone chosen can say no. I don’t really get it. It’s just not even mentioned.
Overall, I enjoyed the story. I do like the less political, more sciency stories of the Grand Tour (although none of them–this included–avoid politics entirely). I’m curious to see what will happen a handful of books from now when we get to Leviathans of Jupiter.