The novel “The Steps of the Sun” by Walter Tevis was published for the first time in 1983.
Ben Belson made his fortune with the coal market in a world that is running out of energy sources. Winters are getting colder and colder, and many people can’t adequately heat their homes. Belson has enough money to pay for the construction of a spaceship to use to search for uranium.
Belson’s expedition finds an interesting planet with results that are different from what he expected. It’s home to a plant with curious properties, and the discovery of uranyl nitrate on a nearby planet makes the trip seem like a great success. However, Belson finds himself in the midst of a power struggle that endangers everything he has achieved in his life with consequences that will affect the future of the world in one way or another.
Over the course of his life, Walter Tevis wrote a few science fiction novels marked by the presence of protagonists with troubled life and inner conflicts. From this point of view, he was inspired by difficult personal experiences. In “The Steps of the Sun” Ben Belson’s characterization is my main problem.
Ben Belson is rich but he has a lot of personal problems that create a story of a sad rich man but it’s hard for me to take him seriously. He’s rich but he flirts with communist ideas and that makes me laugh. At some point, he starts suffering from impotence and this problem is repeatedly pointed out, also because his experiences with women are complicated, in a part of the story that becomes a soap opera and I didn’t care.
The part of the novel that follows the consequences of the discovery of uranyl nitrate on an alien planet quickly becomes convoluted. It might have been interesting if Walter Tevis had developed more of the power clashes between politics and economics around the sources of energy available on Earth in the 2060s. The choice to tell the story in the first person from Ben Belson’s point of view limits this possibility, also because the story tends to be personal and introspective.
The future Earth shown by the author is heading into a new ice age instead of being in a phase of global warming. However, some problems related to the scarcity of energy sources are still similar to those of today’s world. The author projected the problems created by the energy crisis that he had experienced in previous years, so there’s some interesting food for thought.
In “The Steps of the Sun”, Ben Belson’s personal story remains central and in this case, in my opinion, this becomes a flaw. I think so also because there are some similarities between the story of Ben Belson and that of the protagonist of “The Man Who Fell to Earth” but the results seemed inferior to me.
I would have preferred “The Steps of the Sun” to have more room about the planet on which Ben Belson finds the native plant with strange properties. The introspective elements of this part are also linked at least in part to the protagonist’s midlife crisis but the link with the alien environment led me to find them more interesting and evocative.
Overall, “The Steps of the Sun” gave me mixed feelings. Some parts are interesting but the ones concerning the protagonist, which usually represent strong points in Walter Tevis’ novels, in this case, left me above all perplexity. For this reason, I believe that it’s a novel that can be appreciated above all by readers who are not negatively influenced by the protagonist’s characteristics.