Friday, January 8, 2010

Ben Bova is one of my favorite Science Fiction authors.

My darling Barbara died of cancer shortly after midnight Tuesday.

Watching her struggle against the tumors that ravaged her body was like watching a sleek and beautiful sailing ship being battered and pounded by a merciless storm and finally sinking beneath the waves.

We met on Friday, April 12, 1971, at the Rolling Green Motor Hotel in North Andover, Mass. Barbara had been separated from her first husband for more than six months; I was separated from my first wife just about the same length of time.

The occasion was a regional science-fiction conference. I had been invited as a guest. Barbara had no idea of what science-fiction was; a friend had simply told her that there would by lots of interesting people there, that the hotel did not charge for children and there was a heated indoor swimming pool.

So she went with her three children, ranging in age from 10 to 15. I took my two, ages 13 and 11.

I registered at the hotel, took my kids to our room, then went back to the lobby for something. I forget what. The lobby was filled with science-fiction fans, most of them quite young, many afflicted with acne.

As I went back along the corridor, I saw this tall, beautiful, dark-eyed woman coming up the other way. She was the first adult I had seen outside of the hotel staff.

“My god,” I gasped, “a grown-up!”

“You mean a grup,” said she, smiling and flashing those gorgeous eyes.

That was a line from a “Star Trek” episode, so I assumed she was a fan. I learned later that she wasn’t, but her kids watched “Star Trek” so faithfully that they had just about memorized every line of every episode.

We had dinner together that night, and all five of our children quickly learned that if they couldn’t find us, they should look in the bar. We spent hours talking together. We were seldom apart for more than a few days ever since.

Barbara had a master’s degree in social work and worked for Sen. Abraham Ribicoff in his Hartford, Conn., office. I was working at a physics research laboratory outside Boston and writing science-fiction in my free time.

We were both happily surprised that splitting from our long and unhappy first marriages was nowhere as painful as we had been led to believe it would be. Barbara thought I should write a book on the subject, telling readers that marital breakup needn’t be an unmitigated misery.

“You’re the social worker, I deal with hard science,” I said. “You write the book.”

We compromised and wrote the book together. It was titled “Survival Guide for the Suddenly Single” and sold quite well. It was the first book to deal with marital breakup in an upbeat, optimistic way.

Writing a book is not easy, and when you collaborate with another writer everything gets four times more difficult. Recognizing this, I told Barbara as we started the book, “If we’re still friends when this project is finished, we ought to get married.”

We were and we did. For more than 36 years we shared every aspect of our lives. Barbara became a very successful and respected literary agent, combining the skills she learned in social work with her interest in good reading to help new writers find their markets.

We traveled the world together. We watched our children grow up, marry and present us with grandchildren. She was a terrific grandma.

And now she’s gone. Born and raised in Manhattan, she was always a fighter, and she battled cancer every inch of the way, but in the end it overwhelmed her, despite all that modern medicine can do. The people of Avow Hospice of Naples were wonderful in easing her pain at the end. If you want to memorialize Barbara, please send a check to Avow Hospice.

Death gets us all, sooner or later. It makes you feel helpless. Especially me, who’s spent a lifetime writing about the wonders of science and the bright prospects of the future.

At the end Barbara was surrounded with children, grandchildren, other family and many, many friends. Surrounded with love.

Naples resident Ben Bova is the author of more than 120 books, including “The Return,” his latest futuristic novel. Bova’s Web site address is

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