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This is a solid science fiction title set in a slightly dated near future. Ben Bova has written an interesting story about the first human expedition to Mars that I found quite engaging and addictive. Some of the story elements are now dated (eg. Floppy disks, battlestar galactica approach) but nonetheless the story holds up as realistic and for me, at least, exciting.
I had previously read the title in hardcopy prior to 'reading' it on audible and I think I appreciated it more evenly - throughout the entire book - the second time around. I attribute that to the format - you can not easily scan or skip ahead in an audiobook - but also to the narration of Stefan Rudnicki who kept it interesting. Stefan manages to deal with the many accents passably or at least better than I could.
A very nice read!
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
This tale unfolds slowly, but it's engaging and well-told. Clearly intended as part of a series - which I don't often care for - it nonetheless manages to stand on its own. The characters are carefully unfolded and come to life under Rudnicki's outstanding narration. (I don't think they come better than Rudnicki.) Bova doesn't follow the usual formula leading to an ending where everything blows up. If fast-paced, hard-hitting action is what you're looking for - and there's certainly a place for that - you likely won't like this one. If a well-told, good story is your interest, this won't let you down. I will read this next one.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
I enjoyed the three books, I like the Idea that a native American is the driving force to mars, Red man Red planet etc.
I only gave it a 4 star because I think there's another book needed for the ending. But on that point I will read his other books as I like his style.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
I have currently been reading quite a bit of science-fiction from the likes
of peter F Hamilton and Alistair Reynolds and was searching around for a new
author to dip into within this genre. I had heard of Ben Bova and had seen
many a title over the years adorning book shelves in local shops and so
decided to take a look at what he had to offer that might appeal.
I've particularly liked authors who create a series of books that spend time
exploring various aspects of the genre and so I was pleased and somewhat
impressed to learn of Bova's Grand Tour series of novels that span more than
20 titles from what I can determine. Great! Something to really get my teeth
into I thought. However, upon reading the synopsis and some reviews of the
early books in this series I decided not to do what I tend to which is to
doggedly read a series of books in order. NOTE: Any of the titles within
the Grand Tour series can actually be read in isolation without need of
having to read previous parts to the series. Many books feature completely
different sets of characters that can be enjoyed in a stand-alone element of
the series so there's no need to read the series in order at all to get
enjoyment from these stories.
Looking at the first few books I decided to skip to the first book in the
read sequence recommended by Bova that featured most of the story being away
from Earth and much of its politics as seems to be the key thread of earlier
books and something I wanted to avoid. Many readers will like the political
machinations covered in the earlier books in this series but this stuff
leaves me cold and I'd rather focus on the real science fiction and sense of
wonder engendered by books that focus on other planets in our solar system.
Mars was the first title in the read sequence that fit the bill and so I
delved into my first Bova novel and allowed the author to place me, the
reader, on the surface of Mars. I felt that this book was especially
relevant as Mars is the next step in the quest to send humans to other
worlds in our solar system and so this book might have some prophetic
undertones to it I thought.
On the whole the story worked for me and was interesting and gave the reader
that sense of wonder as the characters explored this new world. This sort of
pioneering element is often lacking in science-fiction novels I feel and so
Mars was just what I wanted in a story. However, as others have noted, mars
suffers from being a book written in the early 1990's in that the
technologies mentioned are dated, especially when the time frame of the
story as far as I was able to determine was set somewhere between 2006 and
2015. maybe Bova believed a manned mission to Mars was perhaps just three
or four years away and that the technologies that were current at the time
of writing would still be relevant. However, where Bova probably got it
wrong was that given the time frame of his story that technology would've
marched on quite a bit and that mentioning tapes, cassettes, faxes and
modems were a mistake as he has not seemingly cared to try and project
forward and at least guess at how the logical evolution of mundane
technologies like video could've evolved. In fact, I would go so far as to
say that Bova could've avoided his story being so technically dated by
employing more generic terms to cover any foreseeable advances. For example,
if he had simply replaced the word "tape" with "recording" he would have
cleverly avoided tying down to any specific medium what video and audio
were stored on.
Similarly, modem could've been substituted with data transmission. He even
goes so far as to mention the use of floppy disks which really dates any
science-fiction novel terribly and he should've avoided such specifics if he
was unable to come up with more generic terms. One thing that is notoriously
hard to predict for any author is how technology or political and national
landscapes change and so this is why being specific when dealing with those
things is unwise. If Bova had simply said Russian rather than Soviet it would
also have been generic enough to side-step the changes that have occurred
over the years since the book was written. I am surprised that Bova fell into
this simple trap given how successful an author he is. Still, having said
all that, Mars might have been one of his earlier efforts and so he can be
forgiven for his errors in that regard.
One other thing I would have to say about this book that I also thought was
a little poor was his incredibly clichéd characterization of an Englishman.
As one myself it appalled me to read how Victorian and stereotypical the
portrayal of the man was. I think some U.S authors have a very old fashioned
view of what English people are like and it reminds me with a wry smile when
asked by my cousin when I was first over in the States back in 1982 when the
12 year old looked at me quizzically and asked "Do they have telephones in
England?". I also once asked another young American back in the early 80's
what they learned about England and I was told that it was foggy a lot of
the time in London and women wore long dresses!
So, perhaps it's not surprising that Bova paints an anachronistic picture of
an Englishman who says things like "Old Boy", "Good show" and " That's the
ticket." and of course has an overbearing Father who shows no love and a
meek mother who is cowed by her husbands no-nonsense cold attitude. So, yes,
the portrayal of this character was indeed shockingly clichéd. In addition, this character was snug, arrogant and clearly self-absorbed which given the degrees of psychological testing apparently done to each Mars mission candidate, begs the question as to how someone so flawed could ever be allowed to be a member of such a vital mission.
The other key thing that shocked me in this book and may be a sign of the
times in which it was written was the overt and casual racism evident in the
way characters referred to the native American protagonist, Jamie Waterman.
Phrases like "Red man" or the pejorative use of "Indian" and even the
aforementioned Englishman referring to Waterman's ancestry as "Savages" was
incredible. On the other hand, Bova's was able to project attitudes towards
gender sufficiently forward to allow for a female vice president which we
still don't have and a significant contingent of females involved in the
Mars mission so it does puzzle me why there is such backward racial terms
still used in this novel by the various characters.
Having pointed out all of the above elements of the story I felt were
shortcomings I have to say that it did not stop me from liking this book. I
loved all the elements of the story focused on the plight of the characters
on Mars and in orbit and the Earth element was just a distraction to me.
For me, Mars was just what I was looking for in the Grand Tour series of
books from Ben Bova. I am going to read the next title in the recommended
sequence, Moon Rise and can see that the author pays a return visit to Mars a
little further on in the series which I very much look forward to reading.
If you like the sense of wonder and exploration of alien worlds from your
science-fiction then I think you'll get a lot from this story. I have to say
that having just read it that I really hope to see humans visit the red
planet within my lifetime as this would be such a thrill.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful