Friday, June 2, 2017

Mars

 Mars
© 1992 Ben Bova
560 pages



Mankind has finally arrived on Mars, via a joint venture between the United States, Russia, Europe, and Japan. An expedition slated to last several months on the planet itself plans to explore part of the Valley of the Mariners as well as a volcano. While each member of the international expedition has his or own private ambitions to realize on the planet --   honoring Yuri Gagarin, or living up to a celebrity-scientist-father –  at least a couple of members are seriously hoping to find signs of life, living or extinct.   Although the mission is  carefully planned and equipped with redundancies, the crew still trip over one another’s personalities, and must fight against technological failures, the easy hostility of the Red Planet, and (worst of all) politicians back home.  Ben Mova’s Mars  is a tale of scientific enterprise and adventure, slightly dated in parts but timeless in its descriptions of Mars' eerie beauty.

I'd never heard of this author until the library displayed a few of his books,  and his lead character here -- a half Navajo  geologist who is fascinated by the similarities between Mars and northern New Mexico's landscapes --  caught my eye.   The story has two parts: as the geologist and his colleagues settle into life on Mars and begin their research in earnest, overcoming obstacles like dust storms and each other,  Bova occasionally flashes back to the months that led up to the expedition. (It's very similar in structure to Stephen Baxter's Voyage, another "go" for Mars story.)  There are other elements, too: the lead character's sort-of girlfriend is a news reporter eager to use her connection to him to scoop everyone else, and the expedition as a whole is at the mercy of the vice president, a blonde-haired bully who is planning a presidential run and is paranoid that everyone is out to get her.  Bova is at his strongest when taking readers through the scientific puzzles and descriptions of the Martian landscape, evoking the astronauts' wonder.  I found the frequent description of the Navajo as an "Injun" by the international expedition a little odd. While American media is pervasive, including westerns which are oddly popular in eastern Europe,  would Russians and Japanese scientists really  regard him as some uber-foreign creature?   Of course, the main character does promote cariacturization of himself, deliberately using phrases like "White man speaks with forked tongue" when his commanding officer promises something and then has to contradict it.

Bova has a series of SF books about the future of human spaceflight, and I look forward to exploring him more.  He ends this book with a terrific hook.....the possible discovery of life beyond Earth.

Related:
Voyage, Stephen Baxter
The Martian, Andy Weir

14 comments:

  1. I've read quite a bit of Bova over the years (all pre-Blog) so you have lots to look forward to. In many ways he's a lot like Clarke I think. As you said he's good with the science and the sense of wonder. I thought I'd read this one but now I'm not so sure.... [muses]

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  2. Bova lives nearby on the Gulf coast, which probably signifies nothing except for the fact that I've always felt I owed it to a "neighbor" to read his novels; however, alas, I've read none of his work, but now you might have given me the final push that I need to read at least one of Bova's novels. Thanks for the review!

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  3. I remember Ben Bova when he was editor of one of the SF magazines many moons ago.

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  4. "easy hostility": good... i've read some of his work but not his mars series; maybe i'm mixing him up with spider robinson... sounds interesting... tx for the synopsis...

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  5. @Cyberkitten: I'm hoping the books don't need to be read in a strict order!

    @Tim: Have fun!

    @Fred: Yes, his profile picture indicates he's definitely an SF veteran..

    @Mudpuddle: The Mars books seem to be part of something called the Grand Tour series.

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  6. The Grand Tour Series:

    1. Mars (1992)
    2. Empire Builders (1993)
    3. Return to Mars (1999)
    4. Venus (2000)
    5. Jupiter (2000)
    6. Saturn (2003)
    7. Tales of the Grand Tour (2004)
    8. Mercury (2005)
    9. Powersat (2005)
    10. Titan (2006)
    12. Mars Life (2008)
    13. Leviathans of Jupiter (2011)

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  7. Ah! Thanks for the full list. By the way, do you know (off hand) of stories about machine-intelligence structures going amuck? I'm not thinking about killer robots, but rather...something like a computer-controlled skyscraper that begins malfunctioning, or something like SKynet. I've read Fear Index, The Grid, and Rising Sun, all of which have a little of that. Problem is that when I do "related searches" on Amazon, all I kid is more books by the same author, or more thrillers, instead of something specific: i.e, A.I. on the fritz.

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    1. I've been looking for similar stuff and have been amazed at how few have been written. You'd think we the all pervasive technology we have - plus the example of the Terminator movies - that there would be more out there. Not so apparently. But searching them out is high on my list.

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    2. Try _The Colossus Project_ by DF Jones. There's also two sequels: _The Fall of Colossus_ and Colossus and the Crab_.

      A computerized defense system decides to take over because it is smarter than humans.

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  9. Forgot to mention that there are others--just give me some time to try to call some of them out of the dim recesses I call memory.

    The Colossus novel was a basis for the film _The Forbin Project_. Forbin is the name of the creator of the Colossus AI defense system.

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    1. I really enjoyed The Forbin Project. I've been trying to source the Region 2 DVD but no luck so far.

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  10. If you want something more complex than an AI system versus humans, try Dan Simmon's _Hyperion_ series. It features

    --an AI culture that is divided into various camps about the appropriate relationship with humans,

    --several groups of humans fighting among themselves, and

    --intervention from the future possibly by two advanced AI systems, one hostile to and one friendly with humans.

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  11. @Fred: Thanks so much for the reccommendations. Hyperion came up on a few goodreads lists, but I wasn't aware of the plot. Sounds like an interesting universe to investigate!

    @Cyberkitten: We'll have to keep each other updated on our respective discoveries, if any!

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