Friday, 11 January 2019

Book review: Mars, by Ben Bova.

The Red Planet is hotter than ever. With Andy Weir's excellent 'The Martian' being a hit in both book and film forms, NASA's landers and rovers toiling on the surface, and Elon Musk's SpaceX working towards a rocket that may enable Mars colonisation, Earth's neighbour is getting a great deal of deserved attention.

Mars has featured in literature many times over the years. An example of this is Ben Bova's 1992 book 'Mars', about an international mission to Mars. The book is part of his 'Grand Tour' series around the planets.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The book's protagonist, Jamie Waterman, is a Navajo geologist on the ground team. His character felt particularly weak, and the plotline revolving around his ancestry was poorly developed and perhaps even stereotyped. Likewise, many of his compatriots are poorly written in my view - Anthony Reid, the doctor, is a snivelling Englishman with severe daddy issues.

To make things worse, the characters all act unprofessionally - behaving more like bunnies on Viagra than serious scientists in a dangerous environment, and letting international rivalries get in the way of their mission.

All of this made the first half of the book tough going, with a boring plot and very unsympathetic characters. However, the last third of the book has a very different feel - when the mission flirts with disaster, the plot takes off, and most of the characters develop another much-needed dimension. It was worth reading for this part of the book alone.

It is a far inferior book to others about Mars, for instance Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Red Mars', or Andy Weir's 'The Martian'. But it is probably still worth a read if you want to see the way a mission to Mars might look like - at least from a 1990s perspective.

2 out of 5.

(An old version of this was accidentally published earlier. Apologies. I shall go and sit in a corner for five minutes and mutter 'don't press the publish button until you're ready'.)

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