© 1992 Ben Bova
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.
Voyage, Stephen Baxter
The Martian, Andy Weir