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Return to Mars
Ben Bova
Avon EOS Books, 416 pages

Return to Mars
Ben Bova
Ben Bova received his doctorate in education in 1996 from California Coast University, a master of arts degree in communications from the State University of New York at Albany (1987) and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Temple University, Philadelphia (1954). Bova has taught science fiction at Harvard University and at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, where he has also directed film courses. He was editorial director of OMNI magazine and, earlier, editor of Analog magazine. He has received Hugos for Best Professional Editor 6 times. His 1994 short story, "Inspiration," was nominated for the SFWA's Nebula Award.

Ben Bova Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Colony
SF Site Review: Immortality
SF Site Review: Moonwar
SF Site Review: Moonrise

Past Feature Reviews
A review by A.L. Sirois

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The best thing about Return to Mars is that it captures the flavour of some of the best adventure-type SF that I was fond of as a boy. It reminded me a little of Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars and Sands of Mars by Arthur Clarke. As I have previously noted, Ben Bova knows how to write this stuff. His characters are all solid and his story is appealing. I can see teenagers really enjoying this book, and as far as I am concerned that's a high compliment.

Return to Mars is a sequel to Mars, published in 1992, but it stands very well on its own and I never felt that I needed to have read the earlier book -- which I didn't. In the earlier book, the lead character, Jamie Waterman, who is half Navajo, may have glimpsed ancient cliff dwellings built by a vanished race of Martians. He was never able to confirm his discovery, however.

He has returned to the Red Planet as the head of the second expedition. This mission has been financed by a wealthy industrialist named Darryl Trumball, whose son, Dex, is one of the scientists. There's a lot of friction between père and fils, and between Dex and Jamie. Both are, in the words of one of the other characters, alpha-males. The difference is that Jamie has much better control of himself, to the point of seeming dour and overly reserved in contrast to Dex's outgoing personality.

Bova does an excellent job of delineating his characters and putting them into carefully constructed set pieces wherein their personalities are illuminated. Bova is the author of more than 90 books, and has enviable expertise at creating believable plot lines and sympathetic characters.

As the members of the second expedition explore Mars and seek to discover ways to survive, they are beset by a number of problems. Some are purely natural, like an unexpected dust storm and the sudden and near-fatal discovery of liquid water in an underground hot spring. Other problems grow out of the characters' interactions, some as a result of being cooped up together for months in a spacecraft and in small rovers and pressurized domes. One of the expedition members, in fact, has become mentally ill as a result of stress, with results that will provide a great deal of heart-ache.

It's hard to think of anything that Bova missed. He's even got a subplot wherein Dex and another explorer try to retrieve the Sojourner rover against Jamie's better judgement, seeking to return it to Earth for money.

It's very interesting that money is the motivating factor in the book. The members of the second Martian expedition can't really do anything outside their mission mandate, which is to make Mars profitable. If they do, they risk incurring the wrath of the elder Trumball, who is perfectly prepared to cut off all funding for any future missions. One can't help but cross one's fingers while reading this book -- because in this future, the thrill of scientific discovery takes a back seat to the bottom line. Not that things aren't already trending in that direction; witness the recent 11 percent across-the-board budget cut that will affect NASA missions well into the next century. In this respect, we may well wish that Ben Bova's view of the future were not so acute.

Copyright © 1999 by A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at http://www.w3pg.com/jazzpolice.


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