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Mars Probes
edited by Peter Crowther
DAW Books, 320 pages

Mars Probes
Peter Crowther
Peter Crowther was born in 1949 in Leeds, England, where he attended Leeds Metropolitan University. He is the editor of the World Fantasy Award-nominated Narrow Houses anthology series. He lives in Harrogate, England, with his wife and two sons, and works as communications manager for one of the UK's biggest financial organizations.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Foursight
SF Site Review: Lonesome Roads
SF Site Review: Moon Shots

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Peter Crowther continues his impressive recent string of original anthologies, which includes the earlier DAW anthology Moon Shots as well as the Gollancz (UK)/Bantam (USA) anthology Futures. (The latter book is actually a compendium of four novellas Crowther originally acquired for publication in his continuing series of original novella-length chapbooks for PS Publishing.) Mars Probes is a collection of new stories (plus one fairly obscure Ray Bradbury reprint) concerning that most traditionally SFnal planet.

The 16 stories include an impressive array of styles and points of attack. Half the stories are by Americans, half by natives of the U.K. There are stories by SFWA Grand Masters (Ray Bradbury and Brian W. Aldiss... and I trust Gene Wolfe at least will also be a Grand Master someday) and stories by hot newer writers (Alastair Reynolds and Patrick O'Leary). (Oddly, though, there are no stories by women.) Some of the stories are humourous -- most notably Paul Di Filippo's "A Martian Theodicy", a thoroughly disrespectful sequel to Stanley Weinbaum's classic "A Martian Odyssey". Some of the stories are serious and thought-provoking, as with Ian McDonald's "The Old Cosmonaut and the Construction Worker Dream of Mars", which fits into his semi-consistent set of Martian stories, along with his first published story, "The Catharine Wheel", and the novels Desolation Road and Ares Express. Some are sweet, as with Bradbury's "The Love Affair" or James Lovegrove's "Out of the Blue, Into the Red".

The overall standard of quality is very high. This anthology is much superior to the run of DAW paperback anthologies. No story made me wonder "Why the heck did he buy THAT!?" At the same time, I can't quite endorse the enthusiasm of some of my fellow reviewers. It's a very good book. It's practically a miracle for a mass-market paperback anthology. But it's not quite transcendent. If none of the stories are stinkers, none really set me back on my heels, either. But I suppose I quibble.

Several stories revisit classical science fictional versions of Mars. Among the comic stories, Di Filippo's revisionist take on Weinbaum's seminal story of the friendship between an American explorer and the birdlike Martian Tweel stands out. (Let's just say that, in "A Martian Theodicy", Tweel and Dick Jarvis are a LOT more friendly!) I also liked James Morrow's "The War of the Worldviews", in which beings from the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos invade New York City to stage a battle between their opposing philosophies. Mike Resnick and M. Shayne Bell take on Edgar Rice Burroughs by having a version of John Carter confront a different Mars in which the ideals of Haight-Ashbury seem to have overtaken the various Martian races. And Michael Moorcock's "Lost Sorceress of the Silent Citadel" is at once a loving homage to Leigh Brackett's Mars, and a smart and funny satire on the overcooked space operas of the early 50s. Moorcock walks a fine line between displaying affection and exposing the silliness of the genre he's spoofing -- perhaps most of all he emphasizes how Brackett could get away with material that in lesser hands was just inane.

Perhaps the best story in the book is Alastair Reynolds' "The Real Story", in which a journalist receives a mysterious invitation from the captain of the first Martian expedition to hear the real story of his strange mission -- we get a moving account of the conflicting impulses of the explorer, the colonizer, and those who regret the taming of a wild place. Oddly similar in frame, but less effective, is Allen Steele's "A Walk Across Mars", in which again a journalist is invited to hear the real story of the first Martian expedition. In this case, the expedition was a combined Russian/American one, in an alternate history, but the central historical image was created by two of the Americans walking to safety after their rover crashed. Naturally the story the journalist hears is a bit different, but the secret was simply too trite for my taste. Another fine "serious" story is McDonald's, about a cosmonaut denied his chance at Mars by the collapse of the Soviet space program, and an Indian remote operator of the construction equipment terraforming (or "manforming") Mars. Still, it seemed diminished in effect to me, perhaps simply by comparison with the author's Ares Express, which I read recently.

Add fine stories by the likes of Paul McAuley, Eric Brown, Gene Wolfe and others and you have a very worthwhile anthology.

Copyright © 2002 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area. He writes a monthly short fiction review column for Locus. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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