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Mars Underground
William K. Hartmann
Tor Books, 352 pages

A review by Marc Goldstein

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The year is 2031, and the colonization of Mars is in its infancy. Alwyn Stafford, renown scientist and Mars' most famous resident disappears into the vast Martian desert. Carter Jahns, the colony's chief engineer and Stafford's closest friend, heads the investigation into his disappearance. Journalist Annie Pohaku and local artist Phillipe Brach join the search, which leads them all into the mysteries of Mars' past, and the uncertainties of its future.

Anyone interested in the Mars Sojourner/Pathfinder mission will find Mars Underground captivating. Hartmann, a real-life scientist with the Mars Global Surveyor team, describes the Martian environment with unique passion and telling detail.

Hartmann's passion for Mars spills over into his characters, who, each in their own way, personify the hope that Mars offers for the future of humankind. Mars pervades every facet of the characters' lives in ways both explicit and subliminal, coloring their moods and decisions. Carter Jahns, the forward-thinking architect of the colonization effort, grasps the opportunity to completely reinvent the rules of society with enthusiasm. That his idealism is often derided as naïvete doesn't dissuade him. Phillipe, the artist in residence, draws his muse from the boundless Martian frontier. Annie smashes conventional boundaries with her sexual liberation and her journalistic insistence on freedom of information.

Mars Underground is an ambitious first novel. Hartman, obviously a student of science fiction, experiments with the genre, mixing in elements of romance, mystery, and political intrigue (not to mention a tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs' great Martian hero, John Carter). The result somehow avoids becoming convoluted; rather, it successfully captures the complexity of the human experience juxtaposed against the Martian backdrop.

Stafford's disappearance leads the protagonists through the history of Mars, from humankind's first fledgling steps onto the red planet to the planet's ancient past. Uncertainty over how to handle the secrets uncovered in the investigation sparks a debate of contrasting political positions on the future of humankind on Mars -- and by implication, our future in general. Hartman neatly stitches together the threads of our emotional connection to Mars, its mysterious past, and the hope its frontier offers for the future. When we look at Mars, we see ourselves.

Copyright © 1997 by Marc Goldstein

Marc has been a science fiction fan as far back as he can remember. He holds a degree in English Literature from California State University, Northridge. He has worked as an instructor of English composition and as a reporter. Currently, he pays the bills editing web pages. He is the principal contributor to the SF Site's Role Playing Department. Marc lives in Santa Ana, California with his wife, Sabrina and cat, Onion.

Mars Underground
William K. Hartmann
Dr. William K. Hartmann received a Hugo nomination for his non-fiction book The Grand Tour, with Ron Miller. Dr. Hartmann has written several books on space, astronomy, and space art, published by Workman (New York). Mars Underground, published by Tor (New York) is his first novel.

Dr. Hartmann is also known for his planetary research, he is a member of the Mars Global Surveyor science team and he is well-known as an astronomical artist. Asteroid 3341 was named for him in recognition of his work.

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