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The Forge of Mars
Bruce Balfour
Ace Books, 404 pages

The Forge of Mars
Bruce Balfour
Bruce Balfour was born in 1958 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He's worked as a test driver, freelance journalist, comic book writer, strategic planner, systems manager, software development manager, and computer game designer. He sold his first short stories to Twilight Zone Magazine in 1982. His first novel was Star Crusader. He lives with his family just north of San Francisco.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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Tau Wolfsinger's life-long project, was developing artificially intelligent robots with the ability to build cities. He invested much of himself in it, but because he is an outsider, his plans are rejected. Kate, the woman he was about to propose to has just been assigned to Mars, where she will use her archeological skills and Egyptology fieldwork experience to unearth and study alien relics discovered on the planet. Soon, he too accepts a mission to Mars, to use his AI technology to build the cities needed on the planet's surface. Eventually he, too will need to try and unravel the secrets of the relics. With the warnings of "Watch out for red star" -- the last gasps of a dying man -- still echoing in his ears, Tau isn't sure if he's prepared for what he'll find. Already the mysterious artifacts have killed one man and placed the woman he loves in a coma.

Tau is a very interesting character. He is part Navajo, using many of the tribe's phrases and sayings and cultural aspects. Like Tony Hillerman (who writes a wonderful mystery series using Navajo characters) Bruce Balfour captures the flavor of the Navajo way of life and uses it to create a very unusual and full character. Tau is very introspective, and because of this he isn't the most popular person. Politically he has no power and cannot convince people to let him work on his ultimately very worthy project. His girlfriend, Kate, has no idea what his feelings are, yet we know he loves her enough to make her his wife. Someone like this, who is so internally involved, yet so incredibly smart can become flat after awhile. But Balfour gives him the distinct cultural aspects of the Navajo, it not only keeps him from being flat, it makes him remarkably pleasant to read about.

The high tech aspects are very sensible. On Earth, you have many of the usual innovations, slidewalks and virtual reality sims. Later in The Forge of Mars, he applies technology to create an alien race in ways that I thought were very cool. I liked how he developed the relics and their uses, creating a battle between madness and the forces of good where the price of winning is saving the universe. Even though it's all high tech, Bruce Balfour manages to bring in fantastical elements that give the reader a sense of wonder, helped by the very gentle use of Egyptian lore and culture. This comes out more because Kate was fresh from her studies in Egyptology and therefore placed a semblance of Egyptian culture over the things she saw.

Bruce Balfour has a wonderful style that brings to life many of the story's elements. He gave me a real sense of what it would be like to live in the future's over-crowded cities, and his journeys between the planets were also very distinctly drawn, so that I could imagine what it would be like to be in space. Still, it is the Red Planet itself where we get the strongest feelings, when we climb the red dust covered rocks and explore the planet surface of Mars, his vivid vision of the world is so real that you can almost touch it.

Copyright © 2002 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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