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The Martian Race
Gregory Benford
Warner Aspect, 464 pages

The Martian Race
Gregory Benford
Gregory Benford is a physicist and astronomer at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of a series of hard SF novels, beginning with In the Ocean of Night (1978) and following quickly with works such as Timescape (1980) and the popular Galactic Centre series, including Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River (1987), Tides of Light (1989) and Furious Gulf (1994).

Gregory Benford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Worlds Vast and Various
SF Site Review: Eater
SF Site Review: Deep Time
SF Site Review: Against Infinity
SF Site Review: Artifact
SF Site Review: Cosm
SF Site Review: Foundation's Fear

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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After a spate of tubby, turgid, tedious tomes about Mars, here at last comes a science fiction book about Mars that's actually a novel! Unlike four other recent books I could name, The Martian Race, has a plot, characters, and action. Wow, what a concept!

Julia grew up dreaming of being an astronaut. She made the Space Program but NASA funding was cut, so she signed on for a risky new mission financed out of the private pockets of John Axelrod, an eccentric billionaire who thinks he can send a mission to Mars and make it pay.

The novel opens on Mars, near the end of the astronauts' one year stay on the planet. So far the mission has been a success. But due to damage from a rough landing, it looks like they may not be able to lift off again. And still worse, in order to save money, the launch of an automated back-up vehicle was cancelled.

A competing Chinese mission is on its way to Mars, but can they rescue any of the four Americans? Will they even try? With time running out, tension between the team members rises, and even the discovery of life forms on the desiccated planet fails to raise morale for crew members facing the possibility of abandonment and death.

The first half of this book has a lot of flashing back and forth as Gregory Benford tells the earlier story of getting the Mars mission off the ground, and also recounts the team's early experiences on Mars. There are a number of plot threads here -- all of them interesting and suspenseful.

This novel is both entertaining and informative, with plenty of carefully researched information (from details of NASA bureaucracy to Mars science) for the technophiles and lots of characters and plot for everyone else. Benford occasionally lapses into "as you know Bob" conversations, but he keeps things moving well enough that the reader can forgive him. And I enjoyed some of his less scientific details -- especially the astronauts' stoic embarrassment over a barrage of product placements, including Mars bars and name-brand outdoor clothing.

This is not the best SF novel I've read lately, but it's easily the best Mars novel to come out in a decade.

Copyright © 2001 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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