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The Fifth Man
John B. Olson and Randall Ingermanson
Bethany House Publishers, 358 pages

The Fifth Man
John B. Olson and Randall Ingermanson
John B. Olson received his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1995, and did postdoctoral work in computational biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco. He lives with his wife and two children in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he works for a biotechnology company and heads the writing group SCUM (Super Cool Underwriting Maniacs).

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Randall Ingermanson earned his Ph.D. in theoretical physics at the University of California at Berkeley in 1986, and did postdoctoral research in superstring theory at The Ohio State University. He lives in San Diego with his wife and three daughters and works as a computational physicist. He is the author of a time-travel novel, Transgression, as well as a non-fiction book, Who Wrote the Bible Code?

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SF Site Review: Oxygen
Bethany House

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Suzanne Krein

What would be the greatest danger facing astronauts living in tight quarters on the surface of Mars? Would they be more likely to face catastrophe because of an internal technical failure in their life-support systems or from an external threat, such as a Martian life form? Might the lives of the astronauts be endangered from an even more personal source -- themselves?

In The Fifth Man, John B. Olson and Randall Ingermanson place us inside the Hab (Habitation Module) on the surface of Mars with four astronauts and, as we read, we ask ourselves these questions and many more. This sequel to Oxygen (winner of the Foreword Magazine Award and the Christy Award) draws us back into the lives of Valkerie Jansen and Bob Kaganovski, who survived the hazards of the trip to Mars only to face new dangers on the planet's surface.

Pressures abound for the inhabitants of the Hab. Valkerie and geologist Lex Ohta are immersed in the search for any signs of Martian life, past or present. Valkerie also expends a lot of her energy trying to avoid Bob, whom she admits to loving but whose love she must resist so she can stay focused on her work. The other crew members are left feeling miserable, each one dealing with his own demons: Bob with his unrequited love and Mission Commander Kennedy Hampster with his increasing paranoia.

Strange things begin to happen aboard the Hab. Kennedy becomes convinced that Bob hit him from behind while they were outside of the Hab, cracking the helmet of his EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) suit. Valkerie begins to see and hear strange noises outside of the Hab when all four astronauts are inside. Even Bob begins to imagine that he's seeing and hearing things. Is the problem hyper-vigilance, a delusional mental disorder brought on by stress and isolation? Or, is there really a "fifth man" on Mars (an apparent impossibility on this seemingly lifeless world) terrorizing and threatening them?

In The Fifth Man, Olson and Ingermanson have accomplished the near impossible -- they have written a sequel that is even more entertaining than the original! Once again, the authors' extensive research shines as they create a story so believable that you are with Valkerie and Bob as they try to discern the difference between delusion and reality. This page-turner grabs you and won't let you go until you reach the last page.

The Fifth Man, like its predecessor Oxygen, combines moral truths with exciting near-future science fiction. Honesty, faith, friendship, and sacrifice are just a few of the topics explored, without preaching or sugar-coating, in this alien setting through the lives of the characters. We don't have to journey to Mars to realize that these topics are relevant to our daily lives here on Earth.

Copyright © 2001 Suzanne Krein

Suzanne Krein is a free-lance curriculum writer with a life-long passion -- reading and writing science fiction, especially Christian science fiction. She lives with her family in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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