Back in the 50s, there were so many books about man getting into space that a feeling of inevitability developed: sooner or later, you knew we'd actually do it. Now, it is beginning to feel inevitable that we will send an expedition to Mars. Geof Landis is the latest to join the group, with his take on how it will happen.
In Landis' version, getting there is the easy part. Getting back again is where all the difficulties arise. His book deals with the Third Expedition, some of whom do (to the reader's surprise) make it at least back off the surface of Mars. In flashbacks, we are told of the fates of the first two expeditions, both of which made it to Mars, but never got home.
The crew starts out with six members, one of whom gets killed shortly after the successful landing. The remaining five are John, the slightly older, experienced captain, Ryan, the young, almost Heinleinian pilot and engineer, Estrela, a Brazilian geologist, Tana, a black pilot, and Trevor, a teen-ager who won a lottery to make the trip. In flashbacks (the book is replete with them), we learn about the pasts of each of these characters. And two of them have deep dark pasts: dreadful childhoods, in which they had to do horrible things to survive, which haunt them to this day. Naturally the media, NASA, the psychologists, etc. have never suspected the existence of these dreadful traumas lurking in the characters' pasts.
The basic setup is that the expedition is using a plan popularized by the Mars Society today (Kevin Geiselman presented this at a Parsec meeting last year, and Robert Zubrin has written a book about it, which Landis credits). They arrive on Mars in one vehicle, which is now out of fuel and so much junk. Another vehicle has been flown under automatic control several years earlier, parked waiting and filled with fuel. Unfortunately, in the first chapter, they discover that a miscalculation has screwed up this plan; the waiting ship explodes, venting the fuel and killing off the surplus crew member. The only hope is to cross a lot of Mars to find the leftover ships from the first and second expeditions, which may still be in good shape.
Landis 'strength is the science, the problem-solving, and the best parts of the book are the descriptions of Mars and the expedition coping with the impressive geography. These parts are so good, they pretty much allow you to ignore the less convincing character stuff. And the description of Valles Marineris is terrific: I want to go see this!
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