Mars by Bova, Ben, 1992

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Ben Bova's Mars is the story of Mankind's first manned mission to Mars. Bova’s style in the telling of this incredibly well detailed story is highly structured and somewhat predictable. It tells the story of the exploration of the red planet, and through flashbacks also the story of the journey there, and the international efforts to get the mission off the ground in the first place. It seems to have been heavily influenced by stories such as The Right Stuff and is literally draped in imagery and motifs that found their genesis in the records of the Apollo missions to the Moon. But despite its problems I found it to be a very well thought out tale of how the political and scientific roadblocks to such a mission might crop up and be overcome.

Describing this book as “epic” may be overstating its scope, but it certainly had enough characters and action to at least qualify for that descriptor. For that reason I am not going to attempt to thoroughly deconstruct this book, but I will do my best to hit on some high points for you. Though there were several main characters that Bova brought through, the most important one was a half-blooded Navajo geologist from California and New Mexico named Jaime. For Jaime the voyage to Mars was one of self-discovery as much as it was of scientific discovery. At the beginning of the book Jaime was confused about everything in his life from women, to his place in the world, to his future as a scientist and even over his own racial make up. He was selected for the mission out of the blue, and after a series of lucky turns and one or two wise political moves, he makes it onto the descent team. Once on Mars Jaime begins to mature quite quickly into a very wise and self sufficient man who learns to manipulate the political system for gain, takes symbolic leadership of the team, clarifies his feelings for two very different women, and makes decisions and goes out on a limb to implement them that result in the discovery of water on Mars, then of complex life in the open of the Mariner Valley.

On a technical level, Bova had the mission specifications dialed in very well, and expertly depicted the implications of political maneuvering by showing small group realignment along new lines each time a decision or a new realization was made. The only complaint I have is that many of the characters were pretty flat, though the main characters evolved quite nicely. Some of the individual motivations were a bit stilted and difficult to swallow too, but in the immensity of this novel, most of the bad stuff faded into the background very well. Bova has quite a flair for building enthusiasm, and I would have to say that I grew more and more pleased as I progressed through the novel. Bova also is incredibly adept at keeping multiple and oddly shaped balls in the air, all at once. The story in this book meandered through some pretty interesting adventures without once losing the real focus, which were coming of age, the exploration of Mars as a metaphor for human curiosity and desire for expansion, and the interplay between science and politics.

Bova also has a sharp eye for scientific realism. The characters in this story are from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, and Bova missed no opportunity for them to investigate and describe Mars in very clear and highly interesting ways. I was as impressed with the dilemmas and problems that various characters encountered as I was with the resolutions Bova wrote for them. This is obviously a hard science fiction piece, but it has a lot of heart as well. It’s a true adventure, and in my opinion is suitable for just about everyone. If you have never read Bova this is a very good entry book. Its also part of a very loosely joined cycle of books about our solar system, and a very good jumping off point for the rest of the series.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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