Ben Bova: Mars

Ben Bova
New English Library paperback edition
567 pages

Ho hum, a survey team lands on an uninhabited lifeless planet. Only there is some mysterious evidence pointing at a past civilisation. Only one member of the party recognises the puzzle and has to battle his superior officers to investigate. Add to this the fact that the world in question is none other than the same red planet which has been written about so many times before.

You can get this much information from the back of Ben Bova's latest work. And, in fact, it provided a fairly accurate skeleton outline of the story. Thankfully, Bova has filled this hackneyed outline with superb detail. He has mixed credible scientific detail with politics and a realistic and gritty interpersonal dynamic.

It's always good to read a novel where the author has done his scientific homework. It's a lot better when the work doesn't become bogged down in those details. Bova knows a lot about the current space program and future plans for Mars exploration. He has interwoven this information with the rest of the story without resorting to long explanations - the mark of a skilful author.

But the main emphasis of this book comes from the interplay between the various characters. There is no villain as such, just a group of competing priorities and egos, with a bit of suppressed sexual tension for spice. The various points of contention: scientist vs scientist, scientist vs astronaut, mission personnel vs Earth politicians, country vs country. These are all real things - they happen every day. In this case they are just in a new setting.

This book is not perfect however. The main fault lies with the plot. Not its predictability, but its thinness. This is a long book and there are not many action episodes between the arguments. Excitement is not one of its main attributes. Notwithstanding this, this is a very good book. Definitely worth the trouble of carrying its considerable weight around.

Overall rating: Figuring out how to drive your video recorder without having to resort to the manual.