Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Retro Review: Mars Crossing, by Geoffrey A. Landis (2000)
In the year 2020, Brazil launched the first expedition to Mars. It failed when both astronauts died of mysterious causes after landing at the north pole. In the year 2022, America launched the second expedition to Mars, which landed in the northern hemisphere. It failed on the return flight, when the return module exploded in interplanetary space due to a malfunction of the fuel-control system.
In the year 2028, America lands the third expedition to Mars, a bit south of the equator. The expedition lands safely. But then the return module explodes on the surface, killing one of the seven astronauts. The remaining six astronauts have only one hope of getting back home. They must take their rovers -- designed only for travel to the relatively-close Valles Marineris -- and cross the Valles Marineris and somehow make their way across thousands of miles of rugged Martian terrain to the north pole, where the Brazilian return vehicle awaits.
But the return vehicle will not take six passengers. Some of the astronauts have secrets. And one of them may be willing to ensure being chosen to make the return voyage -- by whatever means it takes.
This is some of the finest science fiction I've ever read. It is diamond-hard: nothing happens which is impossible or even all that improbable based on our current scientific understanding, and the Mars Landis describes is perfectly in accord with what we believe to be possible. And yet it is full of danger, terror and wonder, bringing to life the beauty and mystery of the Red Planet, and the struggle to survive of six strong human beings lost very far from home, pushing themselves and their equipment far beyond the limits that either were intended to endure.
The basic structure, in which chapters set in the present of 2028 alternate with chapters flashing back to the fictional history of Martian exploration, and revealing the back stories of the six astronauts, is very effective. The style is excellently clear, moving smoothly while still conveying considerable beauty of description. The characters are strong, believable, and mostly likeable, without being flawless. Even the character whom you will like least is well enough drawn that one can understand, if not entirely sympathize, with that character's motivation. (And frankly, I'm not sure which one you will like best or least!)
I don't want to spoil the surprises in this book, because there are surprises, and they are good ones, despite the fact that nothing at all impossible happens. Instead, I recommend that one and all read this book, because it will well reward you.
Geoffrey A. Landis' Website http://www.geoffreylandis.com/
Mars Crossing for sale at http://www.amazon.com/Mars-Crossing-Geoffrey-A-Landis/dp/0312872011