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Return to Mars Hardcover – June 8, 1999

65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

In Ben Bova's 1992 bestselling book Mars, geologist Jamie Waterman and his crewmates discovered the existence of primitive lichen on the floor of the great Martian canyon known as the Valles Marineris. In Return to Mars, Waterman is headed back to the Red Planet, this time in charge of an expedition that hopes not only to study Martian life but also to prove that exploring Mars can be profitable. Waterman also wants to revisit a part of the canyon where he thought he spotted a primitive cliff dwelling during the first Martian mission. The second voyage to Mars runs into trouble right away, however, as Waterman clashes with Dex Trumball, the son of a billionaire who's backing the expedition. Dex wants to turn Mars into a tourist attraction, while Waterman wants to preserve the planet for scientific research. Both men are also attracted to the expedition's beautiful psychologist, Vijay Shektar, who can't seem to decide which of the two she likes best. As if that weren't enough, one of the Mars team may be trying to sabotage the mission, while back home the elder Trumball is pulling strings in order to force Waterman to step down as the expedition's leader.

Like Jamie Waterman, Bova takes on a lot of responsibility in this second Mars book. He's trying to create a complex story that relies equally on science, characterization, and politics, mixed in with a healthy dose of mystery and a dash of thriller. As usual, Bova nails the science but fares less well--though by no means poorly--with his characters. He pulls off the politics with confidence, but the thriller subplot seems forced. Finally, the mysteries (there are several) all succeed reasonably well, though some are more compelling than others. The whole makes up a thoroughly enjoyable novel both about what life might be like on an expedition to Mars and what Martian life might be like. It's a better book than its predecessor, and it can be read entirely on its own thanks to Bova's carefully interwoven details about the back story that took place in Mars. --Craig E. Engler

From Publishers Weekly

The sequel to Bova's popular Mars (1992) returns Navajo Jamie Waterman to the Red Planet as the mission director in tenuous command of a crew of scientists and astronauts jockeying for political power, romantic liaisons and scientific renown. And as anonymous journal entries also indicate, one of the explorers is seriously deranged. Waterman's chief rival on the mission is C. Dexter Trumball, the heir of the man who substantially funded the flight. Trumball has promised his wealthy father that the mission will make money, and he is determined to win his father's love and respect, even if it means turning Mars into a tourist attraction. For ideological reasons, Waterman is equally bent on keeping Mars free of tourists, especially his beloved "cliff dwellings"Aa nearly inaccessible structural anomaly that he believes will prove there was once intelligent life on the planet. Waterman must struggle to find the Navajo way of negotiating the crew's various desires and manias. He must also contend with the powers-that-be back on Earth to ensure that scientific concerns continue to supersede crass commercial interests. Bova makes the speculative hard science aspects of this novel vivid and appealing. His characters, however, are less enchanting, and the inclusion of a saboteur seems like overkill, since the environment he describes is more than capable of destroying anyone for simple carelessness. The novel ends with plenty of room for a sequel to pick up and continue the saga. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager; 1st edition (June 8, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380976404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380976409
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,676,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Chris Fountain on November 2, 1999
Format: Hardcover
In a word: Brilliant! In three words: I enjoyed it. I started the book as bed-time reading, but found (to my wife's disgust) that it was keeping me awake at night. In the end, I had to devote a Saturday morning to finishing the book for domestic harmony.
If your idea of a good read is a slam-bang space opera with cardboard characters, this is not the book for you. But if you like your books to be thoughtful and thought-provoking, with excellent characterization, then this is the one.
Bova's strength is his ability to really make the characters in his books come to life. The scientists in the novel were just like some of my friends, struggling with the issue of how do you get someone to pay for your hobby and indignant that someone might actually want to make a profit from it. The mystery and tension built throughout the novel, making it harder and harder to put down. It was great.
I am looking forward to reading Bova's next novel.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By CCG on January 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I feel compelled to write a review of this book because I wrote such a negative review about Bova's earlier book, MARS. RETURN TO MARS is much better. It is a better story with more realistic characters, and there is more action. Unlike the first book, I felt like they really did something on Mars, and what they discover is credible. There were less of the racist overtones and more the incorporation of heritage and the value of diversity. Now I understand why people like Bova. This was a good book, well-paced, not too psychological, not too sci-tech, just right. I was sorry to see it end. (And I did not miss the characters from the earlier book that were left out. I only wondered about them for the first 50 pages, then the new story took hold. Fewer is better in this case.)
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Rottenberg's rotten book review on July 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In Bova's original "Mars", the first human explorers escape the red planet after they had discovered life upon it - a mindless green lichen that hints at the possibilities of colonization. The team's unofficial leader, native american Jamie Waterman made what promises to be a major discovery of his own - steps apparently cut into the side of a martian cliff. Now returning on an expedition financed by a sinister billionaire with his own plans for Mars, Waterman looks to follow-up his last discovery. Now the team leader (due to his experience on the other trip) Waterman commands a crew that will search for patterns among the martian lichen, further map mars and climb Olympus, the highest mountain in the solar system.
Unable to walk the cliff-steps himself in "Mars", Waterman waits years to return to Mars and make that ascent into the cliff wall and history. In doing so, he stands not only to discover intelligent life but perhaps add substance to an ancient tribal legend that the dead red world and the blue on which they were born are actually brothers of a sort. What lies at the top of the stairs adds tension to the story, one not spoiled when Waterman - pressure suit and all - takes that giant step.
Although Jamie's thoughts of the martians - which soon rise to the point of mystical visions - are evocative and would have made for a great novel, their dragged down by other elements brought in by Ben Bova, whether to shore up a better novel Bova thought beyond him, or simply to push some agenda. Here, the greatest enemy is not some evil martian, or the natural dangers of an alien world, but Trumball, the expedition's bankroller, who threatens (gasp!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Paul Weiss on November 16, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Navajo geologist-astronaut, Jamie Waterman, blasts off to the red planet for a second time as the leader of a privately funded follow up expedition to the earth's first foray to Mars which ended on a literal cliff-hanger. the discovery of pueblo-like cliff dwellings that seemed to indicate Mars had been inhabited in the past by intelligent life.

The crew, an eclectic blend of nationalities and experts in a variety of scientific and technical fields of endeavour, direct their efforts to the completion of three distinct projects - the examination of the lichen type biology and the geology of the caldera of Olympus Mons, a volcano and the highest mountain in the solar system; the recovery of a priceless artifact from the much earlier Mars Pathfinder expeditions; and the detailed investigation of Jamie's pueblo dwellings with a view to proving once and for all whether Mars had ever been home to an intelligent species of life.

Aside from the hard sci-fi themes of the Martian environment, the research, the overwhelming dangers and difficulties of extraterrestrial exploration in a fundamentally hostile environment, "Return to Mars" also examines two other central themes - first, the almost insurmountable difficulties of the costs of big budget science and the conflicts that inevitably arise when capitalism attempts to force fundamental research into profit-oriented motives; and, second, the inherent dangers of contaminating a pristine environment such as Mars with untrammeled, loosely controlled exploration, travel, business and (gasp!) even colonization or, worse yet, tourism!
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