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Mars Crossing Mass Market Paperback – November 19, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Alien meets And Then There Were None in this first novel, a fast-paced story of survival and treachery, by Landis, a Hugo and Nebula award winner for his short fiction. In the year 2028, the crew of the Don Quijote are stranded on Mars when a technical mishap occurs, dooming their ship. Five of them set out for an abandoned Brazilian ship, which is at the north poleAhalf the planet away. But owing to body weight, only three will be able to return home on that ship. Their journey across the harsh Martian landscape in rough-terrain vehicles is fraught with dangerAsome topographical, some created: it quickly becomes evident someone is determined to kill the others in order to return to Earth. Unlike many hard SF writers, Landis hasn't forgotten the human element: there's the obligatory sex scene, viewed as a rite of passage abroad ship (and consummated in a weightless environment), and a satisfying, albeit unexpected, denouement that's psychological rather than technological. Though the crew members are basically variations on stock typesAthe stern commander, the weak teenager, the proud black woman, etc.Awithin these limits the effort is reasonably successful. Make no mistake: it's still hard SF, with a fine overlay of techno-lingo ("The cable was made of a superfiber called Spectra 10K. It consisted of a thread of buckminsterfullerine nanotubes woven in a matrix of polyethylene"), but with the mystery structure and liberal dollops of suspense, it should please SF fans of all persuasions. (Dec. 18) Forecast: Landis is not only a respected SF writer (who's won both the Hugo and the Nebula) but a world-class scientist, holder of a NASA fellowship. Booksellers who emphasize both his qualifications for writing this near-future Mars novel should find the title missing from their shelves.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
In 2028 a joint NASA-private venture hopes to be third to land on and first to return safely from Mars. (The first crew died from air contamination, the second from fungus infections derived from athlete's foot.) The narrative switches back and forth from the problem facing the expedition--how to get from the landing site to the only still functioning return module on Mars, 3,000 miles away--to the personal histories of the mixed-gender, multiethnic cast. Landis balances characterization and hardware better than usual for this kind of space-exploration yarn, and the losses of sympathetic characters have genuine impact, while depictions of the grim, challenging Martian environment and the recalcitrance of hardware are knowledgeably done, which, given that Landis is a working NASA engineer, isn't surprising. Readers old enough to remember 1950s sf may think they've read the book before, and it is a virtually archetypal planetary exploration tale. But it is thoroughly competently executed, so it should draw the hard-core space-advocacy and Mars readerships and please plenty of others, as well. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The prose is dull, neither creating mental imagery nor giving genuine insight into characters' thoughts or feelings. Perhaps the author should read a little Hemmingway for influence. He also too often interjects events from the characters background that only have some superficial relevance to the story. These events become nothing more than diversions from a tale that doesn't grab your attention in the first place, resulting in a schizophrenic mess.
The author has an appallingly juvenile attitude toward human sexuality. All events of a sexual nature either occur in an emotionless, routine fashion or in inappropriate times. Sex in the novel is both meaningless and ineffective.
Yes, Mars Crossing left too much to be desired. Fortunately, I know of more enjoyable novels. If you find yourself longing for an adventure in an alien environment, I'd recommend Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series. If you want a logical and developing plot, then I'd recommend Asimov's recent (1980s and 1990s) additions to his Foundation series or his robot novels. If you desire bold imagination, then read Greg Bear's Eon and Eternity.
Mars Crossing, by contrast, has few interesting ideas and little characterization.
The reviews and endorsements at the beginning of the book, when read carefully, make it clear that this is a "hard SF" novel. Sadly, that particular subgenre is often characterized by subpar writing even when the technical explanation of the story elements is superb. Such is the case with this book.
If you like authors such as Allen Steele, you won't mind the writing at all, but I'm a fan of more "writerly" authors like Kim Stanley Robinson, Gene Wolfe, and Terry Bisson. Note that Robinson and Bisson have both also written Mars books, and that they are far superior in my opinion to this effort by Landis.
[POSSIBLE SPOILERS FOLLOW] In addition, if technical rigor is a benchmark for the quality of a novel, then I have to question a lot of the elements of this book. The plot is driven by a malfunction in the refueling process, and the team's traveling equipment gives out under the hard conditions, but other equipment from previous expecitions that has been subjected to the same or worse stresses works whenever the plot requires it. And how about the guy that caused all of the trouble by trying to fix a piece of sophisticated NASA equipment by pounding on it with a rock, with the tacit approval of the smartest guy on the expedition, and without discussing the malfunction in their mission critical gear with the rest of the crew?
The cast of characters manages to be not only improbable but stereotypical at the same time. Not one but two people from impoverished urban backgrounds, not one but two concealed/mistaken identities,the kid, the technically brilliant and morally pure scientist hero, etc. There is a real poverty of invention here.
Don't get me wrong-- Landis has been writing for a long time and it isn't quite painful to read, as some SF can be, but at the same time I feel this book has very little to offer.
After the first few chapters of the book I was looking forward to kicking a few of the characters out the air lock; one in particular was very annoying. However, Geoffrey Landis did a good job of making me care for the characters by the end of the book. Landis accomplished this through frequent flashbacks to develop the characters. Some may find this style of writing distracting, but I found it important because I would not have found the tension in the story if I did not care about the characters.
The basic story is very similar to the movie "Red Planet," a team of astronauts fly to Mars in one ship and trek a short distance to a return vehicle only to find it damaged beyond repair. Their only hope is a long distance voyage across most of mars to use another ship as an escape vehicle. The problem: the vehicle cannot hold them all. Despite the lack of "Red Planet's" flesh eating explosive insects and psychotic attack robot, I found the adventure in this "Mars Crossing" much more exciting, largely because it felt real.
If you are a fan of space exploration and have been following the various real missions to Mars (at least the ones that worked), you will be treated to the additional pleasure of having the recent knowledge gained from these missions woven into the story. Science, when presented well, can be an adventure.
Most recent customer reviews
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