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The Martian Race Hardcover – December 1, 1999

4.1 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Esteemed Mars guru Bob Zubrin calls The Martian Race "one of the finest novels about human exploration of the Red Planet ever written. "But then again, Bob is a character in the book (albeit in the briefest of cameos), so what else could he possibly say? That notwithstanding, Zubrin's right--he couldn't have picked a better book to show his face in. By popular assent, Martian Race deserves top honors among the millennial wave of Mars exploration tales, propelled as it is by the skillful storytelling of physics doyen Gregory Benford, a Campbell and two-time Nebula winner.

Martian Race is near-future SF, set in the twenty-teens (just before Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars saga kicks off), which may contribute to its being a bit of a slow starter; this is realistic, nuts-and-bolts speculation on a mission using pretty basic technology. But the pace picks up considerably as our heroes--the likable Julia and her Russky hubby Viktor and crew, backed by the Mars Consortium and its biotech billionaire CEO John Axelrod--begin to duke it out with a Euro-Sino concern to claim the $30 billion Mars Prize and, of course, get back from the Red Planet in one piece. Benford's work throughout is engaging and thorough, exploring every aspect of why we should make this trip at all (and even a few arguments against it, like Mars Bar marketing tie-ins). --Paul Hughes

From Publishers Weekly

With so many Mars novels having been published in recent years, including award-winning fiction by Kim Stanley Robinson and others, it's hard to believe that even a talented writer like Benford (Cosm) could pull off another successful retelling of humanity's first expedition to the Red PlanetAbut he does. In the early 21st century, after NASA's Mars program has been grounded because of a Challenger-like catastrophe, a $30 billion prize is announced to be awarded to the first private organization that can land a spaceship on Mars, do serious science and return in one piece. Enter John Axelrod, eccentric billionaire and space aficionado. His Consortium launches a bare-bones Mars expedition that is closely followed by a Chinese-European attempt, and the race for Mars is on. Landing on the Red Planet, veteran astronaut Julia Barth and her comrades run into difficulties. Their return craft has suffered serious damage and may not be repairable. Even if they can lift off, they discover that their nuclear-powered Chinese-European competitor, although launching later than they did, may have the sheer power necessary to return to Earth first. Then, after months of fruitless searching, Julia discovers evidence of life on Mars. Benford is a solid prose stylist who creates full-toned characters. A practicing physicist, he writes plausible hard SF as well as anyone on the planet, and his portrait of Mars is among the most believable in recent genre literature. His strange and beautiful Martian ecology is so well described, in fact, that most readers will hope to explore it further, in a sequel. (Dec.) scheduled December 3, 1999, touchdown of the Mars Polar Lander.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Aspect; First Edition edition (December 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446526339
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446526333
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,951,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is "hard sci fi," just as I like it. The title refers to a race to Mars, not a race of Martians (although it comes close to that, too). It's as much an example of "how to" on the cheap as it is a story. Benford is down on NASA (or the Federal government, or both), postulating a competition to Mars with a huge purse ($30 billion) as the way to get a human expedition there. That might be what it takes. Yet it's also a call for cooperation rather than competition. He shows the downside of human nature -- competitiveness, going for the gold, the potential for a breakdown of discipline in difficult situations. He advocates nuclear propulsion systems for planetary exploration, rather than today's chemical systems. He stresses how difficult planetary exploration will be -- especially the early stages, when improvisation and self-sufficiency are critical and thereby makes a case for on-the-spot decision-making rather than relying on orders from Mission Control. He also looks forward to life (past or present) on Mars. He was very creative in his depiction of what it could be like. In fact, this novel once again demonstrates to me the limitations of my creative abilities. Maybe I'm just intimidated, but I can't imagine writing a novel this well put together, this imaginative yet full of sophisticated technical detail. Heck, I wonder if I could even come up with a good idea for a "beginning, middle, and end." At any rate, it was an excellent adventure story, notwithstanding the fact that the end was predictable two-thirds of the way into the book. Benford put his lead characters through so many troubles (it actually got depressing at one point) in order to show the extent of danger and difficulties he expects planetary explorers to face that he left them only one way out. Arguably, that aspect of it could have been better written. And the way the threads came together in the end just fit too well.
Still, I enjoyed it immensely.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the real, hard stuff--an informed look at how we might go to Mars, for the very best reasons, both scientific and personal. Better than the Robinson because it's about what we can do NOW, not political dreams. A great read, fast pace, real characters.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First a disclaimer: I'm an unrepentant Gregory Benford fan. But in a sci-fi world increasingly dominated by Star Wars and dragons, I think any lover of hard-science fiction will enjoy this novel. The fact that it is based on technology from Robert Zubrin's 'Mars Direct' program is icing on the cake. This really *could* happen.
It's a great read, and I recommend it highly.
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Format: Hardcover
After Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars), science fiction novels about Mars exploration became quite common; and, most of them were just that common and derivative and paled in comparison to Robinson's epic trilogy. But, finally there is a worthy successor with the release of Gregory Benford's The Martian Race.

The Martian Race is an exciting take on a near future where one more fatal accident in the space program has left NASA canceling its Mars Exploration program that was considered the front runner in claiming a $30 billion international prize for the first successful exploration mission to the red planet. But, the void left by NASA's exit is filled by an eccentric billionaire who leverages everything to to hire away NASA's best astronauts, buy up its hardware (including the return vehicle already parked on Mars, but exposed to the harsh Martian atmosphere), and launch a stripped down effort to make the launch window before it closes for two years.

Benford has divided up the storytelling in a way that sucks the reader into the excitement of the exploration effort, while using flashbacks to tell the story of how the scrappy effort succeeding launching and the trials and tribulations they faced in doing so, as well as the Chinese program that rose as competition in a fog of secrecy.

Told from the perspective of astronaut Julia Barth, this tale brings the reader along for the ride as the mission both discovers amazing things on Mars and suffers potentially fatal setbacks such as corrosion of the return vehicle that needs make-shift repairs so they can attempt to return home.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Martian Race (1999) is a SF novel about the race for the Mars Prize. When NASA submitted a budget of 450 billion dollars to go to Mars, Congress suffered from sticker shock and turned down the project. Instead, the United States and other Western countries offered a prize of 30 billion dollars for the first voyage that accomplished specified goals.

NASA continued to prepare for a voyage to Mars in 2016, but used the Mars Direct model instead of the previous boondoggle version. Step by step, NASA built and tested their equipment. They sent an Earth Return Vehicle to Mars to manufacture methane for the return voyage. But their launch of an orbital vehicle to test the centrifugal force idea was a spectacular failure, destroying the equipment and killing the crew. Congress canceled the NASA Mars program.

Still, a private Consortium was set up by billionaire John Axelrod to win the Mars Prize. The Consortium started hiring ex-NASA astronauts and buying surplus NASA equipment. But they downsized the mission to four astronauts instead of the previous six crewmembers.

In this novel, Julia, Viktor, Marc and Raoul survive the six month trip and aerobraking to land in Gusev crater. Shaped like a tuna can, the two-story habitat is a strange landing vehicle, but adequate living quarters. They have brought a pressurized rover, but also convert the two onsite vehicles to manual control.

Raoul spends most of his time repairing the ERV, which had landed with enough lateral vector to damage the engine pipes. The peroxide dust and the extreme changes in temperature at the surface have also damaged the ERV components. Although he is able to replace and refit many parts, Raoul doesn't have the tools to do as much as he wishes.
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