Book review: Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer.


Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer (2013, Viking, Toronto)

Life in the Martian city of New Klondike is a bit akin to the wild west, gritty and shady (albeit with some serious tech).  When exiled private eye Alex Lomax is called upon to work a case of a missing man who has recently undergone a body transfer, he is quickly embroiled in a complicated mystery involving fossilized treasure, a secret diary, and the long-buried facts behind a historical planetary landing.  When people truly aren’t who they appear to be and the body count begins to mount, Lomax has to use all of his street smarts, charm, and brute force to save his own skin and solve the case.  This is crafty science fiction noir with a generous side of humour and a few deft, creative turns.  The occasionally annoying first-person narrative may rankle some readers, and Lomax’ sexist opinions are a turn off (remember, however, that this is an homage to classic noir, where that type of attitude prevailed), but the actual storytelling is entertaining and the pacing is appropriately speedy.  A fun book to kick back with in the lawn chair this summer.


6 thoughts on “Book review: Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer.

    • It’s a one-off. Part of this novel exists as the lead short story in Sawyer’s collection “Identity Theft.” I think he said it’s the first 10 chapters or something like that. Most reviewers gave this novel a bad go, saying it has a weak plot, but I thought it was pretty fun. It’s just meant to be entertainment, nothing more than that.

  1. Sounds good, but funny you should mention first-person narratives and how annoying they can occasionally be. I’ve been reading a lot of YA fantasy, all written in first person, all suffering from overwrought writing, and even worse, all with protagonists that almost seem indistinguishable from each other, despite the fact they were written by different authors. Have you noticed this in your readings?

    • Yes, I definitely have noticed this as well! It’s almost as if everyone is writing from a template. I don’t mind first-person narrative (I’ve used it in some of my stories) but, in many cases, it seems to be serving as an excuse for sloppy, lazy writing. And “overwrought” writing, as you say – that’s the perfect term for it. First person can be beautifully accomplished, but we’re sure not seeing a lot of it these days. No wonder some editors will not look at a manuscript if it isn’t written in third person.

      • I should add, that in this case, I don’t think Sawyer’s writing is sloppy or lazy or overwrought – that wouldn’t be something I’d ever accuse him of, as he’s really very masterful with the tight prose. I think in this particular book, the narrator himself is the reason for the irritation – he’s a likeable-enough character, but you have to contend with the egotism and the sexism, and some of his ideas and actions are total head-slappers.

      • Thanks for your insights. Truly, I was wondering if I was the only one noticing such things. So many of the stories have great potential, if only a little restraint had been used in the writing. First person narrative can indeed be beautifully done. In fact, some very famous novels have been written in first person. 😉

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