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

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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.

 

The Door is Ajar: Martians Abroad and Last Day on Mars.

This week, I’m featuring a couple of books about the Red Planet….

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Martians Abroad – Carrie Vaughn (2016, Tor, New York)

Martian teenager Polly Newton desperately wants to become a starship pilot and she is excited and ready to begin her training…until her mother, the high-powered, not-to-be-challenged director of the Martian Colony, derails Polly’s plans and sends her and her twin brother Charles to an exclusive boarding school on Earth.  Headstrong, stubborn, and understandably angry at her mother, Polly struggles to fit into her new surroundings and deal with bullying classmates and stern teachers, until she and Charles uncover a secret about the Galileo Academy that has dangerous ramifications for the students at the school and Polly launches herself into action to save them all.  (Pun intended, of course).

Sounds pretty tantalizing, right?  That’s why I picked this book up.  And I loved, loved, LOVED the whole “fish out of water” scenario – Vaughn’s descriptions of how the foreign students try to adjust to Earth (the gravity, the food, the air, the open spaces, the use of water) are absolutely captivating and realistic.  The details of travelling in space are thrilling, as well – it’s all extremely brilliant stuff and beautifully executed.  But…and here’s the thing. To be fair to Vaughn and her fans, I haven’t read the Robert Heinlein story that this book is apparently inspired/influenced by (Podkayne of Mars), so I should probably do that before making a snap judgment.  It is possible that Martians Abroad is a decent representation of that earlier work – but even so, it doesn’t mean I have to be impressed. It was disappointing to me that despite the juicy depth of its scenery, the book suffers from a pretty much non-existent plotline and the motivations of the characters are vague and unrealized and quite frankly, nonsensical in certain cases.  The surprise resolution is wimpy, undeveloped, and…utterly confusing.  To me.  I did read a review from NPR that suggested that this book hearkens back to the classic, more innocent SF novels, where the stories are heavy on tech and world-building and not so much on gritty plots and action, which seems accurate, and much nicer and way more positive than what I’m saying here.  So…pick up Martians Abroad and let me know what you think after you’ve finished it.  How off-base am I on this one? (Hee hee, another pun).

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Last Day On Mars – Book One of Chronicle of the Dark Star – Kevin Emerson (2017, Walden Pond Press, New York)

After the Earth is destroyed by the sun, which is beginning to go supernova, mankind establishes a colony on Mars to garner the resources and technology so that they can flee once again as the red planet is threatened.  In 2213, the time has finally arrived for the big departure, and young Martian student Liam Saunders-Chang and his friend Phoebe spend their final bittersweet day on the only planet they have ever called home trying to solve a terrifying mystery and desperately struggling to stay alive as everything they know comes crashing down around them.  Emerson’s first novel in the Chronicle of the Dark Star series is aimed at a pre-teen audience, but it transcends its target, with whipsmart humour, solid world-building, and an inventive, yet believable scientific foundation that will appeal to older readers (including adults) as well.  Liam and Phoebe are wonderfully-drawn and relatable, and I particularly loved the focus on the emotional rollercoaster they suffer on the Last Day.

If all that wasn’t enough, there is a positively gripping cliffhanger that has me utterly piqued for the next book.  Nicely done!