Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Mars Life

I haven't read a great deal of science fiction in recent years but I grew up on the novels of Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke, and Ben Bova's Mars Life reminds me a whole lot of the style used so successfully by those guys. Those writers were at their peaks in socially simpler times, when the dialogue of books and movies seldom reflected the harsh reality of street language and the raciest sex scenes described were of the relatively tame James Bond style. Their plots were seldom over-complicated, their character types rather predictable and their dialogue not always very realistic sounding. But, taken as a whole, the style worked, and today many of their books are considered to be science fiction classics. So the fact that Mars Life reads like a throwback to that science fiction era is not at all a bad thing.

This book is actually the third in Bova's Mars series but readers like me who have not read the first two books in the series will have no problem reading and enjoying it as a standalone novel. In fact, Mars Life is actually the sixteenth novel in Bova's "Grand Tour" series begun in 1993, which also includes a book of "Grand Tour" stories.

Navajo tribesman, Jamie Waterman, discovered Martian cliff dwellings on his first trip to Mars and has ever since that time dedicated his life to keeping the Mars exploration program focused and well-funded. Now, much to the dismay of Waterman and everyone associated with the program, both governmental and private funding is drying up and the existence of the program is threatened. Partially, that is because the United States government is facing the tremendously complicated and expensive prospect of relocating a substantial portion of its population due to all the flooding caused in recent years by global warming.

But even more importantly, a group of religious fundamentalists known as the New Morality has become so powerful that it can determine the outcome of elections at both the state and national levels by simply choosing whom to support. And New Morality leadership sees the archeological work being done on Mars as such a threat to its core religious beliefs that it wants the whole project shut down. Private donors have been intimidated into withdrawing their support from the Mars program, and the President and members of Congress told to do the same if they want to have any hope of being re-elected.

Mars Life is a race against the clock during which anthropologist Carter Carleton tries to uncover as much of the Martian village and cemetery discovered beneath the cliff dwellings as possible before everyone is forced to leave the planet and Waterman desperately searches for new sources of funding. It is also an intriguing look at what might happen if the clash between science and religion were to get so out of hand that extremists end up with the power to shut down scientific exploration any time that it threatens their shaky religious beliefs, something that seems more and more possible every day.

Rated at: 4.0

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