(For those of you paying attention, Ben Bova was not an Odyssey lecturer. Due to publication dates, I decided to switch the order of some reviews).
With over 115 books published, Ben Bova is one of the most respected and prolific science fiction writers today. He is best known for integrating suspense and believable, near-future science. And, in what may be encouraging to aspiring science fiction writers, his degrees are in journalism, communications and education—not science.
Mars Life chronicles the struggle of scientists studying Martian artifacts on Mars while earth struggles to cope with global warming. The characters are real, with quirks, passions, goals and flaws. Love is a constant complication. Bova even manages to interest us in something as mundane as project funding.
This book reminds me of Michael Crichton’s State of Fear. Both use short, pithy chapters. Both deal with science politics taken from today’s headlines. In Crichton’s book, radical environmentalists use terrorism and fear mongering about global warming to increase their political and financial clout. In Bova’s book, radical Christian fundamentalists use terrorism and fear mongering to try to shut down the exploration of Mars. Here, global warming has already come to pass. Governments struggle with the massive flooding, while on Mars the protagonists find evidence of intelligent life. The New Morality decides that if life once existed on Mars, their beliefs would be forfeit. They seek to deny funding for the mars project.
The concept is interesting. Unfortunately, Bova holds the New Morality in contempt. Every scene explaining their point of view involves supporters of Mars exploration discussing how ridiculous the New Morality is. Even the newly elected, New Morality administration calls his constituents “Bible-thumping zealots.” Reading Mars Life is like discussing politics at a party where everyone has exactly same opinion. The book would have been so much more effective if it even a single New Morality character had been given a voice. Bova should have taken a page from Crichton’s manual and given a fair hearing to protagonist and antagonist alike.
Mars Life is third of the series with Mars and Return to Mars. Readers will have no trouble jumping into the series with this book, though it cannot be said to stand alone. The conclusion doesn’t resolve anything, and left me feeling unsatisfied.
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