Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book review: Marsbound

Today's book review is Marsbound by Joe Haldeman.

This is a standalone novel.

The first third of the book is some straightforward, fairly tame exploration of where our civilization might be in a few decades, told through a moderately engaging story of a woman coming of age.  Then we meet the aliens, and things get very contrived and suspension of disbelief is quite difficult.  We rush headlong to an ending that makes some sense in human terms, but leaves me wondering what the larger point of it all was, if any.  It was fairly entertaining, but it ended up being more or less all whipped cream when I was expecting some pie under there.

6 out of 10.


Our heroine, Carmen, has just been selected, with her family, to join the colony on Mars, but she's all angsty teenager over it and wishes she didn't have to go.  On the six month trip to Mars, she loses her virginity with Paul the captain of the shuttle, falls hopelessly in love with him, and eventually becomes a dedicated Martian.  Dargo, the administrator of the colony is a prude and a total asshole; because she doesn't approve of Carmen and Paul's liaison Carmen starts out on her shit list.  When Carmen is one of the kids caught skinny dipping in the water supply, she is heavily punished, and in an act of rebellion she sneaks out of the habitat alone at night, falls into a hole, breaks an ankle, and damages the heating element in her suit.

Before she can freeze, she's rescued by Red, one of the real Martians who have been in hiding.  Red returns her to the colony but disappears before anyone else sees him.  The evidence of her broken ankle, now appearing to be a years-old injury, convinces her mother and some others that she's telling the truth.  Dargo doesn't believe her, but somehow she ends up out exploring with Paul when she starts coughing up blood.  There's some kind of alien growth in her lungs, and the other children in the colony have all got it.  She realizes that she and the other children will die without the magic Martian medicine, so she contrives to get out of the colony to where the Martian spy cameras will see her.

The Martians being revealed leads to the establishment of a special space station in Earth orbit, a combination laboratory and embassy, where Carmen, Red, 3 other Martians, and some human volunteers are quarantined.  Paul has gone back to Mars, supposedly to stay because he's reached his lifetime limit on radiation exposure, but then an experimental miracle anti-radiation drug saves Carmen's love life.  And a huge laser beam from Neptune whose sole purpose is to trigger the yellow Martians, who are living memory repositories, into passing along a message that was encoded in their bodies.  Two messages, actually; an overt response to early SETI messages, and a covert one in the one of the Martian languages that only Red knows.  Red reveals privately to Carmen that he and the intelligence on Triton are both part of an alien monitoring system designed to watch Earth for dangerous emerging carbon and water based life.  It's supposed to be secret, but Dargo is still spying on Carmen (for no apparent reason other than hatred).  A bunch of weird skulduggery ensues.  Dargo thinks Red is lying.  Carmen thinks Dargo is paranoid, but when Paul thinks there might be something to Dargo's suspicions, Carmen starts to worry.  Red says they need to keep the fact that they know what's going on secret or the Triton intelligence can blow them all up.  Dargo gets caught using illegal software to decipher Carmen's secret communication, the whole story ends up on the tabloids, and as soon as the tabloid transmission reaches Neptune, Triton blows up.  Red then apologizes; he is the bomb that will wipe out the earth.  In a couple of days.  They hatch a plot to put Red on the far side of the moon to contain the explosion.  Paul volunteers on a suicide mission.  Red contrives a way for Paul to survive.  Paul and Carmen live happily ever after, naming one of their kids after Red.
Tags: book review, joe haldeman, sf
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