Martian Knightlife by James P. Hogan
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Hardcover - 288 pages (October 2001)
Baen Books; ISBN: 0671318446
Review by Ernest Lilley
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Kieran Thane, better known as "The Knight" is one of those guys women love and men hate. Especially men on the wrong side of his code of ethics.

He’s a freelance troubleshooter in the style of Simon Templer, aka “The Saint”, only the neighborhood he hangs out in isn’t Cold War Europe, it’s the much colder colonial Mars. He’s even got his own two-seater Martian sportscar to roam around the subzero countryside in. In fact, it's hard not to hear the Saint's theme song playing in the background during the action. Ironically, that would be Roger Moore as the best Saint, not the other guy.

The Knight’s a guy you call when things get too complicated to figure out on your own, and in the future, life is sure to get more complicated as Science Fiction becomes troublesome reality.

Knight may be a glorified Private Eye or maybe Con Artist, but he thinks like the engineer that Hogan actually is. James Hogan has found a protagonist he can send out into the scientific jungle of the future and ask tough questions about Science Fiction’s standard ploys as well as loiter in bars with attractive damsels – without the handicap of being a geeky scientist like his usual hero. Knight gets to ask questions like what happens to the original when you teleport someone? How did Mars lose its water and thicker air? Gradual changes or sudden upheavals? Does the light go out when you close the refrigerator door? (Ok, I made that last on up.) These are familiar gambits to the author’s fans, and they’ll even see some of the familiar themes explored in his first book, still my Hogan favorite, Inherit the Stars.

I can’t help but hear a whisper of Arthur C. Clarke in Hogan’s writing.  That’s by no means a criticism, but the scientific…or more specifically the engineering approach to problems that they share comes across time and time again.

Kieran has just come back to Mars from roaming around the Solar System, helping the naive out of jams and doing bad things to bad people. Or at least being coincidentally nearby when the universe mysteriously rights wrongs. Just to stay in practice and to increase the general level of sophistication of the public, he likes to fleece passengers on space liners of poker winnings, then hand them over at trip's end. Knight moves in mysterious ways.

He's got a girl on Mars, little surprise to anyone, though we're left to wonder how serious it is. Probably for the next few books, as this looks like the start of a beautiful friendship between author and character. She's an info snoop and part time publicist, and naturally, quite a doll.

But a man's best friend isn't a dame, it's a dog, and Knight comes equipped with a big black lab/doberman mix named Guiness...after the beer." 'Stout.' Kieran corrected. 'Heavy, black, Irish beer. It's called stout.' " Um. Thanks.

Along the way, the author indulges himself to about every pleasure he can vicariously enjoy, chatting up girls in bikinis, dropping logical games and puzzles into conversation, and the puns...well, lets just say I hope he doesn't try to make Knight hurt anyone with them, as they're pretty painful just set on stun. While he's at it, he comes up with an excuse to have his characters argue about government, property, and the will-of-the-people.  

The ethnic setting of Hogan's universe, or Solar System, is as diverse as one could want, with Russians, Middle Easterners, Asians and even some possible Yankees in the mix. By the way, Kieran, though it may be obvious to the author, or any red blooded Irishman, or even anyone who notes his wandering ways, familiarity with Irish potables, or penchant to bad a fine Irish name. He should have gotten red hair to go with the Martian surface.

Like I said, Hogan indulges himself.

The book is broken into two cases, though they weave together a bit towards the end. I'd like a collection of short episodes of the Knight's adventures, each starting in the grand style of classic detective fiction. You, know..."I didn't hear her enter...but the smell of Mars dust clung to her like perfume. I could tell she was trouble, but I like trouble." (...and I accuse Hogan of indulging himself!)

But it's all fun to go along with. Solving the mystery of who's who in the matter transmitter mystery, "His Own Worst Enemy", or pitting adversaries against each other in order to save Alien ruins from eager Martian land developers in "Khal of Tadzhikstan" All the while managing to make new friends, broker influence, and obtain contributions to the Knkghtlife retirement fund. Not that we should expect Kieran Thane to retire any time soon. That would be too boring to consider seriously...for the Knight, the author..or us.


© 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu