Edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois
Cover Artist: Stephen Youll
Review by Benjamin Wald
Bantam Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345537270
Date: 08 October 2013 List Price $28.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Mars has long held a special place in the hearts of science fiction fans. From the rollicking adventures of Edgar Rice Boroughs and Stanley Weinbaum to the elegiac beauty of Roger Zelazny and Ray Bradbury, many of the genre's greatest stars have used the red planet as the stage for stories featuring ancient civilizations, canals, and Martians of every description. Recent science fiction has tended to stick to the more drab reality of the Mars that science has revealed to us, but with this collection contemporary authors have been invited to explore the older visions of Mars. Old Mars features stories set on Mars as we once imagined it to be, producing stories that mix nostalgia, homage, and originality in various combinations for a fascinating mix of stories.
Many of the stories are fast-paced adventure stories. James S.A. Corey spins a fast paced tale that takes a crew of pirates from the seas of earth's past all the way to Mars to help an alliance of oppressed Martian species against an insectile aggressor. This story has all of the strengths of the expanse series; well-written, fast-paced, and smart. Michael Moorcock's story is written in the style of the old pulps, a well written homage with a bit more political bite than is apparent at first glance. S.M. Stirling contributes the evocatively titled "Swords of Zar-tu-Kan", featuring daring rescues, sword fights, psychic dogs, and a plot that never slows down.
Other stories eschew the action packed heritage of Edgar Rice Burroughs, choosing to emulate instead the elegiac stories of remembrance characteristic of Ray Bradbury. Many of the stories feature ancient Martian civilization, often either vanished or in decline. A surprising number of stories feature some technology that preserves the memories of a vanished Martian race. However, the way that the stories make use of this idea is quite varied. Mary Rosenblum gives this an environmentalist twist in "Shoals", with the technology that preserves the minds of the vanished Martian race threatened by greedy human prospectors. In "Ugly Duckling", Matthew Hughes has a human stumble on a means to relive the lives of ancient Martians, and creates an atmospheric and interesting story that doesn't play out as you might expect. Phyllis Eisenstein's story, "The Sunstone", is more concerned with what it means to be an immigrant or a native, in this case on a foreign planet.
My favorite story in the collection is Ian McDonald's "The Queen of Night's Aria". McDonald's story sees Mars invaded by the British in retaliation for the events in H.G. Wells classic War of the Worlds. The story follows a formerly famous singer, Jack Fitzgerald, as he tours Mars with his accompanist, who serves as our narrator. It is an odd tale, mixing humor with stunning visuals and touching characters, and it is totally unique.
Fans of the old Mars, full of canals and lost races, will get a kick out of seeing some of the best contemporary authors return to this milieu, and newer fans who have never read A Princess of Mars or The Martian Chronicles can get a taste of what they are missing, and perhaps be inspired to pick up the old classics. The collection features a nice mix of adventure tales with more slow-paced, introspective stories, and the stories are of uniformly high quality. This collection is certainly worth a look.