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Mars Crossing by Geoffrey A. Landis
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0312872011
Date: December, 2000 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

Mars Crossing is solid Science Fiction and a great tale of endurance on the frozen wastes of the red planet. The cross age, gender, class, race and nationality of the crew provides us with a multitude of perspectives and the interpersonal tension needed to make the story compelling.

But it's been done already.

Trekking across vast distances to reach abandoned space hardware after your own ship either crashes or fails to launch is practically a genre in itself. Not being able to fit everyone on board is pretty much a tradition. Killing off the excess astronauts is a classic motif.

Hot on the heels of two movies about nothing less than marooned Mars expeditions comes Mars Crossing, where the landing goes fine, but the return vehicle won't fly. Off across the Marscape we go, by MarsRover, MarsBike, MarsPlane, MarsSki and MarsBoot. At the Martian North Pole, across a few thousand miles of frozen dusty wasteland and a few canyons big enough to swallow the Grand Canyon is the abandoned return ship of the first Mars expedition.

Granted, it only holds two, three less than the current expedition, but it's a long way there and accidents will happen. If they're lucky. If not, they can always be caused.

The third expedition to Mars is optimistic at the start. For one thing, they hope to come home again, which is a trick that eluded the previous expeditions. On Mars One the two Brazilian astronauts collapsed in front of the TV cameras and never got up, and on Mars Two, athlete's foot became a creeping rot that consumed everything vaguely resembling a growth media.

Now Mars Three has had a little trouble with the fuel tanks and their ticket home has been canceled. Unless they can make use of the stuff the other expeditions left behind.

Three men, if you want to count the teenager who won his way onto the mission in a sweepstakes, and two women, one the Brazilian bombshell who's husband died on Mars 1 and the other a black woman who left her family behind to be an astronaut.

Everybody has a story, and through flashbacks and reflections, we learn about how each came to this place, most by wanting it more than anything else in the world.

Often the back-stories are more interesting than the long trek across the surface. The mission commander John Radkowski's attempt to save cosmonauts on the doomed "little Mir", The Brazilian Estrella's voyage from the gutters and alley's of Rio to the elite Astronaut Corp., Trevor's teen schemes to win the lottery that helped finance the mission...and always the red dust and brutal landscape stretching away.

It all takes place in a future that takes little suspension of disbelief to imagine, with Earth nearly ready to quit Mars, especially if this expedition leaves no legacy but more corpses on alien soil.

The author does a good job of both showing how hard a successful mission is to pull off and thanks to the concepts of space scientists Robert Zubrin and David Baker, how it might actually be possible at all. This is a decent Mars book, though like all serious Science Fiction it's hamstrung by the attempt at deference to reality.

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