by Joe Haldeman
Cover Artist: Fred Gambino
Review by Paul Haggerty
Ace Hardcover Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441015955
Date: 05 August 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Carmen Dula, her parents, and her younger brother, are all off to Mars. Mom and Dad won the Science Lottery, but Carmen and Card had to give up a year of Saturday's studying to pass, or perhaps scam would be the better term, the psychological screening exams. And now they get to give up five years (six if you count travel time back and forth) stranded on a totally boring, dead planet. For an eighteen year old girl, this is not what she had planned for her life. But there's the sexy ship captain and the whole romance aspect of The Red Planet. Surely things can't be as bad as she fears.
Space travel has become routine, but that doesn't mean that things don't still go wrong. And people are still the same no matter how much the technology improves. Carmen is bored with her studies and the never ending chores, oppressed by the adults, totally misunderstood, and as sulky as a teenager can get, especially when you can't storm out of the house without suffering explosive decompression. But when she heads out of the Mars Base one day after a particularly infuriating encounter with the Base Commander, she ends up having a little accident. But on Mars, little accidents are just as fatal as the bigger ones. But while death might seem inevitable, Carmen is suddenly rescued by an inhabitant of another Mars Base. One that's been there for tens of thousands of years.
The most negative thing I can say about Marsbound is that there's too much story to fit into the book. There's a Space Elevator, Earth to Mars cruise, Mars Base, Aliens, First Contact, Conspiracies, Bureaucrats, Rampant Paranoia, and a history that spans millennia. By necessity, Haldeman dips in and out of the universe, showing the highlights as they affect the heroine, but otherwise letting time pass by without much comment. It's a bit much for one young girl to have to deal with. But time passes, Carmen grows up, and somehow manages to find a way to integrate herself into society like every teenager has before her. She makes choices that are, let's say, less than optional, and has to deal with the consequences.
But for all the technology and science, it's still a story about a young girl growing up and having to deal with things she never would have even considered were possible. The fact that most of the adults around her are equally clueless makes it different from what most people experience only in degree. Who are these aliens? What do they want? Why are they here? How will Earth react? When she disagrees with either side, what actions can she take … and should she even try? And, of course, the big question that everyone must face, in fiction or otherwise: Who can you trust when everyone has multiple agendas? We like to pretend otherwise, but technological advancements don't actually make significant changes in the things that define people. The aliens may be strange and different but, like humans, they're really still their own primitive ancestors, better dressed, and with fancier gadgets, but with their entire evolutionary history always lurking just beneath the skin.
Marsbound isn't a complex story per se, but there's a lot to think about between its pages. Give it a read.