by Ben Bova

Bova doesn't dream of a red planet populated by reptilian aliens or mutant humans. His Mars is a land of true scientific challenge, "Death Valley at its worst," 100 degrees below zero, with no breathable air. It is a tribute to Bova, a longtime editor of Omni magazine and author of 75 previous novels, that he can both stick to his technological details—the "hard" science fiction for which he is known—and make this barren world come alive.

Mars is a sweeping, Michener-style saga of the first expedition to our neighboring planet. Focusing on international and personal politics, Bova places geologist Jamie Waterman at the core of his fiction. A Native American, Waterman breaks protocol upon landing by innocently abandoning the speech prepared for him. Instead, he screams out "Ya'aa'tey"—a Navaho greeting ("It is good"). Is it a protest? A slap in the face to all Americans?

With the ambitious (female!) Vice President up in arms, Waterman, millions of miles away, is soon the subject of a national scandal. Too bad the media, frothing over the prospect of "live from Mars" broadcasts, has to endure, thanks to the amount of time it takes to transmit from planet to planet, a 20-minute wait between questions and answers.

Laboriously the Waterman uproar is quelled, freeing Jamie to explore this amazing planet, a place where, he reminds himself, the "old assumptions don't apply." Yet the most disastrous thing to happen to this crew, an attack of a potentially fatal "Martian flu," will harken back to earthly plagues of centuries past.

Bova further brightens his dusty terrain with warring personalities (the group's humorless Russian leader, the devious British doctor) and Waterman's ambitious girlfriend back home, a TV newswoman who figures, "He left me for Mars. Now I can use Mars" as a "ticket to a job with the network."

Though Bova is not a great stylist, he does construct lovely passages evoking Waterman's Native American heritage. The novelist's obvious passion for space exploration also buoys the 502-page book, making Mars the ultimate summer escape. (Bantam, $20)

by Gail Sheehy

In the hierarchy of conversation stoppers, menopause is queen. Women don't even talk to each other about it. "Shame, fear, misinformation...and the stigma of aging," writes Gail Sheehy, are what make menopause the last taboo.

Sheehy's own experience convinced her it was time that menopause came out of the closet: "I went into menopause knowing nothing—not even that I was in it," she writes. So she found people who would share their knowledge: Other women, doctors, scientists, psychologists. The result is this very welcome book.

Silent Passage does two important things: It guides women through a stressful time with its essential, enlightening information, and it makes a convincing argument that the change of life can he the beginning of something positive.

Sheehy points out that menopause often stalls sooner than has traditionally been believed; many women in their late 30s and early 40s experience symptoms without realizing what's happening. She reports on the increasing phenomenon of "menopause moms," women who go straight from breast-feeding to hot flashes. And she reassuringly points out that many of the symptoms of menopause are either temporary or treatable.

Sheehy explores the pros and cons of hormone therapy; the connections between menopause and such ailments as osteoporosis; and how menopause affects one's sex life.

As for the positive beginnings...the way the author looks at it, a woman of 50 has half her adult life ahead and, what's more, will very likely experience a physical and psychological burst of energy that Margaret Mead once called "postmenopausal zest."

The maple leaf on the jacket captures the spirit of Silent Passage. While it's just starting to turn color around the edges, it's still a vibrant green. (Random House, $16)

by Francisco Goldman

This striking debut novel begins as a coming-of-age story—and ends as much more. Sure, it's plotted around the half-Guatemalan, half-American narrator's relationship with the Guatemalan orphan girl who came to live with his family. Yes, it covers the familiar ambiguities of complicated family relationships. Sex, friendship, growing up alienated—all familiar themes.

But Francisco Goldman, a Harper's magazine contributing editor and himself the son of a Guatemalan mother and American lather, pushes those themes further. Part nontraditional love story (the principals are never romantically involved), part mystery, this book is also an examination of polities—social, sexual and emotional.

Goldman tells the story of Flor de Mayo Puac, a Guatemalan maid brought to suburban Boston and transformed into a Wellesley College—educated "daughter." Highly intelligent and headstrong, Flor returns to Guatemala to run an orphanage; she is soon murdered there, posthumously accused by Guatemalan authorities of being a "baby seller."

But Roger knows better. His "sister" was incapable of such behavior. Or was she? To find out he sorts through the facts of Flor's life and through his own idealized memory. Roger learns that solving the mystery of who she was involves discovering some truths about himself and Guatemala as well.

Roger's emotional journey is a long one—and so is Goldman's novel, which is full of digressions and asides, many of them acidly observant. The Long Night of While Chickens is clearly rich enough to be savored for a similarly long time. (Atlantic, $21.95)

by Roxanne Pulitzer

The author was a staple of gossip columns in New York City and in her adopted home, Palm Beach, during her 1982 made-in-tabloid-heaven divorce from the scion of the great publishing family. Seeming to cash in on the cachet of her famous name and to help cover living expenses, Pulitzer began writing Florida-based fiction.

The best that can be said about her current Palm Beach story is that Pulitzer tries. She knows that novels set in the playgrounds of the rich ought to be populated with beautiful women (Facade features four), preferably beautiful women with salacious secrets and unsavory pasts (Facade boasts a former call girl, a hit-and-run driver, a plagiarist, a victim of sexual abuse). Such novels must also have lavish settings, fancy clothes, name brands and tawdry sex (Facade is batting 1,000 here).

What Facade also has are pasteboard characters, a weakly motored plot and prose that would drive a creative-writing teacher to despair. "Their life together was a lake so shallow it could not cool in summer," is one example of Pulitzer's stab at lyricism. Regretfully, Facade offers many, many more. (Simon & Schuster, $20)

  • Contributors:
  • Susan Toepfer,
  • Carol Peace,
  • Sara Nelson,
  • Joanne Kaufman.