Picks and Pans Review: Mars
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)