The red planet Mars has always held a special place in our imaginations. And no other forum has played a bigger role than that of literature in putting it there. Since H.G. Wells wrote his classic tale War of the Worlds, authors have treated us to many stories featuring Mars, or Martians. The space age has brought us slightly more accurate portrayals of the red planet. And modern writers like Kim Stanley Robinson, Gregory Benford, and Ben Bova have helped us conceive mars as a real place with their superb writing and descriptions of the barren landscape of our neighbouring world.
In Ben Bova's "Mars" we follow the first humans to visit our neighbour in space. Unlocking its secrets as the mission unfolds. The book reads like an extremely realistic day-by-day account of the pioneering Martian exploration. The novel is broken up into Sols (The term for a day on Mars which is 24 hours and 37 minutes.). A feature, which seems to help you really imagine you are following the mission and its participants closely. Of course a long space voyage and an uneventful account of the crews surveys and discoveries on the surface would not make for an exciting read. So the part of the story involving the teams journey to mars is glossed over somewhat, and plenty of incidents and character interaction whilst on the surface of Mars insures the reader is in no time totally absorbed in this novel.
Ben Bova's central character is part Navaho Indian. And parallels are drawn up many times with the red landscape of his desert homeland and the rusty red barren landscape of Mars. As a result James Waterman is the man we follow, and we soon see him form a close bond to Mars. He is in tune with the magnificent wilderness like no other member of the team.
In this novel our explorers have to overcome many hardships, including all the problems that the harsh Martian environment can throw at you. Aswell as keeping the fragile technology, which keeps them alive, working. Disasters, illness, and the effects of being alone on a world hundreds of millions of miles from home all play their part. The one driving force that keeps the whole thing moving is Jamie Waterman's growing obsession and hunger to explore Mars. Which not only makes this book compelling reading, but sets up its sequel Return to Mars as a must read aswell.
Somehow "Mars" manages to never leave the path of a realistically written space mission. Usually strange and unlikely events and situations are thrown into sci-fi novels to keep the reader hooked. Ben Bova has written a tale here, which changes the rules. No Martian plots to invade Earth are stumbled upon. No aliens stalk the crew. "Mars" is simply a tale of how humans take the first steps out into the solar system. And a story of how one man's drive and passion to explore the Martian frontier opens up an incredible set of possibilities. Ben Bova has now taken us to the Moon, Mars, Venus, Jupiter and the Asteroid belt with his excellent novels. But none are better than this one and its second instalment. For five hundred and sixty seven pages you will visit mars in your imaginations, just as I did. And for that I will always thank Ben Bova.