The recent race among sf writers to see who can write the best novel about Mars continues, and as one might expect, Benford's entry is a very fine one. It begins with a situation that could be drawn from any of a dozen space-advocacy potboilers. The NASA-manned Mars mission has a catastrophic failure, and a space-minded billionaire comes through to finance an alternative mission in time to beat a foreign consortium--nowadays, a European-Chinese one instead of an all-godless-commie crew. The novel's primary focus, however, is on the voyage of Julia Barth and her comrades, a long, long haul in a ship slightly above the bailing-wire-and-chewing-gum level in terms of repair. Technical problems, faulty personal interactions, and the Martian environment all challenge survival, but Benford is as expert as ever at seamlessly melding characterization, technology, and narrative drive in an effective novel that takes its place near the front of the pack of Martian-yarn contenders.
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