01/10/2008. Contributed by David A. Hardy
pub: TOR/Forge. 285 page small hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $27.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1787-2).
check out website: www.tor-forge.com, www.phenixpublicity.com and www.benbova.net
Ben Bova is of course well-known for his linked 'Grand Tour' series of novels, which encompass Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, Jupiter and Saturn. Of these, the Moon boasts two books, the asteroids three and Mars two...until now. 'Mars' and 'Return To Mars' are now joined by this third sequel, 'Mars Life', which rounds off the story of this planet nicely.
However, the exploration and colonization of Mars are really only a background for the real subject matter, which is the clash between science, politics and religion. Because it extrapolates from today's very scary trend in the USA for fundamentalist Christians who oppose the theory of evolution to prevent its teaching in schools or at least to insist that it be taught merely as one theory on an equal footing with the story of Creation as it appears in the Bible, which they believe to be the literal truth.
The 'New Morality' has grown in strength and influence until it controls the US government to a frightening extent and is almost ready to put a man into the White House. The discovery by Jamie Waterman of cliff dwellings on Mars in the previous book in this series, with its implication that Man may not always have been the only intelligent life-form in our Solar System, is anathema to the New Morality. They use their considerable power to strangle funding for the Mars colony and ultimately to try to close it down completely and withdraw its inhabitants back to Earth. Even among politicians and the universities which provide funding for the Mars base there are factions which, understandably, see Earth's problems with global warming and climate change as superceding keeping a human presence on Mars.
The idea that intelligent life existed on Mars sixty-five million years ago and was wiped out at the same time as the dinosaurs became extinct on Earth and by the same agent - a massive asteroid impact - is of probably the most controversial in Bova's series. There are few scientists who would support such a hypothesis! But this is Science Fiction not fact and Bova does not shy away from using such a tool in order to make his point. Indeed, it is pivotal.
Jamie's work on Mars was continued by Carter Carleton, an anthropologist who was driven from his university post back on Earth by a charge of rape, which remains unproven but which raises its head again later. Carleton is dedicated and indeed fanatical about his excavations on Mars, which seem to be on the point of revealing a Martian 'village'. He feels his position as leader to be threatened when Jamie Waterman decides to return to Mars with his wife, Vijay, upon hearing about the discovery of what appears to be a vertebra at the dig to the consternation of the New Morality, who do all they can to suppress this news.
Monsignor Filvio A. DiNardo, a dedicated Jesuit and confidant of the Pope, but also a geologist, wants to visit Mars, too. He is haunted by the question of how God could allow an intelligent race to be wiped out in a metaphorical blink of an eye and wants to know if these being also believed in a god. Could God be so cruel as to do this, merely to teach us to fear him? Could the fundamentalists be right: is the greenhouse warming now being suffered by Earth a retribution from a God grown angry at our evil ways? He realizes that he has to go to Mars himself to find out what happened to these creatures and why they perished.
The notion of extinct intelligent Martians aside, Bova's science and extrapolations of today's trends are as convincing as ever. He sets up good tensions between the alliances and enmities, between the diverse characters and the ever-present threat of the closure of the Mars base and the clash between science and religion. He ties up the loose ends quite neatly, if a little to conveniently, following the timely translation of pictographs found in the Martian cliff dwellings and of bacteria under a newly-formed crater, making this a good solid read. Oh and there's a nice cover by John Harris.
David A. Hardy
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