||Even considering this was the first
book in a series that Asimov didn't want to write, I found this novel to
be less than impressive. Written to be a TV show, the book is short, and
I'm thankful for that, because I'm not sure I could take too much more
of the hero's antagonistic view.
Of course, being a take on the Lone
Ranger, David Starr has to be a wonderful person, and so well-rounded
that nobody could ever match up with him. And that was, I believe, TV of
the 1950s. These days we expect our heroes to have more faults. David
gets surprised several times in this book, but not because of faults.
It is obvious from the first page that
this is an Isaac Asimov book, no matter the quality. The style is
unmistakable. The writing is dense, so that a lot is said in only a few
sentences. However, most of the book is told through talking. Characters
discuss various things ad-nauseum, almost as bad as in Asimov's later
books, which were so wordy they took up three times the space.
Also typical of Asimov, the characters
are all male. Apparently women don't belong in outer space. The only
woman mentioned is David's mother. While the men are described in terms
of their intellectual prowess, David's mother is characterized by her
incredible beauty. This kind of duality permeates almost all of Asimov's
books, even up to the last ones he wrote.
Is there a story to this book?
Certainly, and once it starts it never lets up. Something important
happens in all the chapters. The mystery is that several dozen people
have been poisoned by food that came from Mars, and the Council of
Science, which has more power than the government, is ready to ban all
Martian foodstuffs. David Starr has just been admitted as the youngest
member of the Council ever, taking a job his father held before he and
his wife were killed in a pirate attack.
David makes his way to Mars, and
belligerently pushes himself into a job at a Martian farm, headed by
Makian, with a union of sorts led by Hennes and his henchmen. He makes a
friend of a little man named Bigman. Mars is like the Wild West, with
its own set of rules and customs. A fair fight in the open air of Mars
is one of them. So when David is ambushed by one of the henchmen, he
gets a fair fight because of all the witnesses, even though the other man tries to cheat. The other
man ends up at the bottom of a fissure.
David is antagonistic all throughout,
which works well for him, because that is the kind of outlaw society he
is living in -like the Lone Ranger. Throughout the book, it is more
about the conflict between David and the others than the mystery, which
doesn't really unravel itself very well. One scientist, Benson, suggests
that ancient Martians are at the root of the poisonings. David travels
outside the dome to climb down a fissure to find them. Actually, they
find him, and study him. They are beings of pure mental energy, and
after several discussions they let him go, back to the surface, with a
special mask and forcefield that will undoubtedly become his trademark
as he is transformed into the Space Ranger.
David survives a dust storm because of
his mask and forcefield, and all are amazed to see him alive. Once back
in the dome, the Space Ranger takes over. From his discussions with the
Martians, he discovers that Benson lied to him about Martian microbes,
which could not possibly interact with carbon-based humans and their
food. He breaks into a storage locker and appropriates Benson's sampling
rod, discovering the small poison-delivering probe.
Then he sets the stage for a Council of
Science "discussion" where he puts all the facts on the table, and
forces Hennes to confess that he was the go-between, and that Benson was
the true leader. There is no motive given, beyond the idea that Benson
had an inferiority complex.
What the story lacked in interesting
character moments, it made up for, strangely enough, with good action
sequences, which would have undoubtedly translated well to the TV
screen. As I understand it, the really good books in the series are the
last three, so I look forward to continuing this series, regardless of
the slow start.