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A novel by Joe Haldeman
(2008, ACE Science Fiction)

Marsbound Trilogy, book 1

A teen girl travels with her family to Mars, where she encounters love, hatred, and alien life.


-- First reading (ebook)
March 18th to 25th, 2013


The narration style is first person and very casual, which although it seemed appropriate to the tale, also lent it a tone that was less urgent, especially when the Martians arrived and things started to happen. There are three main parts, and strangely enough, it is the setup that is the most interesting. The payoff seemed way too quick and understated, and the numbers seemed included to make the story seem more science-oriented, which felt forced.

Spoiler review:

The tone of the book was set right from the start, a young woman whose family has decided to join the seventy-five other scientist families on Mars, leaving her home for the space elevator that will take them to the space station where they will take the shuttle to Mars.

Carmen, the protagonist, meets their pilot Paul on the beach before they leave, and they hit it off right away, even though he's more than ten years older than her almost-nineteen. She allows him to seduce her while on the shuttle, and they become not-so-secret lovers throughout.

The science was interesting, but much of it felt forced, as if it was added later on. Though Carmen would certainly have asked about such information, as both her parents are scientists, and she doesn't seem inclined to rebel (against them, anyway), it seemed to be reserved for certain places in the novel, and felt like it was all crammed in there. Some things felt dated, too. I suppose it's hard for an author to decide what should stay relevant to a society a century in the future, but referencing three space shuttle accidents is already obsolete, and there were various references to twentieth century activities. The author also made up his own twenty-first century celebrities and slang. I'm not really sure that was necessary, as it doesn't make the story more real for me.

The first part of the book is more about displaying the technology, which was moderately integrated into the story of Carmen and her family going to Mars. We get full descriptions of the space elevator that goes to the space Hilton, including realistic estimates of the time it would take to get there. Then there is the transfer to the Mars shuttle, and its trip over there, where most notably Carmen is seduced. Very little of note actually happens after that.

Then Paul lands them on Mars, and they are put straight to work. Since there are only about a hundred people on Mars, everyone needs to contribute. Apparently the administrator Dargo has something against Paul, and believes Carmen is a bad influence on him, after she found out about their love affair. Carmen thinks she is being singled out for bad treatment, and it looks like it is true, as her clothing is bugged and her activities tracked.

One day, after they drill for water and manually carry the water from the lake to the colony tanks, Carmen decides to take a swim with her friends, but Dargo catches them, and blames Carmen. That night, Carmen decides to take a walk out onto the surface of Mars, all alone, to get away from everything and blow off steam.

She falls through a thin patch of rock, and discovers Martians.

There is a lot of history divulged in a few chapters. Apparently the Martians don't know where they came from, or what their exact purpose is, except to make contact with humans when the time is right. They have been monitoring Earth for thousands of years, and picked up all human languages through radio and TV broadcasts.

They fix Carmen's broken ankle and ribs, but inadvertently give her a contagious lung spore that nearly kills her. The Martians come to the human colony to cure all the youngsters who caught the spore, from which humanity learns about extra-terrestrial life. There is very little about Earth's reaction to this news, which I expect must have been very traumatizing. Regardless, all of the description seems very detached, as the protagonist is far away, so it concerns her very little.

The next section is bizarrely written, as it describes life over the next five years, then proceeds to back up and give us an account in detail of several major events. This happens several times, and includes many ominous references to things to come, such as "that was our first mistake". It didn't seem necessary.

Red, the singular Martian leader, and Green, the healer, come over to the newly-made space station and become essentially experimental subjects and information sources for human scientists, as well as publicity opportunities for politicians. Due to the lung spore and other possible contagions, the station is actually two almost-linked stations, where the Martians (both human and extra-terrestrial) are isolated from the rest of the human population.

When the yellow (Fly-in-Amber) record-keeper shows up, a message is broadcast from Neptune's moon Triton, and more events are set in motion, including a message only to Red that if humans prove to be too dangerous, they will be destroyed. Although Red tries to keep this a secret with Carmen, Dargo finds out, and accidentally leaks it to the authorities, who leak it to the news. When this gets published, again there is no mention of the reaction of people on Earth, but the Other who is monitoring humans from a distance initiates the destruction.

I found the rate at which Red learned things about the mysterious Others, aliens with metabolisms so slow that it would take hours to figure out they had moved at all, to be unrealistic. Even given that he's an alien, he received two very short transmissions, with only one chance to ask more questions. Suddenly he knows everything about them, how they used to be explorers and discovered a hostile race, which they ended up destroying. So they are trying to determine if they should launch a pre-emptive strike. It seemed more like the author's way of spilling as much information about these aliens we've never met to his audience, with no real story value.

With the security leak, or Red's betrayal of them, they decide enough is enough. But was that really sufficient cause? There was no call for an attack on Triton, just disaster headlines. The Other watching them at Triton was really trigger-happy.

Red ends up being the bomb, so Paul comes up with an ingenious way of saving Earth, by flying the Martian to the far side of the Moon, where there are conveniently no repeater stations (why not?), and no colonies. Red blows up after killing himself, and at least until the end of this book, everybody lives happily ever after, including Carmen and Paul and later their twins.

There are, of course, two more books in this series.

I can't say that I really warmed to this book at all. There were a few interesting sequences, but I never really enjoyed the protagonist, nor the situations she was put under. Things moved very quickly, and there seemed to be so few repercussions to anything, except Carmen's defiance. I'll certainly read the rest of the series, but not until having a long break.


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