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Science Fiction Index


A novel by Joe Haldeman
(2010, ACE Science Fiction)

Marsbound Trilogy, book 2

A group of humans and Martians travel together in close quarters to the home of the Others to demonstrate that humans deserve a chance at life.


-- First reading (ebook)
January 28th to February 7th, 2016


While the study of how to put people in a small container for years produced some interesting dynamics, the overall purpose in sending humans out to the star of the Others was basically ignored. The resulting catastrophe, however, was huge, and I wonder how the author will complete the story!

Spoiler review:

I’ve delved a bit into human behavior while traveling on long space voyages where people can’t get away from each other, and need to find something to do. This book indicates that human nature, i.e. sex, is a huge factor in keeping people amused and distracted. Of course, Carmen Dula was sexually energetic back in Marsbound. Here the author does not hide her sexual interests, nor those of the other people who get on board their spaceship.

After the Others detonated a bomb that was supposed to wipe out all life on Earth at the end of the last book (but which Paul sent to the other side of the Moon, saving the planet for the moment), humans have been designing a spacecraft that can take them out to Wolf 25, the star where they saw the Other from Triton flee to. The people on board are supposed to tell the Others that humans can be trusted to not attack them, and possibly to negotiate some sort of treaty. But it is not clear, even by the time they make contact, how they are supposed to do that. The Others are incredibly powerful; at the end of the book, it appears that they can defy the speed of light to communicate (such as Moonboy’s message).

All the crew is able to do is wonder at the destructive capability of the Others, and return to Earth. However, if the Others found out about the warships humanity was constructing, they would surely have known its intention was not to attack. I suppose the trick is knowing that humans are capable of regime changes, and that a defensive fleet could easily turn into an aggressive fleet.

The focus in this book is the journey, and the dynamics between the various people. The three people from Earth were all spies, and are married in a triad. One of the men worked for Israel, which was devastated in a two-pronged attack of poison gas not too long ago (I wonder if this will become important in the third book). He longs for Carmen’s body, though he doesn’t do anything more than stare, through the whole voyage. His wife gets the chance to sleep with every man on the ship, except probably Paul (though Carmen isn’t absolutely sure about that). This causes some tension among the other wives, of course.

The spaceship itself was interesting, a habitat attached to a comet, which provides the fuel for the ion engine, powered by the mysterious energy source that the Martians introduced to humanity. I liked the pool, almost as much as the Martians enjoyed theirs, once it was built for them. At the halfway point, they turn off the engine and turn around, so they can decelerate towards the Others’ star.

It’s at that point they get a visitor, an avatar in near-human form created for the purpose of observing them and communicating with them. It turns out the Others work really slowly, but very efficiently, planning for all circumstances. They decide to let humanity live, for the moment. But they take one each of the human and Martian crew to stay with them and become part of their living library. Since Moonboy was damaged by sex with Elza and having her bring up his abusive past, the Others choose him. They also show the crew a dead planet, once occupied by beings very much like the Martians, but who decided to attack the Others. Their world was baked until everyone and everything died. It is a lesson meant to keep the humans cautious.

It’s difficult to make a novel that takes place over several years. Usually it takes the form of what this author did, with entries every year, or half-year, describing what happened. In this case, all of the action happened in the first couple of months, and very little during the intervening years. Fortunately, the Others tell the crew that they think about Time all wrong, and send them the rest of the way in the blink of an eye. I liked that the author didn’t try to explain it. Even as they approached Earth, humans tried to contact them, but their minds were sort of suspended so that they didn’t see the time that passed, and couldn’t contact Earth. It was pretty neat.

One thing I really didn’t like about this book was the opening chapters. It reviewed the previous book, but it was from several points of view, and didn’t add anything to the story. I think it could have been eliminated without any problem, or at least made much better.

And so the Others destroy Earth’s moon, sending the particles around the planet to destroy all the warships and satellites, as well as the space elevator. And when humanity’s government decides this was another test and tries to launch a rocket, the Others respond by taking all power away. How much and what they have taken is a mystery at the moment, and will have to wait for the next book. But they explained that the free energy came at the expense of energy in another universe, from a “donor world”. Earth has now become a donor world, as planes crash to the ground and cars stop working, and who knows what else… The Others are serious about not letting anybody become a threat to them, and will tolerate no disobedience. And we all know how humans like to be bossed around… I’m interested in knowing how this ends.


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