• Book One of the Mars Trilogy
  • Part of the Grand Tour universe
  • Published by Bantam in 1992
  • Hard SF
  • 549 pages
  • ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Mars. The next logical stopping point for human exploration of space. A world ripe for investigation, but also exploitation. When the first crewed mission to Mars touches down, will their goal be science, or will politics dominate there as it does on Earth . . .

This is only the second book I’ve read by the late Ben Bova, but it is enough to ensure that I buy a whole lot more. It’s not every day that you discover a new favourite author, but maybe this is that day. The best way I can describe Bova’s work is ‘If Asimov wrote Star Trek,’ because it has the clear prose and keen mind of the former, and the love of exploration and warmth of the latter. This is Hard SF as it should be written. It doesn’t bog down with pages and pages of calculations, but uses an adherence to science (as understood at the time of writing) to propel the narrative forwards. It also has something very, very important, that we could use a whole lot more of. Optimism.

There are no exact dates given in Mars, but from context we can establish that the book is set in 2008, meaning that we’re a little way behind Bova’s grand vision of the future. But aside from a few dated elements (I don’t think a real Mars mission will use floppy disks quite so much), the story holds up. The United States and Russia drive the space race, but the Europeans are in the mix too. It reads as a perfectly natural evolution of the space race, but with the cooperation between nations that characterises modern space exploration. Squint a little, and you’d never know the book is thirty years old. And that multicultural mission takes centre stage with protagonist Waterman, a Navajo scientist. For all that the team come from diverse backgrounds, it’s his overwhelmed foirst words on Mars that kickstart the problems back home. Ya’aa’tey might mean ‘It is good,’ but it sends the US politicians into a spin.

The split between science and politics is the driving conflict in Mars, with each side trying to manoeuvre the other into doing their bidding, with varying results. But as conflicts go, it’s a very civil one. Yes there are arguments, but the characters in this book act like the mature adults they are. Disputes are settled by words, not fists. There’s not a shred of violence in the story, which is more refreshing than it ought to be. My overall feeling at the end of this book is one of calmness. Mars is a gripping read, but it’s also an incredibly soothing one. This is such a gentle book, taking its time and putting you at ease, even when things go wrong. Honestly, it’s a genuine pleasure to read.

Bova’s prose is effortlessly clean, telling you everything you need to know and not bandying words around. My only issue is the structure of the book, which is heavily reliant on flashbacks. When we’re on Mars, things are clear cut, but back on Earth there are two timelines. One concurrent with the mission, the other telling of the training leading up to take-off. It’s pretty well done, but I’ll always prefer a linear narrative. One part of the structure I really did enjoy is the dossiers, which essentially provide miniature character studies, scattered throughout the book. They’re a great way of revealing character without weighing down the otherwise tight narrative.

Ben Bova has skyrocketed to the top of my must-read list, and I’ll be diving into the sequel right away, and more of his work later in the year. Ya’aa’tey indeed.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you may also like:
Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, by Isaac Asimov
Mars, by Ben Bova
Cold Welcome, by Elizabeth Moon

7 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: Mars, by Ben Bova”

  1. BOOK REVIEW: Return to Mars, by Ben Bova – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] Hold up, this is a sequel! You can find my review of the previous book by clicking on this link. […]


  2. MONTHLY ROUNDUP: January 2022 – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] Mars, Return to Mars, and Venus, all by Ben Bova, who is one of my new favourite authors […]


  3. HARD SF: Science Fiction For Your Inner Nerd – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] realistic world that we actually live in. Bova imagined in great detail the first manned mission to Mars, a rescue mission to Venus, and even life at the limits of human exploration. All without breaking […]


  4. BOOK REVIEW: Old Wounds, by Christie Golden – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] you enjoyed this book, you might also like:Full Circle, by Kirsten BeyerMars, by Ben BovaHomecoming, by Christie […]


  5. BOOK REVIEW: Moonrise, by Ben Bova – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] you enjoy this book? If so, you might also like:Mars, by Ben BovaThe Apollo Murders, by Chris HadfieldArtemis, by Andy […]


  6. BOOK REVIEW: Foundation’s Friends, edited by Martin H. Greenberg – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] who of science fiction history. It opens with a foreword by Ray Bradbury, starts with a story by Ben Bova, and ends with a novella by Orson Scott Card. Along the way are familiar names such as Robert […]


  7. THE WISHLIST: Revisited – At Boundary's Edge Avatar

    […] to his name, I’m focusing on his Grand Tour series. So far, they’ve all been fantastic. Mars and Moonwar stand out, but they have been universally fanatic. With each new book I read, Bova […]


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