Thursday, August 21, 2008

Joe Haldeman

I just finished a nice fairly short science fiction novel the other day. It's called Marsbound and it's by Joe Haldeman. It's told in a first person perspective in the voice of a 18 or 19 year old woman who is emigrating to Mars with her parents and younger brother.

The only problem with reviewing a science fiction book is that it's hard to discuss a book of science fiction without giving away too much. What I will say is that this character is a little different than what you might expect for a narrator in a hard science fiction novel like this. She's not a genius. She's a bright kid that is just starting college but is not in the top 1/10 percentile of her class.

Haldeman takes us through their long trip to Mars and manages to make the six-month trip interesting. Our narrator has an unexpected romance that is handled nicely and we get some good character development during the relatively down time.

He does in this novel what he has done in much of his most recent work, he places a story not too far in the future and changes the technology just enough so any of us would be comfortable in that world.

The first half of this novel is much stronger than the second half. First we meet the characters, they travel to Mars, establish themselves in the small rustic community and have some normal interpersonal conflict. Shortly after that the book takes a more galactic turn. For a while there I thought he might be producing a John Kessel type of story where the action takes place in a nicely realized setting with conflicts between humans. I was really hoping the action would stay on Mars and a couple of nicely set up stories would resolve themselves over the course of the novel. It's not to be, the novel expands beyond Mars and mankind realizes they may not be alone in the universe.

Not that the book goes south and is not worth reading. It's still a fine piece of science fiction and I tore through it. There is some nicely conceived alien biology and an appealing alien character called "Red" that is really worth experiencing. I think I would have been more satisfied at the end if it had stayed home on Mars a bit longer. Maybe it could have just been longer. I have felt that way about a few of his later novels and I reckon wanting a novel to be longer is a good thing.

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