The Martian Race, by Gregory Benford (Warner Aspect, 2001)

When the space race is grounded due to politics and financial cutbacks, private industry steps in. At stake is a 30 billion dollar prize, to any concern that can successfully travel to Mars, fulfill certain exacting requirements, and return before the others. This, then, is the impetus for The Martian Race, which is as timely as it is inspirational, a logistical answer to the problems which seem to plague our modern-day efforts to explore the Red Planet. In 2018, humans finally set foot on another planet, and what they find while there could change everything.

Even as the Airbus Group, a European-Chinese collaboration, scrambles to ready their own technology, billionaire John Axelrod puts together his own group of scientist/astronauts, and launches them on their way, taking the world by storm. The Mars Consortium’s mission is televised, making them the biggest reality TV show ever, and a hit back home. But not all is cake and roses for the intrepid quartet, Julie, Viktor, Marc and Raoul. To fulfill the mission, they have to spend nearly two years surviving on a planet far from home, where a misstep will kill them, and there’s no room for errors.

As the days dwindle down before their return, it becomes clear that the race isn’t over yet. The Airbus mission is swiftly approaching, on a vector which would allow them to easily accomplish the parameters of the Mars Accords and get back in time to snap up the prize. If Julie and her companions can’t get their ride home working soon…

The fifth member of their team must be Murphy, for everything that can go wrong, rapidly does, until it looks as though there’s no hope for the Consortium crew. Their only bargaining chip? They’ve discovered life on Mars, hidden deep underground, surviving on a world where nothing should be able to survive. This is their trump card, their ace in the hole, and their one-up on the rival astronauts.

When disaster strikes, the two crews must work together. And even then, not everyone will return to Earth. The mysterious Martian life will exact a price from those who’d trespass on its planet. In the end, it’ll be a voyage of self-discovery and growth. Is it the Race -to- Mars, or the Race -on- Mars?

I couldn’t put this book down. Benford, who’s won the John W. Campell Award, the United Nations Medal in Literature, and two Nebulas, is in prime form with this book, presenting one of the most realistic treatments of the Mars effort I’ve seen in a long time, especially given the recent renewed interest in that planet. Merging hard science fiction with logical speculation, he presents as valid a case as any for space travel and extraterrestrial life. NASA should be taking notes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>