Saturday, February 20, 2010

Starbound - Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman

Science Fiction

This novel picks up around nine years after the events of MARSBOUND. For readers who missed that fine novel, there’s a wonderful and concise review of ‘what happened’ in the second chapter, appropriately titled ‘History Lesson.’ So new readers will instantly be brought up to speed. Carmen Dula, dubbed “The Mars Girl” since making first, albeit accidental, contact with the inhabitants of Mars, is now married to Paul Collins, known as the hero space pilot.

The story takes place in 2088, now an almost-foreseeable future. The technology is clearly far beyond our current abilities, but people never change. There are still politicians and spies and anarchists and those who simply want to live their lives in peace. These books are truly character-driven, despite the high-tech surroundings. Everything that happens, happens because of a human decision.

After meeting the “Martians,” humanity also met the Others, the race that engineered and placed beings on Mars to monitor Earth and its progress into space. After rigging an explosion that could have wiped out life on Earth, the Others took off for the stars at unheard-of speeds. Earth immediately started a build-up of warships in order to protect the populace. At the same time, they built a long-range ship designed for following the Other with a message of peace. Or, as the characters on board put it, “please don’t kill us until we get a chance to talk to you.” Naturally, there are all kinds of political ramifications to such a huge undertaking, and even when threatened the peoples of Earth find it more than difficult to come to a consensus.

Carmen and Paul are obvious choices for the mission. Joining them will be two xenobiologists, three “spy” types, and two of the inhabitants of Mars. The story is narrated in turn by Carmen, Namir (one of the spy types) and one of the Martians, who clearly has a very different perspective of the trip and of the human interactions he observes. Most of the story takes place during the journey and, except for the presence of Martians, could very well mirror every long sea crossing of the 17th century: a group of people thrown together in a relatively small space from which there is no escape until they reach their destination. Or die in one of a million ways during the journey. Absolutely no knowledge of science or technology is required to enjoy either of these fine novels. Just an appreciation for the human condition and all its foibles.

Rating: 9
January 2010
ISBN# 978-0-441-01817-8 (hardcover)


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