The Martian Race, by Gregory Benford

the-martian-race-by-gregory-benfordGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Warner Books
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: threestars
Book Review by Aaron M. Renn

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Confronted with the task for writing the story of man’s first visit to Mars, I imagine far too many writers would elect for the 500+ page epic. Fortunately, Benford does not, and this book is much the better for it. Instead, he chose to write a work of more average length and ambitions. While this pretty much precluded it from achieving true greatness (the ambitions part, not the length!), it also dramatically reduced the odds that the book would suck.

In the early 21st century, man’s quest for Mars came to virtual halt after another Challenger-like explosion killed several people. However, a multi-mega-billionaire stands ready to step into NASA’s shoes. The reward? $30 billion prize pledged to the first expedition to successfully visit and return from Mars. This amount had been pledged by various nations in order to provide quasi-funding for NASA. Now two other groups have stepped forward to claim the prize.

The book is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, its portrayal of the Mars quest derailed by mission accidents is very timely in light of NASA’s two un-manned Mars mission failures. Second, its idea of putting up a bounty to encourage space exploration. While I’m not sure that the bounty idea would work for a Mars mission, it’s something I think could work in other areas of aerospace. All too often it seems the government subsidizes military contractors and the like on a time and materials basis. It would be nice to switch to a pay for results only plan for a change.

On the other hand, I didn’t care much for the characters and the plot was fairly standard. I thought things started off pretty slow, but about a hundred pages into it things started building up. In particular the suspense and tensions introduced by the mystery “Airbus” expedition worked well. But I simply hated the way Benford ended the book. I wish I could say more on this, but I can’t without spoilers. Sorry.

Overall, a solid if unspectacular effort.

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