Book Review – Marsbound by Joe Haldeman
This is a story of the relatively near future, the first Mars colony, and some interesting aliens. In this respect, it’s quite good; the technology is realistic and well described, the plot makes sense, and the aliens are wonderfully alien.
A number of things did not suit my personal taste, though. The first is that the story is told in first person. This isn’t necessarily bad, but I find it works best for detective novels. It’s probably great for romance novels, too, but those have no appeal for me. Again, it’s a matter of personal taste. The first person narrative didn’t work for me especially in this book probably because I felt no affinity for the main character. More on that later.
The fist half of the book can be skimmed or simply skipped. It is mainly a description of a ride up the space elevator and an eight-month journey to Mars aboard a spaceship. The descriptions are good and describe believably what a space elevator ride and uneventful flight to Mars might be like, but a hundred-plus pages of this kind of thing is simply a bit much. The technology is interesting, but nothing happens. There are no amazing discoveries or mysteries and no real conflicts to be resolved.
Except for one of the aliens, who we really don’t meet until fairly late in the book, I didn’t much care for any of the characters. The main character, Carmen Dula, is eighteen years old when we fist meet her. I found nothing admirable or even especially likeable about her. She has the raging hormones of a woman a few years older and the emotional maturity of a girl a few years younger. She seemed to have no sense of perspective. She’s on her way to Mars, but her teenage angst about friends and school seem to prevent her from appreciating how unique this is. This may mark her as normal, but normal in a science fiction novel isn’t interesting. Her misplaced sense of priorities continues even after meeting the aliens because she seems to devote most of her thinking to her love affair with the captain of the ship that brought them to Mars. Don’t get me wrong. Love affairs are fine (between consenting adults and all that), but they’re normal. People do that all the time. It’s not interesting. (You can probably see why romance novels don’t do much for me.)
The second part of the book, however, does have a decent plot. As I said, the aliens are very alien. To say much more about them would be a plot spoiler though, and I don’t like to do that.
There are two sequels to Marsbound, and I’m willing to give them a shot. I can’t say this first book appealed much to me, though.