Description: Book Two is completely different from Book One of the saga, As It Is On Mars, in theme, plot,characters and pace. Book One tells how a few determined survivors of failed Mars missions unintentionally ended up founding the first human settlement on Mars, after a monumental struggle with the planet. Book Two continues the saga, but with the settlers now in an entirely different struggle, this time against other human beings trying to get control of their lands and
Readers who have not read Book One can easily continue with the tale. The essentials of the earlier story, most of which took place ten years before this latest story, are related in the beginning chapters of Book Two.
The story begins with reaction in high places to NASA's stunning discovery, in August 2044,that survivors of Earth's first manned missions to Mars are still alive. The survivors, thought to have died of starvation six years earlier, are even prospering, and have built an impressive settlement in a unique sanctuary in the western Kasei Valley region.
Then comes the realization that the settlers are sitting on an enormously valuable resource,worth trillions of dollars. Envious eyes are soon monitoring the settlement, as the U.S. and E.U.draw up rival plans for low-cost missions to Mars to rescue the settlers, and win control of theirlands.
A NASA mission gets to Mars first, at the next opposition, in 2046, but a nuclear accidentprevents it from landing. This bad luck for NASA gives the E.U. its chance, and the European Space Agency, ESA, quickly wins approval for a rescue mission for the next opposition, in 2048.
An alarmed U.S. President responds by authorizing an armed Air Force mission to Mars, to get there a month before the Europeans. This secret military mission is delayed, unfortunately, and the ESA mission gets to Mars first, after all, in July of 2048. The Air Force mission is in hot pursuit though, just one month behind.
The tale on Mars opens, in Chapter Two, with the arrival of the ESA mission. Five of the crew of twelve are military personnel, armed with nanoguns. The others are harmless engineers and scientists. There are five women among the twelve.
One of the military people is the mission's leader, Captain Richard Derk, a ruthless aristocrat and strategy mastermind, charged with getting the settlers off the planet. Derk's personal ambition is to become governor of Europe's first Mars colony, and the man in charge of exploiting the trillion-dollar resource on an enormous scale.
Derk's arrival triggers an escalating confrontation with the settlers, starting with a restless cold war. But neither side is prepared for the bizarre way the conflict eventually unfolds, as the planet also takes part, in its own special way. Nor are the settlers prepared for the devilry Derk is capable of.
The scenes are set in the spectacular terrain of the huge Kasei Valley complex, some of them familiar places from the earlier novel. Others are forbidding and treacherous, like the great labyrinth of chaotic terrain in western Kasei Valley.
Outnumbered, outgunned, and outmaneuvered by Derk, the settlers' resistance would seem to be hopeless, as the initial cold war degenerates into a hot war, and it becomes obvious that the settlers desperately need help. But where can they get it? The U.S. military mission, rapidly nearing Mars, is out to seize their lands too!
Tom Cronin has come up with a highly original, quite fast-paced saga that can be enjoyed not only by Mars and science fiction enthusiasts but also by the general public. Although the tale does take place on Mars, in the wonderful Kasei Valley region, it has little in it that is exclusively science fiction. There are certainly no alien life forms or artifacts in the story, and
even the ESA mission's nanoguns exist today at the prototype stage. Two indexed maps at the end guarantee readers easy visualization of where the spectacular places in the story are located.
The story is conceived as one that could happen. Indeed, dramatic, heart-wrenching events quite like it actually have happened. That was back in the very early days of the New World, in the time of the conquistadors. These are also very early days in the settlement of Mars, and history comes close to repeating itself in this story, and for much the same reasons.
This story develops relentlessly, and just flows along. The first chapter outlines the high-level events on Earth leading up to the struggle over land on Mars. The pace speeds up as the story on Mars gets going in Chapter Two, with the arrival of Richard Derk. By Chapter Three, in which the settlers attempt a covert preemptive strike, the pace is quite fast, and stays that way.
A quite large number of colorful new characters walk the pages of this epic novel. Six of the ESA twelve, along with the settlers, have lead roles in the story—Sweden's visionary engineer, Astrid Larsson, England's good-natured geologist, Don Carruthers, and Spain's resolute and disciplined military man, Jose Montoya, to name a few.
Although the story is about an armed conflict, it has a low level of actual violence and a high level of strategic maneuvering. Lives are lost the story—even the life of a likable lead character. But Mars, still a very dangerous planet, is responsible for half the deaths.
There is little in the way of philosophical discussion in this rapidly unfolding tale. It does contain a heated and sophisticated exchange at one point, between two opposing sides, engaged in a fierce debate over the ownership of land and resources on Mars. A secret E.U. plan, the brainchild of Astrid Larsson, to put a massive and novel technology in place, to exploit the resources of Mars, is also part of the plot.
At the book's climactic ending, all threads are tied up—except one. As the story unfolds, we become aware of something else going on, something very important, but we never find out what it is. A suspicious CIA would like to know too, and is working hard on the problem. This open thread will no doubt take us into the third book of the saga, Glory Be To Mars, due in March, 2005.