Writing a Science Fiction novel is a touchy balance between technology and humanity, between “telling” the setting and “showing” the characters. Since different readers like different levels of tech description, it is very difficult to strike a balance that will appeal to a broad audience. The Near-Future subgenre, using technology that is close to what is possible today, makes the author especially vulnerable to the temptation to play university lecturer rather than novelist. Unfortunately, too much science narrows the audience for the work considerably.
Ms. Jackson has created a fascinating scientific plotline for this novel, weaving geology, anthropology, and near-future Mars exploration together in a creative way. Except for one notable out-of-character decision, she has developed a plausible chain of events that lead from a bog in the Canadian north through the jungles of Africa and out to the barrenness of Mars.
The other strength of the novel is characterization. The story is full of intense, driven and flawed people, who strike sparks off each other without fail. Unfortunately, they are not very likeable, and especially at the beginning, all the hatred, agonizing and internal conflict does not draw us into the story very well. More appropriate to a “serious” novel than to Sci-Fi, in my opinion.
At one climax point there is an author’s aside saying, “This document contains a variety of technical terms that may be confusing to the average reader. Skip over it if you find it tedious,” I’m afraid that the message I get is that this book is not aimed at the average reader. In spite of tense action sequences and intense emotions, the story is often held up by scientific lectures that the reader learns to skip through to get back to the story.
Recommended only for Sci-Fi fans who want more Science than Fiction. There is a good story hiding in all this jargon. It’s just too hard for most of us to find.(3 / 5)
For those of you that want to know, the out-of-character decision is more an out-of-genre decision than anything else. There is a decision made on the spaceship that would (and could) never be made on a real Mars expedition by realistic modern astronauts. In a Space Opera, people do that sort of thing all the time, so it would be fine in that sort of book. The reason I mention it is that when the author has staked her whole story on the accuracy of her science, I found it a real jar when suddenly she did something that was highly unlikely from a scientific point of view. I encourage fans of this sort of Sci-Fi to read the novel and see if you agree.