Mars Underground

Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 4, 1999

Mars Underground by William K. Hartmann

At the first May meeting, our group picked new books for the reading list. This event drew good attendance (eight people), including a few folks we hadn’t seen in a while. As per our regular ritual, we put all the candidate books on a table for members to examine during the discussion. Choosing books was somewhat distracting, so the book discussion was less detailed than usual.

Five of us had read Mars Underground, the first novel by a noted Mars scientist and space artist. The book is a mystery/thriller set on a human-colonized Mars in the near future. The plot involves an inquiry into the disappearance of a distinguished scientist.

We liked a lot about this book. Mars and its settlements are described in great detail without resorting to boring infodumps. It evokes a “sense of wonder.” The investigative element of the novel gives it an accessible narrative hook. The characters are complex – they’re neither good nor bad, and some of them are even well read. The book features almost no violence, which we found a welcome change.

There were a few complaints. Some of us felt that the book’s structure distances the reader too much from the action. The big SF element revealed at the story’s climax was disappointing to many of us. And the plucky journalist who stumbles across the big story seems to step way over the ethical line throughout the book.

Some elements of this book are a little too cute. One of the main characters has a name reminiscent of a famous Edgar Rice Burroughs hero. And all the scientists and artists in this book are irresistible to the opposite sex – is this wishful thinking on the part of the author?

Overall we found this to be an intriguing work, and we were glad we read it.

After the discussion, we finished the book-picking ritual. This involved the participants piling up stacks of the books they wanted to read, with the organizer writing down their choices. After everyone took a turn, all the books that received over 3 votes were added to the list. When we finished picking books, most of us went to Pizza Nizza for dinner.

— A. T. Campbell, III