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Semper Mars: The Heritage Trilogy    by Ian Douglas order for
Semper Mars
by Ian Douglas
Order:  USA  Can
Avon, 1998 (1998)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Semper Mars is the first book in the Heritage Trilogy: space adventure set in the near future, with enough Earth politics, alien mystery and human interest to engage any fan of classic science fiction. Of course, my first impression of Semper Mars was of something with the feel of Independence Day minus the attacking aliens (at least for now). At the center is the great and glorious U.S.A. with a now powerful and not especially benign United Nations in escalating conflict that spills over to a scientific station on Mars. As Tom Lehrer sang so well - what do they do, they send the Marines!

In Semper Mars, Douglas depicts a credible Earth future, in which global warming, overpopulation, deforestation and pollution are ever more serious problems. The balance of power has shifted to a U.N. dominated by the French, with embargoes on the U.S. over potential secession of its Southwest. Scientific expeditions have started to explore the Moon and Mars and have found signs of alien presence and technologically superior artifacts. The U.N. does not trust the Americans to share their results, and attack their Mars exoarchaeological dig. At the same time, talk of disbanding the Marines has led to a last ditch effort to prove their usefulness by sending them to defend the Mars base. The stage is set, and the plot seems obvious.

But while Douglas makes his American characters generally more appealing than their U.N. counterparts, he does present a balanced world picture and gives credence to opposing points of view so that this story is not colored in black and white, but rather in shifting shades of gray. And the characters themselves are interesting - Major Mark Garroway, putting in his time until retirement, ends up with a starring role on the Red Planet. His daughter Kaitlin struggles with her love for a fellow student from Japan, a country allied with the U.N.. And Dr. David Alexander is a pacifist who puts loyalty to the scientific community above that to the state.

We are drawn in to sympathize with these people and the dilemmas that they face, and to want to know more of their stories, in the best SF tradition of a mix of people, science and action. Douglas makes the science interesting by using it to describe activities like firing a rifle or making love in zero G, and then there is the use the Marines find for cans of beer on Mars! Of course, the Marines do take back the Mars base and its mystery is unveiled to the world - half-million year old relics of the space-faring Builders along with the remains of early humans. This is SF adventure with all the ingredients of some of the early classics and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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