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Mars Life    by Ben Bova order for
Mars Life
by Ben Bova
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Ben Bova's Mars Life concludes a story begun in Mars (1992) and continued in Return to Mars (1999). Though I hadn't read the first two books, it was still easy to pick up the storyline and enjoy this third one.

The author depicts a world that could mirror our near future, one in which religious fundamentalists exert enormous influence over the U.S. government, the media, and even the universities. Global warming has flooded coastal cities, resulting in a flood of refugees and creating pressure to open the (greened by the rains) Navaho reservation to them. The Moon (Selene) has been settled in underground communities, now independent of the mother planet. And, after the discovery of cliff dwellings there, Mars is under the legal stewardship of the Navaho Nation.

Exiled to Mars after a false accusation of rape engineered by fundamentalists took away his university position, egoistic anthropologist Carter Carleton works from Tithonium Base, and - aided by attractive nanotechnician Doreen McManus - finds a vertebra on his dig. Back on Earth, Jamie Waterman dreams of Mars villagers and of his grandfather, as he desperately seeks ways to keep the Mars project funded, despite the Church's strong and active opposition. Though Jamie and his wife Vijay still grieve for their dead son Jimmy, they decide it's time to return to Mars, especially after they're targeted by extremists. En route they seek allies and support on Selene.

Former geologist Dex Trumball runs the Mars Foundation that funds the scientific work on the red planet. Now that funding sources are drying up, he wants to open up Mars to high end (and very high priced) tourism, a direction vehemently opposed by Jamie. Deciding he must break the news to Jamie face-to-face, Dex takes a clippership to Mars as well. All these plotlines come together - along with further scientific exploits and discoveries - when Jamie comes up with a plan to create a very long-term, controlled experiment on Mars.

Parallel with the main storyline, Bova shows readers thirteen-year-old Bucky Winters. Mars has caught his imagination, leading to penalization by his teachers, bullying by his peers, and general ridicule. But Bucky holds to his dream, one that he shares with many SF readers today. For them, Ben Bova's Mars series is a must read, an entertaining mix of science, societal development, and human frailties.

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