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Book Review: Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

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Joe Haldeman’s Marsbound is about as close to a new novel by Robert A. Heinlein as I’ve ever read. Even Spider Robinson’s completion of a Heinlein outline, Variable Star, doesn’t quite reach me in the same way, and that was a high standard.

Curiously, Marsbound feels like a hybrid between Heinlein’s juvenile novels of his early years and his more adult writing of his later years. Carmen Dula is every inch a precocious Heinlein heroine, but she has a sex life that we’re privy to. I love her voice and the first-person style Haldeman renders in this tale. Carmen sounds like a lot like my daughter and the teen girls I’ve listened to over the years, except she’s more knowledgeable about space and colonization and other things science fiction. I enjoyed her as a character, and I enjoyed the way she looked at the world.

The first part of the book is a slow build-up despite the narrative tension that Haldeman manages, but the sense of wonder pervades the writing and kept pulling me along with all the nearly-here science. I loved the idea of the space elevator, and I know it’s based on models scientists have actually played with over the years. Now that space exploration is getting more and more privatized, maybe I’ll live to see something like it.

I liked the way the narrative was set up, but often it reads more like a journal than a story. Carmen sums up a lot of what’s going on and we don’t get real “scenes” much of the time. Likewise, there is a shortage of dialogue, but the narrative pacing and cool science stuff keeps pounding right along.

I had a blast with the Mars-centric stuff too. My 12-year old has lately gotten totally entranced with the idea of space travel and colonization. When he gets a little older, I’m gonna hand him this book and tell him to read it because it shows a lot of what to expect and how Mars can be colonized.

The enmity between Carmen and the head of the Mars colony is really well done too. I detested that woman every time I found her on the page. With good reason, as it turns out. Dargo Solingen was a total headcase and I found it easy to empathize with Carmen. Of course, it was great to see that Carmen’s initiative/revenge is what sets the whole colony on its ear and advances everything they’re doing.

The third act settles into the interaction with the alien species, and I liked that a lot too. The aliens feel very much like Heinlein aliens in his juveniles, and I like the twist with the time element as well as the fear on both sides.

This is old school science fiction in contemporary mode, with a heroine that any SF reader will enjoy. But it’s more adult in some areas that some parents will be willing to share with middle graders.

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