Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Marsbound by Joe Haldeman - review

Joe Haldeman
****  (4 out of 6)

cover - It's a good cover; you have the planet and it looks like a space elevator.  There is this very bright light - which might be representing an event later in the novel.

I've never read anything by Joe Haldeman before and I picked up Marsbound on a whim (looking for some new Sci/Fi).  I've finished reading it, read it pretty quickly, but can't say that I feel wowed by it.  It was interesting - or I wouldn't have been able to finish reading it.  But it wasn't "DAMN!" for me.  

Marsbound is about a young woman and her family.  They've decided to go to the planet Mars for a year to study.  Carmen, Card (her brother) and her parents go to Mars after a year of studying in preparation.   The beginning of the novel is about the family traveling up the elevator, meeting other passengers and the pilot and their experiences on the elevator.  This is a significant part of the story - they travel up to a space station where tourists visit, stay for a bit then travel on up a little higher until they get boosted on over to Mars.

The second part of the novel is about the family and others settling in, getting to know the Mars longtimers and how Carmen rubs the person in charge the wrong way.  The kids plan to try something that they end up getting caught for, Carmen has twice the punishment that others do.  She's angry about it and sneaks out at night to walk around, thinking vaguely about pulling a prank  when she falls through a hole in the surface, damages her suit, and starts to freeze to death as well as run out of air when she is saved by....something that resembles a potato.  They are not the first people on Mars afterall.

Third part of the novel deals with the "Martians" and the humans getting to know each other and the danger they all eventually face.  On top of that, Carmen is still the main suspect - she's spied on by this crazed administrator.

The story itself was interesting - interesting plot and sublpots.  The characterizations are possible the first time that I can understand when people say they didn't "connect" with the characters.  I never really got that - because I don't feel like I need to understand or empathize with a character to enjoy a story.  But I felt absolutely nothing while reading about any of the characters in this novel.  The writing style itself might be the cause - it's written in a journal-esque style.  It's first person and there's a lot of what I think is passive voice (not quite sure, just think so).  There is some dialogue (which isn't bad, it's actually okay) but most of the story is the main character telling what happened.  This is probably why i didn't really enjoy the story so much.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but I was almost bored, and the whole time I was reading there was no moments of wonder or excitement.  It was like being told a story in a monotone.  that's the best way I have of describing it.    There is a sequel, but I'm not sure I want to read it.

I do want to note though, that there were some things I did find kind of interesting - the Martians, for one.  There was an interesting story behind them - they were families of Martians who all had their functions - one was a memory family, there were the healers, and there was one that stood out, the leader.  He was bigger than the rest, and the only one of his family born at the same time.  They had a language that used sounds as well as voice and though they could learn other languages people weren't able to really learn the Martian language.

The explanations of the space elevator was interesting and never relied on infodumps - no longwinded explanations of how it worked, the gravity, etc.  The way it was presented by Carmen was interesting.  And there were teases of disasters that befell people on earth, mentioned a few times before Carmen explained exactly what happened.  So it was a relief to me that there was no informational dumps, especially since they style of writing just felt flat for me.

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