Return to Mars : Grand Tour (Bova)

  • by Ben Bova
  • Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
  • Series: Grand Tour (Bova)
  • 16 hrs and 5 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Six years after the first manned Martian expedition, a second has been announced, this one motivated purely by its profitable potential. Half-Navajo geologist Jamie Waterman, a veteran of the first mission, feels his conflicted soul beckoning him back to the eerie, unforgiving planet. As commander of the new exploratory team, he will have to contend with a bitter and destructive rivalry, a disturbing new emotional attraction, and deadly, incomprehensible "accidents" that appear to be sabotage - all of which could doom the mission to failure.But there are still great secrets to be uncovered on this cruel and enigmatic world, not the least being something he glimpsed in the far distance during his first Martian excursion: an improbable structure perched high in the planet's carmine cliffs...a dwelling that only an intelligent being could have built.

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What the Critics Say

"Bova makes the speculative hard science aspects of this novel vivid and appealing." (Publishers Weekly)

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Customer Reviews

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Worthy Sequel

The prequel to this book, "mars" was my first Ben Bova read and I liked it. It engendered that sense of wonder, mystery and ever present danger that any human presence on an alien world without a breathable atmosphere should have. The first book sets us up for its worthy sequel "Return To Mars" and I will say right off the bat that I liked this even more than the first Mars story.

"Return To Mars" sees the protagonist, Navaho Jamie Waterman of the first story back but this time as mission director with a whole new set of colleagues in this return mission to the red planet some six years after the first mission. We return to the habitation dome set up on the first mission and even get to re-visit the stranded rover which was the scene of a dramatic rescue in the first story. One thing I do like in sequels is where the author takes care to include things left behind or abandoned in previous stories as it provides continuity and satisfies the readers natural curiosity about the eventual fate or condition of such things.

Another big plus for this story that lifts it above the first is the absence of the political sub-text seen in the previous Mars story. I dislike science fiction novels that break up the flow of the story by mundane Earth bound politics that quite frankly are just not interesting. "Return To Mars" is almost exclusively set on the red planet once the characters move to Mars which doesn't take very long. This book spends most of its time where it should - on Mars rather than spend time elsewhere.

Bova paints a convincing picture of the dusty Martian world well and brings the reader into this world which I found very satisfying.

Having read several books by Bova in the Grand Tour series I can say that Bova's biggest weakness as an author and one which I've seen echoed by other reviewers is his characterization traits. In both the prequel and this book the highly qualified and expert hand picked team suffer the same flaws as those in other books of his where despite the incredible, challenging, often frightening and difficult tasks they face in a hostile environment they seem to have an almost adolescent need to be thinking about sex a lot of the time. Perhaps I'm a bit old but it seems to me that such professional and clearly talented people would be far from this way of thinking and would be focused on their jobs. It seems as soon as the characters meet they are thinking who they can bed which I believe is plain ridiculous.

Other character flaws are of the type that stereotype nationalities. I found that Bova thinks that all Australians say "mate" frequently or - and this is the one that makes me laugh as someone from England is how British characters talk. The first words when the British character sets foot for the first time on Mars was, I believe, "Crikey! that's a bit of alright". Worse still was that the narrator did this in something close to a Dick Van Dyke attempt at a cockney accent despite the fact that the author stated that this character had a Yorkshire burr which is a northern accent that is distinctly not cockney or what became later a more refined accent. The narrator does excellent Russian, Spanish/Latin American, German and French as well as Japanese accents but other than the stereotypical 1960's refined British accent just cannot manage to get it right. His Australian accent is not too good either but again, I am just pointing out this minor narration niggle. Many non UK listeners will probably not notice I think.

Apart from the sex cravings and stereotypical portrayal of some characters the other things I find strange are the petty ego the Dex character exhibits. perhaps I am taking the story too seriously but again, I find it almost unbelievable that someone like that could find themselves on such a critical mission regardless of how much money their father raised for the venture. In addition, like the first Mars story and another thing I found odd given the highly qualified and intelligent people on this mission was the under current of racist attitudes towards the native American protagonist by some characters. I just find it hard to swallow that brilliant people sent out to Mars would be like that.

The other thing that Bova seems to be sticking to is his seemingly 1970's dress sense. I mean, do people in the U.S still refer to trousers or pants as "slacks"" ? Not being American I can't say for sure but from the mass of U.S TV I've seen over the decades and the multitude of visits to the U.S I don't think people say "slacks" or even regularly wear turtle neck sweaters either. This aspect not only dates Bova's writing but serves to be far too colloquial in the dialect used. Another example is the term "Goose" or "Goosing up" and similar which I have never heard of before. Using such terms actually serves to initially confuse non U.S readers like myself and I think lend a provincial dialect to the writing which again serves to date the book.

On the other hand, Bova has managed to avoid getting too entrenched in technology descriptions which dated his first book terribly when he referred to tapes for example. This is the first novel by Bova I have read where the Internet is mentioned along with e-mail and the term Giga bytes so he has woven more contemporary terms into this story where I believe such terms are still relevant in the time frame of the narrative.

What surprised me about this story is that it became a "Who Done It" toward the latter stages and I'm usually pretty good at spotting the culprit in such scenarios but was completely wrong-footed by Bova so I liked that.

I believe I spotted some plot inconsistencies or at least some oversights which I have found before in previous books and which do surprise me given Bova's long writing career. Here's what I noticed:

During the recovery of the old rover there seemed to be no mention of going through the airlock procedures to gain access into the stranded vehicle and instead those exploring the rover were able to stroll inside. The previous book made no mention of depressurizing the entire rover before the last crew member left as far as I recall and so one would hope that to gain entry back into the rover would require a cycle through the airlock otherwise forced access to the crew compartment would result in explosive decompression which would not be good for either rover or investigating suited explorers.

More minor but still worth a mention is the fact that it was stated that during a dust storm that the antenna of a rover would have to be cleaned off after the storm passed. however, I seem to recall that in the previous Mars story that rovers had retractable antenna to protect against just such storms.

OK, so both examples are pretty minor but if I am correct in my observations then such errors are rather clumsy of an experienced author.

Still, despite the minor gripes I have I did enjoy this book and it is a worthy and even better story than the first. It really fires the imagination and gets me really interested in seeing humans set foot on Mars in the near future. I only hope that those on such a historic mission don't suffer the foibles of character or mental state as we see in this book.


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- S. Morris

Book Details

  • Release Date: 19-09-2008
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.