Marsbound by Joe Haldeman
Marsbound by Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman began a series with the book Marsbound. Like his other books that I have read, it starts quickly, wastes little time with descriptions, treats people mechanistically, with little emotion or soul, but tells an interesting tale. Marsbound is less entertaining than The Forever War and Forever Peace, but it is still a decent read.

The story begins on Earth, where a university student named Carmen Dula and her family are waiting for a taxi. They are on their way to Earth’s space elevator, which over the course of several days will take them up to a spaceship, which in turn will take them to Mars where they will be staying for the next five years. That is, unless something unexpected pops up.

Carmen gets on the wrong side of the bureaucratic leader of the Mars colony before she even arrives. One night, stinging from a punishment meted out to her and feeling rebellious, she goes for an unapproved walk in her Mars suit. While out, she injures herself and cannot get back. On the verge of death, she is visited by a strange creature who saves her…

What is revealed after, over the second half of the book, is a unique take on the first contact scenario. There have been so many, and yet interesting versions keep springing from the fingertips of authors the world over. I have yet to read a science fiction book whose future, once we overtake it in real life, proved to be a completely accurate depiction of how things actually turned out. I have to believe that first contact novels will prove just as inaccurate. Many of them will get broad aspects right while missing on narrower details. Marsbound is one that is almost certainly well wide of the mark, but one does not get the sense that prediction was the target Haldeman was aiming at.

As with Forever Peace, not enough care goes into the inner life of a character. There are times when someone will unleash an abrupt, emotional eruption that I never saw coming. This is because instead of describing the pounding heart, the flushed face, or the clenched jaw of a person overcome by a powerful passion, we get only those movements associated with gross motor skills. Early on, Carmen gets up and races from her dinner table, crying over a conversation that I did not even realize had perturbed her until her outburst. This seems to be a hallmark of Haldeman’s writing. It would have been more engaging to be kept abreast of her emotional development over the course of the conversation, which would have made me feel closer to the character.

Joe Haldeman
A dirty old man, perhaps,
but a good author.

Another hallmark of Haldeman is the horny, promiscuous female. I do not deny the existence of such wonderful beings, but every time I open a Haldeman novel there await inside a host of women hungry for man-flesh and with no qualms about going out and getting some. This would seem to be wish-fulfillment on the part of the author. A single such character is absolutely permissible; when every main female character has this trait it starts to feel unrealistic. Haldeman’s novels do not take place in Heaven, after all.

If Marsbound suffers from the typical Haldeman infirmities, it also benefits from his usual strong points. The writing is lean and smooth with believable dialogue. There are no throwaway scenes, no padding. In this respect, Haldeman ranks up there with Heinlein.

I thought the novel’s story was a little on the simple side. There is not a whole lot of drama nor obstacles nor upping the ante. It is a short book that might have benefited from a little more length and extension of the plot. A book so brief should, in my opinion, tackle a smaller story and delve into it. For a first contact piece, I would like to see a lot more setup and payoff, a lot more character interaction and development, before we reach the end.

Marsbound is nearly the equal of Forever Peace, but falls short on the overall course of the plot. I did not leave Forever Peace wishing it had been more, but that was exactly the feeling I got from Marsbound. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, although each new Haldeman opus I read is a lesser work than the previous one, a trend I hope comes to a definitive end with Starbound, the sequel.

3 / 5 stars     

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About the Author

Matthew Bruce Alexander Staff Writer

Matthew is a libertarian living in central Ohio. A graduate of Ohio State University, he majored in Spanish and has published a work of libertarian science-fiction called Wĭthûr Wē.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Martain Luther King Jr. May 9, 2016 @ 6:29 am | Link

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