Mars

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…

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Total Recall 2012 Movie Poster

Total Recall 2012 Movie Poster

Another movie joins the list of remakes that have, of late, come pouring out of Hollywood. Total Recall has been reimagined for the CGI era, much changed now but sharing just enough plot and details to justify the shared appellation. As I recall, the first Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was an entertaining bit of science fiction with some action and a satisfying twist or two thrown in. The recent version does not reach the same level, falling short mainly because it invests less in the human element, although it does surpass its predecessor in some areas.

The main characters return with the same names. Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a blue-collar worker with an itch he does not know how to scratch, a vague sense that something is not right with his life. His wife Lori is played this time by Kate Beckinsale, while the rebel Melina is Jessica Biel. When Quaid goes to Rekall, a company that can insert memories of better times into a client’s brain, they discover that the fake memories of espionage and danger that he is asking for are already in his brain, except that they are real.

Quaid has just a few seconds to process this shock before police burst into the facility and try to arrest him. To his own surprise, instincts and muscle memory kick in and he takes out the squad of cops. The chase is on. When he rushes home and tells his wife, she springs a bombshell on him that catapults the plot forward.

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In the Shadow of Ares by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson

In the Shadow of Ares by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson

In the Shadow of Ares is a tale with a marvelous setting and a great central idea that, as it unfolds, wraps the reader up and will not let go. It is also a minarchist libertarian tale, in that the dangerous, punitive, and stupid aspects of government are laid bare while the readers are urged to hold government in check to allow the market to better flourish. There is a lot here to like, but there are also a number of defects that mar the work, though nothing to such a degree and of such a nature as to make one pessimistic about better future prospects for the first-time authors. They have shown that they can design and fashion a stirring tale; let us hope that they polish the next one.

Amber Jacobsen is the First Kid on Mars, the first child born there to parents who were among the earliest colonists. It is thought that Mars is too dangerous for children, and Amber’s parents have been chided for deciding to remain and have a child there. Even in her teenage years, she remains the only child ever to be born on Mars.

Having homesteaded some land where they live in an airtight “hab,” sheltered from the lethal conditions on the Martian surface, Amber’s parents, Aaron and Lindsey, have earned the ire of the Mars Development Authority, a quasi-governmental organization that no one will stand up to and that wishes to extend its power and control over every colonist on the red planet. In addition to the effrontery of daring to live free, Aaron Jacobsen has also made enemies with one of the officials at the MDA. When the MDA secretly sabotage the Jacobsen residence, they are forced to find another place to live.

They make their way to The Green, a relatively large settlement that figures to be of central importance in the new Martian society as soon as their land claim vests. This the MDA does not want to see happen, because it means they will lose all authority over them, both the authority spelled out in The Charter — analogous to the US Constitution — and any authority that the MDA has helped itself to.

Amber finds herself unwanted because of her age, though she yearns to be taken seriously. While trying to prove herself to the people of The Green, she also becomes deeply invested in the mystery of the Ares III mission, which disappeared a couple decades before under perplexing circumstances. She starts to suspect that someone who knows more than she is trying to prevent her from making any headway in her search and is willing to take criminal measures if necessary.

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In the Shadow of Ares by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson

In the Shadow of Ares by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson

The first Lightmonthly Read hosted by Prometheus Unbound has begun!

For the month of May we will be reading and discussing,

In the Shadow of Ares (Kindle, Nook) — This young-adult first novel by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson focuses on a Mars-born female teenager in a near-future, small civilization on Mars, where hardworking citizens are constantly and unjustly constrained by a growing, centralized authority whose excessive power has led to corruption and conflict.

It appears to be available only as an ebook, so there’s no need to worry about delivery times. You can download your copy today and start reading right away. If you don’t own a Kindle or a Nook, there are free Kindle and Nook reading apps available for almost all major platforms.1

Join us as we read and discuss In the Shadow of Ares.

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  1. Except desktop Linux, but the Windows Kindle app runs just fine in WINE. Or use the Kindle Cloud Reader

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Books

Books

The unanimous winner of our vote for the first-ever Lightmonthly Read on Prometheus Unbound is:

In the Shadow of Ares (Amazon Kindle edition) — This young-adult first novel by Thomas L. James and Carl C. Carlsson focuses on a Mars-born female teenager in a near-future, small civilization on Mars, where hardworking citizens are constantly and unjustly constrained by a growing, centralized authority whose excessive power has led to corruption and conflict.

It’s available as a Kindle ebook only, so there’s no need to worry about delivery times. But there’s no reason to procrastinate either. Buy and download your copy today, via the affiliate link above, and help support our work here at Prometheus Unbound.

We’ll begin discussing the book on Tuesday, May 1st. Mark the date on your calendar!

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John Carter

John CarterThere is a certain charm to the recently released John Carter, helmed by Andrew Stanton. The two leads, Taylor Kitsch’s John Carter and Lynn Collins’s Dejah Thoris, have enough chemistry to draw the audience in; the world of Mars itself is a treat for the eyes; the basic plot is well within the bounds of standard epic adventure but perfectly sound; and many of the situations that the characters find themselves in have real potential, albeit never fully realized. In short, there was a grand story there for the telling, had there been a director capable enough to pull it off. There was not, and consequently a theatergoer is likely to leave feeling frustrated by the large gap between what was and what might have been.

After a useless prologue that actually ruins the later effect when the protagonist appears on Mars for the first time, we are introduced to John Carter, a former officer of the Confederacy and current gold prospector. When the United States army tries to conscript him to fight the Apaches in Arizona, he tells them he owes them nothing and prefers to go about his own business. This defiance of the state should not excite the libertarian too much, however, because just moments before, he was busy abusing the rights of a shop owner, refusing to leave the man’s store when he wouldn’t sell. Carter’s reticence to join and fight, it turns out, is more about his bleak personal cynicism after the deaths of his wife and child than it is about a freedom-friendly moral code.

In the course of his attempt to escape the clutches of the war machine, he stumbles upon a cave where he is ambushed by a strangely dressed man with seemingly magical powers (the reason for the ambush is never made clear, though one cannot help but notice that the plot would have come to a standstill without it). After killing the ambusher, Carter takes a medallion from his cadaver and gets transported to a strange land he eventually learns is the planet Mars. He discovers he has extraordinary new powers with which he amazes some of the creatures he finds there.

Eventually, he meets a woman, a princess, fleeing an arranged marriage that could stop a war between two city-states. She wants to use him and his incredible physical prowess for her ends, which are to save her city-state from destruction without getting married; he wants to use her for his, which are to return to Earth with the help of her esoteric knowledge of his amulet. They form a distrustful alliance and adventure ensues. I’ll leave it to the reader to guess whether or not they fall in love.

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NEWS | Gregory Benford in Reason Magazine on Science Fiction in Light of Humanity’s Future in Space Thumbnail

Wernher von Braun's Vision

There’s an article by science fiction author Gregory Benford in the February issue of Reason Magazine (also available online at Reason.com). I hadn’t realized it, but Benford has written three other articles for Reason (see below for a list of the others).

In the article, Benford briefly discusses the role of Nazi SS officer and rocket scientist Wernher von Braun ((Benford doesn’t call Von Braun a facilitator of mass murder, but does mention that he ran “Adolf Hitler’s V-1 and V-2 programs, which sent more than 10,000 rockets into England in 1944 and 1945.”)) in the American government’s space program, from his popular promotion of his vision of man conquering space (interesting choice of war metaphor) to his running the Apollo program.

Benford discusses Von Braun’s vision for how man will conquer space, a vision that strikes me as impractical and expensive and that still lingers in NASA today. He also highlights the decline of NASA and its “ruinously expensive” nature of the American government’s space shuttle program, which suffered catastrophic failures and kept going long past its planned obsolescence.

Though Benford says that Von Braun’s vision lives on, I’m not so sure of that. If he means Von Braun’s  general vision of man “conquering” space, then yes, that vision is not dead. If he means Von Braun’s more specific vision of how this is to be accomplished, then no, I do not think that vision will live on.

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