Even the title positively screams space opera!
On the simplest level, THE GUNS OF MARS is a rootin' tootin', shoot 'em up grand example of this oldest of sci-fi genres. But, scrape even a single cell off the outer layer of Martin Ingham's intriguing story of the colonization and terra-forming of Mars, our nearest planetary neighbour, and you'll discover a profound forward thinking essay on political revolution, the potential conflicts between science and government as we now know it, the economic and engineering trials of establishing a planetary colony, the ethical dilemmas related to the utilization of modern scientific technology and the ongoing propensity of even the best intentioned politicians to opt for politically expedient solutions to problematic moral issues. And, if you think about it, that's a lot of ground for a novel to cover in a modest 249 pages!
Although Morgan Asher was gifted with a very active fantasy imagination, he never dreamed that he might travel to the red planet. Despite his misgivings, when Lorna Forsyth, his new wife, is offered the opportunity to achieve her most fondly held life's ambition, Asher opts to leave Earth behind and accompany her as a member of the recently established pioneering community on Mars. But it isn't long before Asher discovers the sinister presence of the Scientific Fundamentalists, a right-wing group from Earth known as Scifes whose loudly professed loyalty is the human race as a whole and whose publicly stated objective is the technological and biological advancement of people, however possible!
Just as a certain petty tyrant from Munich was able to paint an attractive propaganda portrait that persuaded millions of good people to buy into the devastating policies of the National Socialist Party, the Scifes present equally cogent arguments. "Liberty be damned. It's a stupid, outdated concept. A million minds with a million different opinions, all with the right to be wrong. Such chaotic thinking leads to nothing but stagnation and cultural death." But Martin Asher isn't buying honeyed arguments that he believes lead in the direction of repressive eugenic manipulation and brainwashing. Like so many patriots before him, he's prepared to die for his beliefs.
Ingham's title, THE GUNS OF MARS, refers to Asher's small gun collection, a personal memento from Earth that Asher chose to take to Mars. The issue of Asher's ownership of the guns quickly escalates into a Martian debate on the second amendment to the US constitution, the right to bear arms, which becomes in turn a metaphor for all of the personal freedoms, fought for and won in the past, that North Americans so complacently take for granted. (And, by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed the very informative sidebar on the physics of firing a gunpowder based weapon in Mars' quite different atmosphere and gravity).
THE GUNS OF MARS isn't subtle. But that's OK with me. Along with Martin Ingham, it's my firm belief that future planetary colonization is a given. As a corollary to that assumption, it seems equally clear that the issues of government and personal rights in such a setting must also be carefully considered. If we don't do that, then the likelihood is that a group such as the Scientific Fundamentalists will enter the void and create our reality for us. Imaginative and exciting stories like THE GUNS OF MARS can serve as the basis for that discussion.