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The Martian Race [Mass Market Paperback]

Gregory Benford
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 1 2001
When an explosion of the rocket launching the Mars Transit Vehicle kills four crewmen, the U.S. decides to redirect its energies to near-Earth projects, killing the manned mission to Mars. But tycoon John Axelrod assembles a consortium to fund the project, and he expects to net billions. But a European-Asian airbus will make a similar expedition. Now, the race is on to get to the Red Planet first.

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From Amazon

Esteemed Mars guru Bob Zubrin calls The Martian Race "one of the finest novels about human exploration of the Red Planet ever written. "But then again, Bob is a character in the book (albeit in the briefest of cameos), so what else could he possibly say? That notwithstanding, Zubrin's right--he couldn't have picked a better book to show his face in. By popular assent, Martian Race deserves top honors among the millennial wave of Mars exploration tales, propelled as it is by the skillful storytelling of physics doyen Gregory Benford, a Campbell and two-time Nebula winner.

Martian Race is near-future SF, set in the twenty-teens (just before Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars saga kicks off), which may contribute to its being a bit of a slow starter; this is realistic, nuts-and-bolts speculation on a mission using pretty basic technology. But the pace picks up considerably as our heroes--the likable Julia and her Russky hubby Viktor and crew, backed by the Mars Consortium and its biotech billionaire CEO John Axelrod--begin to duke it out with a Euro-Sino concern to claim the $30 billion Mars Prize and, of course, get back from the Red Planet in one piece. Benford's work throughout is engaging and thorough, exploring every aspect of why we should make this trip at all (and even a few arguments against it, like Mars Bar marketing tie-ins). --Paul Hughes --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

With so many Mars novels having been published in recent years, including award-winning fiction by Kim Stanley Robinson and others, it's hard to believe that even a talented writer like Benford (Cosm) could pull off another successful retelling of humanity's first expedition to the Red PlanetAbut he does. In the early 21st century, after NASA's Mars program has been grounded because of a Challenger-like catastrophe, a $30 billion prize is announced to be awarded to the first private organization that can land a spaceship on Mars, do serious science and return in one piece. Enter John Axelrod, eccentric billionaire and space aficionado. His Consortium launches a bare-bones Mars expedition that is closely followed by a Chinese-European attempt, and the race for Mars is on. Landing on the Red Planet, veteran astronaut Julia Barth and her comrades run into difficulties. Their return craft has suffered serious damage and may not be repairable. Even if they can lift off, they discover that their nuclear-powered Chinese-European competitor, although launching later than they did, may have the sheer power necessary to return to Earth first. Then, after months of fruitless searching, Julia discovers evidence of life on Mars. Benford is a solid prose stylist who creates full-toned characters. A practicing physicist, he writes plausible hard SF as well as anyone on the planet, and his portrait of Mars is among the most believable in recent genre literature. His strange and beautiful Martian ecology is so well described, in fact, that most readers will hope to explore it further, in a sequel. (Dec.) scheduled December 3, 1999, touchdown of the Mars Polar Lander.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Racing to Mars with a great deal of verve... Aug. 24 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I have never read Gregory Benford before, and picked up "The Martian Race" from a bargain-bin pile with a little interest. It strayed to my "to be read" pile, then finally worked its way to the surface.

I am a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars" trilogy, and I found "The Martian Race" another strong extrapolation of potential future visits to our brother planet. The team of four sent to Mars - intelligently told through the eyes of the team biologist and the only female of the group - are there not from NASA, not from science, but from the most basic of societal drives: Corporate Sponsorship and Prize Money.

30 Billion to the first team to reach Mars, fulfill a series of scientific requirements, and return. The conflict of the story is multi-levelled: the arrival of a second team trying to beat the first to the prize, the "mere survival" conflict of four humans trying to survive on Mars, and then a further twist that I don't want to ruin by mentioning.

All in all, "The Martian Race" was an enjoyable reading experience, with enough "real science" to feel entirely plausible. The plot curves catch you unaware, but don't feel overly contrived, and the fantastical element that becomes the third conflict is wonderfully crafted.

The only real frustrations I had with the book were, as another reviewer mentioned, a rather weak ending, and a few occasions where I felt a few characters suddenly acted out of character for what we'd seen of them so far. Regardless, you won't be let down with "The Martian Race," especially if you enjoyed Robinson's "Mars" trilogy.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Hard Sci-Fi. March 12 2002
This is "hard sci fi," just as I like it. The title refers to a race to Mars, not a race of Martians (although it comes close to that, too). It's as much an example of "how to" on the cheap as it is a story. Benford is down on NASA (or the Federal government, or both), postulating a competition to Mars with a huge purse ($30 billion) as the way to get a human expedition there. That might be what it takes. Yet it's also a call for cooperation rather than competition. He shows the downside of human nature -- competitiveness, going for the gold, the potential for a breakdown of discipline in difficult situations. He advocates nuclear propulsion systems for planetary exploration, rather than today's chemical systems. He stresses how difficult planetary exploration will be -- especially the early stages, when improvisation and self-sufficiency are critical and thereby makes a case for on-the-spot decision-making rather than relying on orders from Mission Control. He also looks forward to life (past or present) on Mars. He was very creative in his depiction of what it could be like. In fact, this novel once again demonstrates to me the limitations of my creative abilities. Maybe I'm just intimidated, but I can't imagine writing a novel this well put together, this imaginative yet full of sophisticated technical detail. Heck, I wonder if I could even come up with a good idea for a "beginning, middle, and end." At any rate, it was an excellent adventure story, notwithstanding the fact that the end was predictable two-thirds of the way into the book. Benford put his lead characters through so many troubles (it actually got depressing at one point) in order to show the extent of danger and difficulties he expects planetary explorers to face that he left them only one way out. Arguably, that aspect of it could have been better written. And the way the threads came together in the end just fit too well.
Still, I enjoyed it immensely.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good science, so-so story March 1 2002
Benford clearly knows his stuff. The mission practicalities and planning; the effects of low-G; setting up hab modules, and the exploration of an alien world are all described in satisfying detail with a gritty air of authenticity (quite literally in the case of the spacesuits). The characterisation and human interaction however fails to impress. Viktor, the brooding Russian in particular, seems little more than a crudely-depicted comic-book character and his stilted and quirky use of English soon becomes a cliché. Furthermore, the structure of the book's first half is rather irritating - jumping between the present and the less-than-enthralling political intrigue leading up to the launch. To be honest, the reader could dive in at around page 120 and not miss much. The Martian Race reminded me a great deal of Ben Bova's Mars and Return to Mars (check out my review, folks!) and, whilst Bova tends to get a bit hung up on the politics, he generates a bit more excitement than Benford. Without including any spoilers here, I will happily acknowledge that the payoff is worthwhile, with satisfying and plausible discoveries. The conclusion is rather tame though and left me feeling "is that it?". Not bad, but not brilliant either.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Martian Race Great:; Real Life Policy BAD! Nov. 5 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Gregory Benford has seen the future the might have been here in THE MARTIAN RACE, while our bureaucratic untanglable regulatory (...) has strangled the spirit of free enterprise in space. The very premise of Beneford's work is a competition between factions, capatalistic classic , to see who can mount a mission to Mars. Money, FREE FLOWING money and resouorces are the key to Beneford's mission. All the wonderful storylines and the characters -(well and truely developed)-enthrall the reader, but there is the nagging "what might be" if Microsoft, Nike, Coca-Cola and others were allowed to just buy an advertisment on the mission vehicles, the astronauts suits, even a small insert in the active mission screen. I loved this story. You should read and enjoy the content for what it is. Gregory Benford made me think about the hamstrung space program while entertaining royally. This one volume is a better Mars short-take than The Red Planet , Green Planet , and Blue Planet Books. But if you doubt me on the real facts about NASA and the strangling of free enterprise in the program ask them. It'll make you mad.Where could we be with those billions of advertising dollars? Walking on the Moon, Mars...?
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Mildly interesting science fiction
Not great, not bad. The characters are mildly sympathetic and the story is mildly interesting, but nothing about the book is particularly affecting. Read more
Published on May 25 2002 by triskaidekaphilia
1.0 out of 5 stars Binding Falls Apart
An excellent story ruined by the WORST binding effort I have ever seen. The book literally fell to pieces in my hand after only a few pages. Read more
Published on April 17 2002 by L. Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars loved it
great book, i loved benfords writing style and the overall structure of the book (the first half switches back and forth from the mission on mars back to the planning of the... Read more
Published on March 14 2002 by spender
4.0 out of 5 stars I would have gave it a 5 but the ending is a little weak
This is a great book overall. He does a great job of sucking you into the story and keeping you there. Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2002 by Hugh Watkins
4.0 out of 5 stars Really exciting, well paced, near-future science fiction...
I've always enjoyed Benford for the "hard science" he incorporates in all of his stories. This has that plus some interesting character development, captivating plot,... Read more
Published on Sept. 28 2001 by JLM
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Mars Book,Futile binding job
I, too had my copy fall apart in my hands as I read the book, which I thought was excellent. The story grabed my attention like no other since Rendezvous with Rama, 25 years ago. Read more
Published on May 10 2001 by Taavi Babcock
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Read - Bad Book
This book is an excellent read with a couple great characters, and an extremely plausible story. There are some places in the book that are cut short and others that are focused on... Read more
Published on April 30 2001 by J. Lowry
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent Mars book.
Wow. This book is absolutely FANTASTIC. I can honestly say this is my favorite Mars book, and one of my all time favorite books ever. Read more
Published on March 21 2001 by Ricky
3.0 out of 5 stars Good story, bad binding
Benford continues as one of the leading lights of plausible SCIENCE fiction. This story touches many of the same concerns as Robinson's magnificent multi-generational Mars... Read more
Published on Feb. 23 2001 by tertius3
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