The Sunborn Mass Market Paperback – Feb 1 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
In this unexceptional and somewhat slow-moving follow-up to The Martian Race (1999), Benford sends Julia and Viktor, the first astronauts to land on Mars, off to Pluto to investigate a number of strange phenomena. The solar system's coldest, most distant planet appears to be heating up and developing an atmosphere. Stranger still, another expedition has discovered life on Pluto, in an environment where it shouldn't exist. Benford has always been fascinated by the possibilities inherent in extraterrestrial life, and he takes advantage of his own scientific specialty, plasma physics, to create some extraordinary creatures. The competently constructed plot details the unraveling of a series of mysteries via the application of scientific method spiced with credible intuitive leaps. What fails to satisfy, however, are the characters. Julia seems too perfect, while her husband, Viktor, is little more than a nice guy with a funny accent. The second exploratory ship's captain, the daughter of the billionaire who financed Julia and Viktor's original Mars trip, comes across as a Paris Hilton with an advanced degree in biology. Her scenes with Julia, which involve stereotypical assumptions about how powerful women must interact, can be painful. Hard SF fans will find this an adequate read, but Benford has done far better work in the past.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
With their death-defying exploration of Mars and groundbreaking discovery of primitive Martian life, Viktor and Julia have become history's most famous astronauts. Now, after a series of exploits deemed reckless by space agency bureaucrats, they are being pressured to retire and spend their remaining days handling agency publicity. Fortunately, the Mars mission's primary financier, billionaire John Axelrod, has the political muscle to reassign them to an ongoing Pluto mission before it's too late; but the trip has a price tag: rescuing Axelrod's zealous astronaut daughter, Shanna, from a calamitous exploration of Pluto's frozen methane surface. By the time Viktor and Julia reach the outer solar system, however, Shanna has not only set foot on the planet surface but also established contact with a walruslike native creature known as the zand. Together, the three astronauts must forge a tenuous union to unravel the mystery of Plutonian life. Working from a thrilling premise and with original, speculative science, Benford, a premier practitioner of hard sf, is in top form. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It is an interesting twist on the "first contact" theme with not one but three new alien species discovered and communicated with. There is a tie-in to the "The Martian Race" at the very end that is not much of a suprise, having been pretty well telegraphed by the middle of the short novel.
Benford is a great SF writer, as well as a talented physicist and author. He is and has been one of the best authors of hard SF since the publication of "Timescape" some 23 years ago. But this one is a little disappointing. The human (and alien) characters are not well developed and are mostly flat and irrelevant placeholders to this plot-based novel. There is no real suspense and the hard SF is minimal. Of course, none of this will stop me from rushing out and getting the next Benford novel as soon as it's published, since he is one of my favorite SF authors, interesting and tremendously talented. Everyone can have an off-day. This was one of his.
However, a new exploration opportunity has surfaced with a chance to go to Pluto, which has suddenly for no reason has begun heating up though still way below zero Fahrenheit and data shows the forming of an atmosphere. Julia and Viktor leap at the prospects to be part of the expedition exploring the coldest known planet in the solar system. Shockingly, a previous expedition led by Captain Shanna has found life, the humongous intelligent zand, on the frozen orb that can communicate with humans. The zand warn that the dangerous mechanical Darksiders are coming on "iceteroids," from the Oort cloud.
This sequel contains a wonderful story line on the vast possibilities of alternate life forms in the solar system. However, the human members of the cast seem shallow. Julia and Viktor have not seemed to have aged in spite of the harshness of their work although twenty years have passed and can do no wrong. Shanna at times is a genius and at other moments a jealous chick lit bimbo instead of a courageous brilliant explorer (the next generation Julia). Other characters are one dimensional unless they happen to be a Marsmat, a zand, or the Darksiders. The scientific discussion that underlies the novel is superb and highlights Gregory Benford's ability to simplify without dumbing down extremely complex theories and do it inside a strong story line that overcomes the prime players.
Did you know that Benford's research area is plasma physics? He parlays that expertise into envisioning vast alien intelligences that are basically sparse plasmas. A very evocative image. Along these lines, he makes a valiant effort to portray truly alien minds interacting with each other, and with humans. The effort is commendable. His aliens are not humans dressed up in funny skins, acting as aliens, which is what a lot of science fiction depictions end up as.
But I am not sure that he truly succeeds. While yes, the aliens do come across as different, I found the resultant read to be rather dull and sterile.
In this novel, Shanna Axelrod is the daughter of John Axelrod, The Man Who Sold Mars and the organizer of the Consortium. Born to Axelrod's second wife, she had conflicts with the two later wives and finally moved back in with her mother.
Shanna had a long standing admiration for Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered the planet Pluto. When the ISA announced their intentions to send a ship to investigate strange changes in the Pluto/Charon system, Shanna was determined to become one of the crew members.
She was already a working astronaut in the commercial fleet with biologist/medic training. Although she was well qualified, so were other candidates. She called on her father for aid and he named her as the Consortium selection for the Proserphina crew. When the Captain of the Proserphina was later killed in an accident, Shanna became his replacement.
Julia and Viktor are being continually pressured by the quirks of the Consortium. A new manager is sent from the Moon to coordinate the Martian science effort. She is very abrasive and both Julia and Viktor try to avoid her. They sneak out on an excursion to Vent R, a newly discovered pressure relief vent from the Marsmat caverns beneath the surface.
Shanna discovers intelligent life on Pluto and rides the lander down to establish contact with the creatures. During a long conversation with the Old One, she learns that the zand are being killed off by the Darksiders. After a second landing, she discovers that the Darksiders are machines sent by some things beyond Pluto.
Shanna uses a jury-rigged weapon to repel an assault by the machines, but they still damage the lander and it crashes. The Darksiders force their way aboard the ship, but soon withdraw after repairing the damaged hull. Shanna almost freezes to death.
Axelrod sends a new fusion drive vessel to Mars and arranges for Julia and Viktor to take it to Pluto. Even before they arrive, Shanna has strong aversions to their presence. She is particularly envious of Julia, a fellow biologist with a well established reputation.
This novel incorporates some speculations concerning life within and between the stars. It even ties in the Marsmat with the huge Beings dwelling beyond Pluto. However, conflict results from the mutual ignorance of various lifeforms.
Highly recommended for Benford fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of space exploration, scientific inquiries and strange Beings within the Oort Cloud.
-Arthur W. Jordin
The plot? We mmet the Adam & Eve of the Red Planet, a pair of astronauts who have become media stars for a mega corporation. The author's knowledge of economics seems limited to supposed back room chatter and the evils of BIG business. A company rep arrives and suddenly the two are sent to...Pluto(!) and meet none other than the daughter of the CEO(!!) who has discovered alien life forms(!!!). How many ways can you say "cliche"?
Here it breaks down completely. Benford may be a whiz in the hard sciences but when it comes to notions of consciousness and intelligence it's a disaster. The aliens hail from the Oort Region beyond the Solar System and here's the rub: Their speech (presented in < >) is anthropomorphic reflecting human needs, desires and psychology yet they do not possess the neurological basis or evolution for such attitudes. No creature in the galaxy can approximate the human condition without sensory input like humans. Anyway, a lot of nothing goes on and the ships return to Mars for more meandering and musings.
Perhaps it is Benford's zeal for scientific accuracy that has prevented him from being a visionary writer. His stories are rooted firmly in the here and now but sometimes authors need to spread their wings and soar on flights of imagination.