Ye gods, where do I begin with this one...
Mars is a hard sci-fi piece about the first exploration/trip to, well, Mars with humans. To be honest, I thought this thing was written in the 80s, it felt so utterly dated (attitudes, more than science itself), and I was surprised to see that it was written in 1992. Even more, I don't understand how some people claim that it's not a "typical sci fi" because it doesn't have robots and other "stereotypical" sci fi elements. It's Sci Fi to the core, but I guess that's a discussion for a different day.
It takes place about now (or rather, about 2020 which isn't so far away), and the technology is both behind and ahead of where we are. We're still using floppy disks and smoking up a storm, but we've, apparently made great advances with some of our space tech. Also, (quibble) the space suits in the future suck (seriously, they are inferior to today's if our fearless leader/hero can feel the Martian cold, when there are people space walking now in colder temps without issue.
Most of the science seems pretty strong, though, and I'll give it to Bova for clearly doing his research and getting a lot of things pretty right (as far as this biologist could tell) with the planetary and physics stuff. Good job there.
But his characterizations go from weak to downright awful. Everyone is a cardboard cut out, and the women are treated worst of all. Most of the non-mission women (politicians, media) are career driven "do whatever it takes" harpies depicted as "dragon lady[ies]" with "claws" and are "fierce." Mission women are sex-kittens or maternal gardeners, except for the one near-virginal good girl. The men are a little more diversified, but are still very caricature-like most of the time. There is a mustache twirling (ok, he doesn't have a mustache, but he does have a British accent! Our hero is... spiritual and heroic. It's all a little ludicrous and incredibly clunky.
I had some serious issues with the "scientists." I'm not saying that scientists are unfeeling, don't play pranks, or are asexual, so I expect normal to extreme interactions when a group of 25 people are trapped together for nearly 2 years, but some of the stuff they do is absolutely ludicrous. No scientist I know would act in some of the ways they do in the novel, and they certainly wouldn't take some of the lines of reasoning that are given. It just doesn't make sense at all, and I refuse to believe that the "best of the best" of this multinational conglomeration of scientists include so many boobs. At best, you could make me agree with driven, maybe less sociable stereotypes, but not downright ignorance and stupidity.
The novel promises that the team finds something at the bottom of the "Grand Canyon" of Mars. And I can't decide if the author gave it to us, and then just downplayed it with the "Martian Virus" mystery or if it was hinted at and left. Either way, there was a lot of build up, a lot of expectation and no pay off at the end.
And I still can't figure out where Bova was going with the race relations stuff. Whatever he was going for either didn't make sense to me, or just wasn't written well enough, because I tried to figure it out, and instead just kept sighing at the "red man" comments (yes, the lead geologist was Navajo, sure there could have been interesting race relations/prejudice studies going on, but it didn't work if that was a goal). It was probably just a case of finding a way to manufacture drama for the political parts of the book, but if so, it was weak and cheap.
No pay off.
At least the actual science was good(ish). But I don't feel the need to go any further with the series (Grand Tour).
I should mention that I give this book 2 bonus cookies.
1. Mentioning vinho verde wine.
2. The use of the Russians' patronymics. I'm still coming down from my [b:Anna Karenina|15823480|Anna Karenina|Leo Tolstoy|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1352422904s/15823480.jpg|2507928] high so it made me happy.