The author's earlier, widely acclaimed Mars stories were about the beginning years of the first human settlement on Mars, but you don't have to read them to enjoy this latest, fast-paced, stand-alone novel. |
In the first story, As It Is On Mars, three explorers, abandoned in 2038, found a prosperous settlement on Mars. A stand-alone second story, Give Us This Mars, takes place in 2048, as rival European and American "rescue" missions fight to take control of the fledgling settlement.
This latest story takes place twenty-six years later. It has new lead characters, and enough of the settlement's early history for new readers to join the tale effortlessly.
Two scheming, aristocratic brothers, Harold and Oliver Derk, are the instigators when a United Nations coalition dispatches a massive armada to attack the settlement in 2074. The independent settlement is illegal, but has been growing prodigiously, thanks to a secret machine the Martians have built. It is very well defended too, and getting the better of it is now a serious military matter.
The Martians also control a vital copper deposit, the largest ever found, now worth over ten trillion dollars. Gaining control of that copper will make the brothers rich and powerful beyond dreams. Their lust for the copper is matched only by their passion for avenging the public disgrace of their father, years earlier; the Derk brothers are determined to erase the demeaning stain of dishonor that Martians have etched on their ancient family name.
One shadowy brother, Harold Derk, is the CEO of the world's largest resource company, Condor Copper Inc., and a master of political intrigue. He paid corrupt, warmongering political leaders to terrify their citizens, and deceive them into believing that the secret Martian machine is a horrible weapon of total annihilation, capable of wiping out all human life on Earth. The fabricated fear worked as intended, and led to popular support for the obscenely expensive armada, to put an end to the dangerous, illegal settlement and its abominable machine.
The other brother is the armada commander, four-star General Oliver Derk. He is a rogue general, with genocide in mind. He has all the military strength he needs to defeat the settlement quickly, and kill everybody in it.
As this very fast-paced tale opens, we find a ten-man Martian work crew in a desolate place south of Mariner Valley, over a thousand miles from home. One of them is a mysterious young man called Edward Russell. The ten have just finished hiding the secret Martian machine, to keep it out of the hands of the coalition. But that evening, they make a fluke discovery. Coalition forces have made a stealth landing, unexpectedly early, clearly intent on an overwhelming surprise attack on the settlement.
The workers now have to get home at once, and sound the alarm. They have no choice but to take an impossible shortcut, up along the treacherous thirty-mile long Hell Ridge. But then, in Chapter Two, with their four rovers perched high on the ridge, over three miles above the floor of Coprates Canyon: Disaster!
Shortly after, a deadly enemy of the coalition appears out of the southern waste, at the head of a dusty column of tanks and rovers, intelligent, nuclear-powered predator drones flying overhead. It is Edward Russell, with desert warfare in his genes, and for good reason. Soon he will be known on two planets as the desert fox of Mars, feared for his vicious, lightning attacks on the coalition, but revered for his tactical genius.
The elaborate setting for this epic novel takes in a great deal of the Western Hemisphere of Mars, which the war turns into a gigantic military chessboard. The plot is multi-threaded, and tragic too, a subtle blend of politics, war, human relationships, and the relationship of man to his planetary environment. It's even a tale that is not primarily science fiction, that anybody can enjoy at any time of life, and likely find something profound in too. The story unfolds at a rapid pace, as the war intensifies and the suspense builds. The plot also builds to a perplexing tactical puzzle, which armchair generals will no doubt try to solve, as they pit their brains against the desert fox.
It is also the story of the daring journey of a courageous Martian company in search of an elusive goal, as the company is sought high and low, and attacked too, by the forces of the coalition. The journey starts south of Mariner Valley in Chapter 1, and weaves its way through the entire novel, and over much of the Western Hemisphere, and does not end until the novel's final Chapter 20.
The author deploys military technology in the Martian war consistent with the known Laws of Nature. His intelligent nuclear-powered tanks, predator drones, and laser-gun armed fighter drones are all extrapolations of current capabilities that we can reasonably expect.
The book has five separate maps of the spectacular terrain of the Western Hemisphere. They are strictly not necessary, but are included for readers' convenience and enjoyment.