Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer (book review).

Imagine the near future where Mars has a small colony going. Mostly, it’s populated with fossil hunters and auxiliary people who keep the frontier town of New Klondike going. Those who want to stay for long periods and are rich enough buy new android bodies and have their personalities transferred into them, their old bodies being destroyed. Although it’s not said in the story, especially when frozen storage is available, why no one considers transferring back although I suspect the process is only one way. Besides, why would you? The new body offers extended life and enhanced senses and strength and not having to pay the breathing air bill.


Alex Lomax isn’t one of these Transfers. He keeps himself fit but he’s a private detective. The local police are beholden to the corporation who owns the town and do minimal work if they don’t have to so Lomax gets work and some of their cooperation.

This is the setting for Robert J. Sawyer’s latest novel, ‘Red Planet Blues’, which owes a lot to film noir in both its setting and design, which even Lomax acknowledges. One of the other characters, Ernie Gargalian, could even be a ringer for actor Sydney Greenstreet although Lomax is no Humphrey Bogart.

Lomax is hired to find one missing person and gets embroiled upon conspiracy after conspiracy, much of it involving the people who found the first Martian fossils. As this is a detective story, giving away too many clues as to what is going on is likely to ruin your enjoyment of the story.

Sawyer is the calibre sort of writer to know that he has to lay down all the necessary information to appreciate what is possible and then makes you think about what he doesn’t say, which is also possible from what is demonstrated. There are examples of that throughout the story so never expect anyone or thing to be quite what it seems. In fact, the story becomes something of a roller-coaster and you quickly read from chapter to chapter to see what happens next so be sure to give yourself the necessary time to read a lot per sitting.

There are also many characters covered in this book but easy to keep up with who is who. Sawyer brings the threads together when you need to make sense of motivation and threat. His coverage of Mars outside the dome reveals the dusty plains that it is and I was just surprised that he didn’t introduce one of the weather fronts Mars is supposed to have. Even so, with its extreme cold and a necessary air supply, it isn’t the place where you would want to linger for long. Well, not unless you were housed in a Transfer body.

An edge-of-the-seat book that will have you wanting more. I do hope Rob Sawyer considers doing a second book.

GF Willmetts

May 2014

(pub: Gollancz. 353 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-473-20008-1)

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