One of the purposes of science fiction is to take a good story and insert it into a futuristic world of science fiction, making it a great story; something you haven’t read before. Bestselling author Robert J. Sawyer does just this with Red Planet Blues as he presents the classic noir detective novel that just about everyone is familiar with, and inserts it into a future world of a colonized Mars, which makes for some very riveting reading.
Enter Alex Lomax, a Private Eye who left Earth for reasons we’re not sure of, but he’s not welcome there. So he makes his home now in New Klondike on Mars, underneath the great dome. But New Klondike is very much the edge of the world locality that it’s named after; the Martian frontier. The city is dirty, run down; there’s prostitution and drug use and crime. It’s a dead-end world, just where Lomax expected to end up.
The hope many of the citizens of New Klondike hold out for is making it rich on Martian fossils. Alien life was found to exist on Mars, but has long died out. All that remain are some fossils that are worth a fortune back on Earth. Some of the lucky few have made discoveries and are now doing well for themselves; others continue to spend their time in their suits out on the plain in search of riches. There is also the nugget of knowledge that everyone knows: somewhere out there on the Martian desert is the alpha deposit, first discovered forty years ago by Simon Weingarten and Denny O’Reilly that began this Great Martian Fossil Rush; the mother lode that would make its discoverer rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Another reason people want to strike it rich is so they can become immortal. In this world there are those known as transfers: essentially practically indestructible robots that have had people’s minds and consciousnesses downloaded into them. Becoming a transfer is expensive, but then you’re practically unstoppable; you don’t need to eat or breathe or even feel. You can go out on the harsh Martian plain and continue looking for those pricey fossils.
Lomax isn’t that likeable a character. He’s a drinker, a womanizer, and doesn’t think very highly of himself. But he has integrity. So when he gets a couple of new clients looking to find out the true history behind Weingarten and O’Reilly’s discovery, as well as the alpha location, he agrees to do it for good money, but also becomes he knows what’s at stake.
Sawyer has done a great job in creating a concrete, believable world and some strong characters, especially in Lomax who you don’t really like, but still kind of care for. At times events seem a little over the top and ham-handed, but that’s just Sawyer remaining true to the genre, even if it is on another planet. Science fiction readers will not be disappointed; noir crime readers will not be disappointed; and where the twain shall meet shall be one very satisfied reader.
Originally written on April 27, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.
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