Red Planet Blues

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So, confessions first: I’m a huge Rob Sawyer fan, I love everything about Mars, and I kept putting off buying or reading this book.

Why?

All of the copy out there talks about it as a detective novel. I don’t care if it’s set on Mars or not – I’m just not into detective novels. Sorry, Rob.

But then it was nominated for the Prix Aurora Award. That made it one of the top 5 Science Fiction or Fantasy novels in Canada this year. Hell, yeah – sign me up!

As a detective novel it delivers plot twists upon plot twists. As an SF novel it had its moments – mostly bad ones.

The first section of the book reads like a great short story. Lomax (the detective) solves the case and everything seems to be wrapped up in a nice neat bow. In fact, it was so tidily wrapped up that I wasn’t sure why there was still more book left. Hrm. Was it originally written as a standalone short story? Of course I kept reading and it eventually made sense, but there was no sense of urgency there for me to keep reading at that point. I could have happily put the book down. Bad author – no cookie!

The best SF (in my ever-so-humble opinion) doesn’t just tell fancy space stories, but uses it to explore more complex ideas and at this Sawyer is a master. In Red Planet Blues he broaches the subject of nature of the human soul. Too bad he doesn’t go far enough to really explore the subject.

His main character, the detective Alex Lomax, is thoroughly disagreeable. Almost none of the characters in the book have redeeming qualities. I get that New Klondike is a hard place to live, but did he have to populate his book with a bunch of misanthropes?

This is the first book of Sawyer’s that I can honestly say I will recommend to no one. If he was that stuck on writing a noir story set on Mars he should have stuck to a short story instead of dragging us all through an entire novel.

Unfortunately this book is an Aurora Award best novel finalist and the only reason for it I can find is Sawyer’s (well-earned) popularity. This book doesn’t deserve the votes that put it on the ballot.