Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Return: Down to Earth Science Fiction

The Return by Austin Boyd draws you into an exciting, adventurous world of intrigue without sacrificing believability. Reminiscent of some of the better writings of Arthur C. Clarke, Boyd keeps the science fiction rooted in the constraints of known science. Set only a few years in the future, the story revolves around John Wells. Wells, who believes his family has been killed, leads a mission to Mars, only to discover that they were not alone on the Red Planet. The "Martians" they discover are members of a secret colony planted on Mars by a wealthy industrialist. The colonists are followers of a charismatic cult leader, Malcolm Raines, who plans on saving the earth by cloning perfect individuals. The colony lives in near ideal (if you can call living on a lifeless planet in a tin can ideal) circumstances tempting the NASA team to simply join up and remain on Mars.

As I said in my previous post, if you like The X-Files, you'll find this an intriguing read. You have it all: intrigue, suspense, cults, cloning, conspiracies. This is intelligent science-fiction. If you are looking for action-adventure, firefights in every chapter or burly space jockeys punching it out, look elsewhere. This book challenges you to think.

The strength of the book lies in its roots in the real world. Boyd's experience as a spacecraft engineer brings authenticity to the science which lays the foundation for science fiction. The spacecraft and Martian habitats described do not depend on some sort of imaginary future technology. They could be built today. This gives the story a sense of immediacy often lost in the more Whiz-bang styles of science fiction.

Even his treatment of cloning, which is frequently distorted by science fiction authors, avoids the hysterical or the fantastical. He doesn't treat the clone as some evil, soulless entity, but rather as sympathetic victims of a religious fanatic.

The plot is intricate with frequent shifts of focus from Mars to Slovenia to Washington D.C. This can be confusing if you don't read carefully. It didn't bother me, but a casual reader might become confused. This is a book which requires the reader to be engaged throughout the book to keep track of the storyline. Personally, I like that. However, if you prefer to let a story flow over you, without engaging with the story yourself, this might not be the book for you.

The main weakness I saw was the lack of depth in many of the characters. The characters generally seemed to be vehicles for the story to be told. In other words, there was this great plot and you need to populate the plot with the people. That's how it felt when reading. We don't get a feel for the motivations of the individuals we just see what they do. The realism of the plot and setting does not always extend to the characters. For instance, conversions of attitude are often much swifter and quickly made than in real life. When a revelation shaking the underlying foundation of the followers of The Father Race on Mars is revealed, they tend to accept it repentantly without much trouble. Even if one is a willing participant in a "holy hoax" they will usually continue to defend it, if they are true believers. Here are several people who have committed themselves to the extent of exiling themselves from the Earth as part of a religious belief. It is unlikely that one revelation would undo that belief. They would probably even defend the hoax on the basis of serving the greater good, as Jerry Falwell did when caught spreading untrue rumors about President Jimmy Carter. We are very good at excusing bad behavior in the pursuit of a good cause.

Even given the lack of depth in the characters, this is a good story and a worthwhile read.

You can also read other reviews and comments from these blog tour participants:

Trish Anderson
Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Amy Browning
Jackie Castle
Valerie Comer
Karri Compton
Lisa Cromwell
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Merrie Destefano or Alien Dream
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Linda Gilmore
Beth Goddard
Marcus Goodyear
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Sherrie Hibbs
Christopher Hopper
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Dawn King
Tina Kulesa
Rachel Marks
Karen McSpadden
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Deena Peterson
Cheryl Russel
Chawna Schroeder
Mirtika Schultz
James Somers
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise


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