Friday, 18 December 2015

Book Review - Old Mars

Edited by George RR Martin and Gardner R. Dozois

Published by Titan Books

'Fifteen all-new stories by science fiction’s top talents, collected by bestselling author George R. R. Martin and multiple-award winning editor Gardner Dozois

Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars. Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Heinlein’s Red Planet. These and so many more inspired generations of readers with a sense that science fiction’s greatest wonders did not necessarily lie far in the future or light-years across the galaxy but were to be found right now on a nearby world tantalizingly similar to our own—a red planet that burned like an ember in our night sky . . . and in our imaginations.

This new anthology of fifteen all-original science fiction stories, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, celebrates the Golden Age of Science Fiction, an era filled with tales of interplanetary colonization and derring-do. Before the advent of powerful telescopes and space probes, our solar system could be imagined as teeming with strange life-forms and ancient civilizations—by no means always friendly to the dominant species of Earth. And of all the planets orbiting that G-class star we call the Sun, none was so steeped in an aura of romantic decadence, thrilling mystery, and gung-ho adventure as Mars.

Join such seminal contributors as Michael Moorcock, Mike Resnick, Joe R. Lansdale, S. M. Stirling, Mary Rosenblum, Ian McDonald, Liz Williams, James S. A. Corey, and others in this brilliant retro anthology that turns its back on the cold, all-but-airless Mars of the Mariner probes and instead embraces an older, more welcoming, more exotic Mars: a planet of ancient canals cutting through red deserts studded with the ruined cities of dying races.'

When I sat down to read Old Mars I was pretty excited. I'd had a great time between the pages of the previous collection Old Venus, and here I was expecting some more of the same. Adventure stories, compelling stories, thoughtful stories; basically, a nice mix of talent and different approaches to the subject matter that would have something for everyone.

Mars has always been fascinating, and my love of the red world stems, of course, from classics such as 'The War of the Worlds', 'The Martian Chronicles', and, perhaps strangely, the movie 'Robinson Crusoe on Mars'. It's an amazing world, in real life as well as in the imagination, and when I began reading Burroughs' planetary romances I then found the adventure. Later would come more serious books on the planet, and then actual theories on how we really could travel to the red world and exist there. Now we had rovers there and we were learning more about the nature of Mars every day, the mystery seemed to be fading.

This is why this book is so enjoyable. It takes us back to the days when Mars was still an inhabited world we could have adventures in, where races unfathomable were fighting wars unthinkable, and when civilisations we could barely imagine or hope to understand walked the shifting sands.

The mix of stories is wonderful and the editors, George RR Martin and Gardner R. Dozois, have made an excellent selection. The tales move from stories about lost civilisations or misunderstood aliens to tales of incredibly imaginative adventure, action and sometimes insane scenarios. One moment you can be contemplating attitudes of the human race towards an indigenous species, and the next you're trading shots with floating ships and screaming enemies. If you want thought and introspection, you've got it. If you want swordplay and blaster fire, you got that too.

The stories might sound disparate but they mix really well and, although there might be a point in the book where you don't really want to read about yet another unfathomable Martian civilisation older than Mankind, the stories never get boring and the tales are never too preachy. There's a good mix of approaches to take, opinions to mull over and downright out-and-out fun to be had in this book.

So, if you're looking for a Burroughs-esque battles across the sands of Mars, you got it. If you want a Heinlein-inspired trip through the soul of a planet, you got that too. You really do get the best of both worlds.

Recommended.