I finished reading Gregory Benford's The Martian Race at the beginning of the week. It was a very good read. It started out a little slow for me, but when it picked up, it got to be a very engaging story. Even in the earlier parts when the story was a little slow, the ideas were still compelling enough to keep me reading. (In this way, it was kind of like a book I read last year called After the Fire. Both had a hard time getting off the ground, but when they did, they were really good.)
The Martian Race presents several interesting ideas. The one most foregrounded (and for which the book is named) suggests a possible way to approach the continued exploration of space, that being to put it into the hands of private industries. I understand why there is a certain fear attached to this, but the book does make its point well — if we are going to see the exploration of space grow by leaps and bounds instead of baby steps (and the public not lose interest), something is going to have to be done differently than it is now.
And the novel is not at all naive about the potential problems if the exploration of space were to become a private endeavour instead of one funded by governments. I like that the possibility of cutthroat tactics is not ignored. Big businesses get in the way all too often. That gives the whole thing a sense of realism.
I also like the idea Benford presents of what life on Mars might look like, and how it might be so entirely different from us (and from everything we've grown to expect) that we might not know how to interact with it at all when we first find it. That seems to me to be a very real possibility, whether life is found first on Mars or some other planet so far from us that we don't even know to look there yet.
Overall, The Martian Race is a book that I can recommend. Once you get into it (even if it takes a while to do so), I think you'll enjoy what you find there.
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