RogerBW's Blog

Old Mars, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois 26 October 2020

2013 collection of new SF stories set on pre-space-probe ideas of the planet Mars.

As with the later Old Venus there are certain themes that recur: Mars is always dry and old, and usually has canals. (I wonder how much excavations in Egypt influenced the common SFnal idea that archaeology is a thing that happens in a hot dry place far from home?) But it feels as though there's a bit more variation in Marses here than there was in Venuses in the later volume.

"Martian Blood" by Allen M. Steele has a supposedly sympathetic narrator who deliberately and reflexively destroys hard-won knowledge. People other than me may like it.

"The Ugly Duckling" by Matthew Hughes introduces a recurrent theme, that the Martians are still in some sense present in recorded memory; alas, let down by stereotyped characters (the intellectual wimp and the anti-intellectual building crew).

"The Wreck of the Mars Adventure" by David D. Levine prefigures his Arabella of Mars series; it's not quite in the same universe, I think, but has a very similar sensibility and is clearly ready for expansion into something novel-sized. In this case, Captain Kidd is promised a Royal pardon if he'll lead the first expedition to Mars. Fun.

"Swords Of Zar-Tu-Kan" by S. M. Stirling is a short prequel to "In the Courts of the Crimson Kings" written a few years earlier; it's dispensable and slight, but enjoyable.

"Shoals" by Mary Rosenblum is basically The Ugly Duckling again with minor variations. Strong message that when your kid says he can see things nobody else can see you should listen to him rather than try to get him medical help, 'cos he's right.

"In the Tombs of the Martian Kings" by Mike Resnick deals with the same characters as "The Godstone of Venus" in the other volume… and has basically the same plot. Oh well.

"Out of Scarlight" by Liz Williams is great fun, with interesting people… but it could as easily have been on a purely invented world. There's no real connection with Mars here.

"The Dead Sea-Bottom Scrolls" by Howard Waldrop is an account of a recreation, by a human settler on Mars, of a sand-skimmer voyage that a long-dead Martian wrote about. Mostly travelogue but quite pleasing.

"A Man Without Honor" by James S. A. Corey goes back to historical piracy, and saving the Earth from invasion. Good action, if very slight.

"Written in Dust" by Melinda M. Snodgrass is another memory-story, with relationship drama and too many "oh, I realise I have been wrong all this time, everything will be fine from now on" moments.

"The Lost Canal" by Michael Moorcock manages to put me out of sympathy with its protagonist before he's even done anything. Well done, I guess.

"The Sunstone" by Phyllis Eisenstein is more memory, and death, and ethics. Rather decent.

"King of the Cheap Romance" by Joe R. Lansdale is an "endurance in adversity" story, feeling to me like the style of Jack London. Character-free but good.

"Mariner" by Chris Roberson is one of the few stories here that has just one Earth-human on Mars rather than large-scale traffic. He's a pirate sand-skimmer captain (this piracy works very like the historical system in spite of being on another planet) and… it works, I guess.

"The Queen of the Night's Aria" by Ian McDonald has the ageing tenor doing a tour of the front lines of the Martian War (two generations after Horsell Common). I couldn't help a feeling that McDonald cared more about the closing scene than about what the characters would do next, but nonetheless it works rather well.

Nothing profound here, but plenty that's enjoyable.

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See also:
Old Venus, George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, S. M. Stirling

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