The novel “Marsbound” by Joe Haldeman was published for the first time in 2008.
Carmen Dula is an eighteen year old girl who emigrates to Mars with her parents and her younger brother facing a long and uncomfortable journey to arrive on the red planet.
Life on Mars is hard and Carmen must also strive to follow the academic courses sent from Earth with a big effort because the videoconference comes with the delay due to the distance between the two planets.
What’s more, the administrator of the Martian colony seems to have taken a dislike to Carmen before her arrival on Mars after discovering that she started a relationship with the pilot of the ship carrying the emigrants.
Frustration brings Carmen to venture outside the colony on her own to be alone for a little while risking her life but forcing a group of aliens already present on Mars to rescue her from the danger she got into starting a first contact that will change everything for humanity.
Joe Haldeman is a veteran writer with forty years of career. His most famous novel, “The Forever War” (1974), was considered a response to the controversial Robert A. Heinlein’s novel “Starship Troopers” (1959). Despite the profound differences in the way of thinking exhibited in the two novels there were several expressions of mutual respect between the two authors and in 2003 Haldeman was elected to the board of directors of the Heinlein Society, the organization created specifically to keep alive the promotion of the works of the writer died in 1988.
“Marsbound” is in some ways a tribute to the novel “Podkayne of Mars” by Robert A. Heinlein. Haldeman’s novel is narrated from the perspective of the protagonist Carmen just like Heinlein’s one is narrated from the perspective of the protagonist Podkayne. Both have a younger brother and tell their interplanetary journey.
Just as there are profound differences between “The Forever War” and “Starship Troopers” there are also several between “Marsbound” and “Podkayne of Mars”. This is due not only to the different ideas of the two authors but also because Heinlein’s novel was published for the first time in 1962 and today we know much more about Mars but also concerning space travel. Our ideas about possible alien life forms have changed as well.
Obviously in “Marsbound” the red planet is the desert we know today thanks to all the space missions of the last decades therefore the colony survives in an artificial habitat and whoever goes outside must wear a spacesuit. In the novel there’s also the description of the use of a space elevator, a concept that actually already existed when Robert A. Heinlein wrote “Podkayne of Mars” but became famous in the field of science fiction with Arthur C. Clarke’s novel “The Fountains of Paradise” (1979).
The long time passed between the publication of the two novels can be also seen in what the two protagonists do. Carmen is about three Earth years older than Podkayne and in “Marsbound” she also speaks about her sexual experiences. During the novel Carmen makes a discreet use of colorful expressions that couldn’t be included in “Podkayne of Mars”.
Carmen is involved in extraordinary events but she’s actually an ordinary girl who also does ordinary things. In general the human characters are unfortunately one-dimensional and also in contrast the aliens are more interesting, especially the one called Red.
The part of the novel in which aliens appear is the most interesting while the first part, with Carmen’s problems, her journey to Mars and her impact with the red planet, may be boring to those who are more than some years older than the protagonist despite the description of the problems that they may have in the space elevator and on the starship.
The final crescendo of the novel is a good omen for the sequel that Joe Haldeman has already published because it’s true that the story has a conclusion but it also provides the basis for further developments. Overall “Marsbound” isn’t the best novel by this author, still it’s quite good and recommended in particular for those who appreciate stories of first contact with aliens.