Friday, October 6, 2017

Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer

Reviewed by Kristin

It’s not the mean streets of Chicago, but it is the mean streets of New Klondike, a domed city on Mars.  Gumshoe Alex Lomax is a one of a kind private investigator, the only one working the red planet.  In a near future world where space travel is fairly common and the option to transfer to a mechanical body is possible, people can go a long way from their lowly beginnings on Earth.  For the adventurous soul, prospecting for fossils on Mars can be the key to extraordinary wealth.  Yes—fossils!  Proof of Martian life was discovered only forty years earlier by Simon Weingarten and Denny O’Reilly.  The ensuing flurry of fortune hunters could only be compared to the California Gold Rush.

Cassandra Wilkins is a newly transferred mind residing within an android body.  Her husband Joshua (never Josh) Wilkins also recently transferred, but he has disappeared.  Cassandra is desperate to find Joshua, and thus engages Lomax’s services.  New Klondike is small and there aren’t too many places to hide or be hidden.  Sure enough, Lomax soon enough stumbles on Joshua’s body, apparently a suicide.

Of course all is not as it seems, and Lomax digs up way more red dirt than expected.  Lomax chases clues inside and outside the dome.  Wearing a surface suit for life support with a fishbowl helmet and driving Mars buggies across the planitia, Lomax looks for clues to what really happened to Joshua Wilkins.  Of course, if he also finds the long lost Alpha deposit of fossils, all the better.

The old-time PI vibes and the frontier mentality of a Martian colony struck just the right tone for me in this science fiction novel.  The characters had just enough quirks to make them interesting but not so much to distract me from the storyline.  (Although I do admit that Lomax’s habit of tipping an imaginary hat as he bade others farewell was a bit much after the fifth or sixth time.)  The difference between the “biologicals” and the “transfers” was interesting, and presented philosophical questions about preserving consciousnesses and how a person could potentially live forever in a new and improved body.

After reading Red Planet Blues, I enthusiastically sought out more Robert J. Sawyer.  He has published several novels, novellas, and short stories.  The library may even have enough of Sawyer’s work (in book, e-book, and audiobook formats) to keep me busy for the winter.  See you in the spring!

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