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Crescent Blues Book ViewsAce Books. ISBN 0-441-00859-3
First Landing starts very well: five intrepid explorers face an imminent fiery death as their space ship plummets towards a disastrous entry into the Martian atmosphere.

Book: Robert Zubrin, First LandingCue Guinevere Llewelyn, chief engineer and sacrificial lamb number one. Guinevere, with only twenty-three minutes till entry, goes extravehicular activity (EVA) and spacewalks to repair the jammed cables that threaten a horrific end to the mission.

She succeeds, only to have Commander Andrew Townsend further jeopardize the mission by ignoring her plea to be left to die in space as he slows the craft to rescue her and create future plot complications.

Well, something like that anyway.

The ship lands in an undesignated area. Limited fuel reserves prevent the crew from relocating to a better site. But hey, there's not much difference between the equator and the pole. Honest.

Cue plot complications. Very few of the five crewmembers seem to get along. Rebecca Sherman, biologist, risks life and limb, not necessarily her own, to prove that life exists on Mars. Luke Johnson, geologist, remains equally determined to locate and procure mining rights to all the lucrative, vast gem and rare ore deposits. In the meantime, it seems every member of the crew will literally fight to win maximum camera time for their reports to earth.

At this point this reader became somewhat disillusioned with the tale. Aside from descriptions of the "cramped" space craft that made the QE2 seem like a floating dinghy, would any nation, for any reason, send such a disunited crew on a first mission to Mars? Psychological profiling should wheedle out most of the incompatibilities -- at least one would think -- before the mission took place. It didn't help that Commander Townsend remained totally ineffectual at settling quarrels and keeping order. His role in the novel appeared to be purely cosmetic.

Also, unfortunately, I found the earth-bound character of Gary Stetson highly unbelievable. His tales of alien diseases might scare a portion of the populace, but I found it hard to believe one man could so easily convert an entire world into viewing destruction of the returning spaceship as mankind's only salvation. In addition, the ending appeared contrived and contradicted earlier portions of the novel.

Alas, a good start, but I feel the novel would have benefited from giving readers more about the human struggle against alien elements and less of the struggle to contain human greed and pettiness. Still, First Landing might hold some appeal to readers of science fiction who like to have hard facts mixed with their entertainment.

Stephen Smith

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