Getting your work read and reviewed by an eminent science fiction writer such as Doug Turnbull is what I call a good fortune….
Doug Turnbull is the author of several science fiction books including Zachary Dixon: Officer Apprentice, Footprints In Red, Jupiter IV, The Future Revisited, We Are The Martians, and The Man Who Conquered Mars. In addition he hosts podcasts on the subjects of science, science fiction and the future with scientists, astronauts, as well as SF writers. He has been a guest of Alan Boyle on NBC News, at the University Of Hawaii Astronomy Department, and at The Mars Society speaking on space science subjects. In 2013, his short story Tenderfoot won The Mars Society-Bulgaria’s Editor’s Choice award for short science fiction. Turnbull resides in Frankfort, Kentucky, USA.
Review of my book “The Leap” –
A Leap to the Future
The newest entry in the library of science fiction novels about Mars written over the last century and a quarter, is by Indian author Nita Bajoria. The Leap is her first attempt at a novel length story and it is a good one. Set in the present time, with many flashbacks, the story is told in the context of The Red Planet Project, a private non-profit venture to establish a permanent settlement on Mars. The Project is principally the creation of Dr. Albert Tyorkin, a prominent scientist who believes mankind must settle other planets because he is convinced that overpopulation, environmental degradation, and resource depletion will doom us as a species if we don’t. Beyond its non-governmental origins, The Red Planet Project has a couple of controversial features. First, the colonists will be making a one-way trip to Mars, with no provision made for return, and second, those settlers will be drawn from the ranks of “ordinary people” rather than the usual mix of ex-pilots and scientists that make up the current astronaut corps. In this, the fictional venture has a marked similarity to the actual Dutch-based Mars One Foundation, which is organized along similar lines. However, the one-way concept is not a new one in science fiction. The idea that settlers would journey to Mars to stay for the rest of their lives is at least as old as Robert A. Heinlein’s 1949 juvenal, Red Planet. It occurs again in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and indeed it is a feature of my own Alien Artifact series of stories and novels. The author also gives us a view of how the task of winnowing the many thousands of volunteers (Mars One had over 200,000 volunteers) down to a handful is achieved. However, the program itself and its technical details are not the focus of this story.
The Leap is at once a character driven story and MS Bajoria devotes the bulk of the novel to carefully drawing those characters, primarily the settler candidates, through their personal histories and interactions with each other and their families. The candidates are a truly international group with a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds.
There is Alexey, the Russian TV host and a Project skeptic until he interviews a couple who have volunteered to be candidates. He is converted and joins the program himself. Also Ben, who has spent his life working in the NASA space program, but never went to space himself. If he goes to Mars, Ben will leave Fran, his beloved life-long wife and companion behind. Fumiko is a Japanese scientist specializing in hydroponics, a subject dear to my own heart, having written several papers and done a presentation to the 2015 Mars Society Convention on the subject of food for Mars settlers. My only complaint is that the author didn’t go as far into the details as I would have liked, but then I may be biased. A candidate from Bhopal, India, Vinay would be leaving his wife and children behind should he move to Mars. The author’s depiction of his family background provides a window on what, at least to this westerner, is very fascinating and decidedly non-western culture. There are many more candidates whom the author treats with equal biographical and cultural thoroughness, for the purpose of demonstrating the wide variety of reasons that bring them all together in their common effort of settling on Mars.
The reader gets a primer on the training the candidates undergo in a long-term Mars settlement simulation, very similar to the one that has run continuously for several years in Utah by The Mars Society. It is during one stay by a group of candidates that they are introduced to one of the deadliest dangers they may encounter while on Mars. As any blue water sailor will tell you, the greatest danger one faces aboard ship is not drowning in the sea, or being swamped by a storm, or being attacked by pirates. It is fire, and I’ll allow the reader to see exactly what role fire plays in the story.
Finally, like the Mars One Foundation, The Red Planet Project is facing a headwind of opposition and contempt from the “space establishment” and their friends in the media. This conflict comes to climax during a combination worldwide webcast and press conference where Dr. Tyorkin and the candidates face off against their critics. Again, the naysayers obsess over the one-way concept, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the Jamestown and Plymouth colonists did just that 400 years ago. As with the fire, I’ll allow the reader to discover on their own, how that conflict resolves.
I highly recommend this interesting novel if for no other reason, then that it is different from the usual gadget driven, technology obsessed, or pure fantasy fare that is, in my view, all too common in science fiction today. MS Bajoria’s characters are real, fully developed human beings with all the complexities and contradictions that accompany their humanity. The reader will enjoy meeting them. If any novel begs a sequel, this one does, and I hope MS Bajoria is working on one now. I look forward to reading it.