Review by John for Red Planet Blues by Robert J. Sawyer.
John’s quick take: Interesting mashup of classic science fiction and hard-boiled noir detective fiction.
John’s description: New Klondike is a seedy frontier town on Mars that sprang up due to a flood of prospectors. But unlike the original Klondike, the prospectors were not looking for gold. In an age when anything can be synthesized back on Earth, the most valuable artifacts are original alien fossils. Forty years previously two adventurers found a treasure trove of them on Mars and so began the great Martian Fossil Rush. New Klondike became a magnet for adventurers, miners, treasure seekers, scam artists, dodgy businessmen, corrupt administrators and even a few academics. Then of course there are a growing number of transfers – immortal android bodies into which lucky or successful people have uploaded their minds.
Alex Lomax is the only private eye in New Klondike. The cops are mostly corrupt and not too interested in getting their hands dirty, so Lomax makes a living tracking down killers, thieves and kidnappers among the itinerants and rogues.
A transfer asks for Lomax’s help in finding her disappeared husband - and so begins a tale of deception, treachery, conniving and murder. Along the way Lomax discovers clues to the decades-old mystery of the location of the mother lode of Martian fossils, but others are desperately seeking the same treasure and will stop at nothing to find it first.
John’s thoughts: This was a neat idea and made for a good read. While I’m a huge fan of science fiction, noir most often leaves me a little cold, so this wasn’t necessarily a marriage made in heaven for me. But Sawyer has become a go-to author for me when I want to read something that I’m pretty much guaranteed to like – and indeed I found this story easy and quick to read and there were plenty of plot twists to keep me interested. I also loved the premise of Martian fossils being the cause of a new “gold” rush.
Not surprisingly the bits which didn’t gel quite as much for me were the noir elements and the hard-boiled detective. Stylistically it just feels like I’ve been there before - even though in this case it was transplanted to Mars and embedded in a cool plot. And as with much noir, many of the main characters don’t seem to resonate with me. So overall I did enjoy the read but it didn’t quite grab me like Sawyer’s books usually do.
I’d rate this 3.5 stars and recommend this to fans of Sawyer, those who like noir and those who like experimenting with a mixture of styles.
Mass Market Paperback | 352 pages | 25 Mar 2014 | Ace